Last Updated on January 22, 2022 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
Training through the winter months can prove to be incredibly unmotivating for many runners. It’s easy to understand why, the days are shorter, the weather is often gloomy, and it’s cold. Sometimes below-freezing cold. However, when you’ve signed up for a race, your training plan doesn’t care that you’ll likely be running in the dark and struggling to stay warm. You’ve got miles to cover! So how do you maintain winter running motivation, when all you want to do is curl up on the couch with a blanket and cup of hot cocoa?
How Maintain Winter Running Motivation
(Or Give Yourself a Much Needed Kick in the Snow pants)
Now that the clocks have changed, the cooler temperatures have set in, and the warm summer months are already a distant memory, a number of our running clients are already finding themselves plagued by the winter training blues. If you are also struggling, here’s a handful of tips to use to hopefully help bring out of the cold weather funk, and spark your winter running motivation.
Revisit Your Goals Often
Ask yourself what your running, racing, or training goals are. Are you currently registered for a race? If so, there must have been some sort of motivation that initially led to signing up for a race. Maybe it was to set a time or distance PR. Maybe it was bucket list race. Maybe you are running to fundraise or honor a friend or loved one. Revisit those reasons, and revisit them often.
I am giving you full permission to be as cheesy as you need to be here (not that you need my permission, but incase your spouse, kids, coworkers, or roommates ask…you can blame me). Write those goals down on a big piece of paper and stick it to your bathroom mirror. Print out pictures of your bucket list race course, or maybe pictures of the finishers medal or buckle, and tape them to your computer. Hell, channel your inner 5th grade art teacher and make the best damn collage you’ve ever seen. Do whatever you need to do in order to remember what initially lit that running fire in your soul…and don’t let that flame go out.
Register for a Race
Did you read the above and think “but Heather, I’m not registered for any races, this doesn’t work for me.” Well, then open another window on your internet browser, find yourself a race, and register! Sometimes having a set goal that is accompanied by a specific number of months, weeks, and days to train can create a sense of urgency that will reignite your motivation to get out there and run. For me, simply the act of writing up a training plan for my next race puts the thrill back in training.
Accountability from a partner is a classic way to ensure you get your training workouts done, even when motivation is low. When you know a running buddy is waiting for you to show up, you are going to be less likely to leave them hanging by skipping a training run.
Pro tip: partner up with a running friend who thrives in (or at least, doesn’t totally hate) the winter. If you’re both fair weather runners, you might be more likely to let each other slip and skip a morning long run when the temperature dips and the appeal of staying in a warm bed is too hard to resist.
Join Group Runs
What’s better than one accountability partner? Multiple accountability partners! Group runs not only hold you accountable to show up and train, but they can also be a ton of fun. There is something rewarding about spending time with other people who have similar goals as you. The banter shared and friendships developed over a long run with a group will keep you coming back out. Plus, as the saying goes: misery loves company!
New Gear Advantage
If you’re anything like me, you probably already have a closet full of running clothing and gear. But when you’re in the winter funk, maybe a little retail therapy will help give you the motivation you need. My husband, Coach Geoff, calls it the “new gear advantage”. Sure, a new pair of fleecy warm winter tights won’t make you faster, but they’ll make you feel warmer and perhaps a little more badass…both of which might be the kick in the pants you need to get out the door. A super bright headlamp may make the dark mornings a little more tolerable – and visible.
The Treadmill is Not That Bad
Listen, I’ll be the first to agree that nothing beats running down a gorgeous trail through the woods. A treadmill doesn’t even come CLOSE to the same level of enjoyment. One leaves you with a primal feeling, the other leaves you feeling like a hamster in a cage.
But treadmills are not THAT bad…and can even be beneficial to your training. It’s all about the mindset you approach them with. Further, when you have big goals – like that race you may be training for – sometimes you have to do things that are less than comfortable.
So let’s look at the positives of a treadmill. You can get your run in at almost any time of the day (especially if you have access to a 24/7 gym or a home treadmill) without worrying about weather, temperature, or daylight hours. You have almost immediate access to a bathroom and water refills at any given point. You can catch up on TV or movies, or mindlessly zone out to music or a podcast, something you can’t (and really shouldn’t) do on roads or trails.
In short: don’t hate the treadmill, view it as a useful tool.
Watch a Motivational Documentary
Nothing gets me stoked to run quite like watching documentaries or short films (or let’s be real, even long runs) about running. Both YouTube and Netflix are chock full of incredible films that feature not only gorgeous trails and race courses, but inspirational stories that will have you lacing up your running sneakers in no time. I also highly recommend checking out Billy Yang Films as well as Ginger Runner Films. Or, check out a few of my past favorites in this post here: Trail Running Film Festival – East Coast Spring Tour
Volunteer at a Race
Sometimes watching other people work hard to do amazing things and achieve their goals can be incredibly inspiring. Plus, you’ll be doing something amazing for the running community as a whole! Interact with the athletes and other volunteers. Surround yourself with the awesomeness that is the endurance community. I promise you’ll leave with new found motivation.
Switch Up Your Routine
Are you simply needing a break from running? Then take it. There are a million other things you can do to stay active and healthy that do not involve running. Try: snowshoeing (a winter favorite of mine!) , lifting weights, taking indoor spin classes, swimming (you probably want to do that indoors as well), cross country skiing, snowboarding, the list goes on and on.
The majority of us reading this post are not elite athletes – our world is not going to come crashing down if we take a small break from running when we are simply not enjoying running. If anything a short break from running while focusing on another form of cross training will make you come back feeling physically and mentally stronger than ever.
Winter running and training can be hard…or it can be a ton of fun, if you simply change your approach and change your mindset.
(Or, you can move South to a land where it only feels like winter for a few days a year. Hey, it worked it for us!)
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.