Last updated: 11-Dec-18
By James Eacott
Let’s face it, training for an ultra marathon through winter is tough. Whatever way you cut it, however committed you are, I defy anyone who says their motivation doesn’t wane even momentarily through the dark, cold months.
But fear not, for we have some practical, real-world tips that we hope will help keep motivation high and some practical training tips for when getting outside isn’t an option.
So, without any more hesitation, and in no particular order, here we go…
1. Get a training partner
Meeting a friend or group for training will definitely help ensure you lace up and head out the door. Having the accountability of someone to answer to, will not only reduce the need for self-motivation but will likely make the actual session much more enjoyable too.
Try and plan a week in advance and nail when and where you’re going to meet so it doesn’t fall off your plate. If you can, why not finish your run at the local watering hole and enjoy a pint or vino in front of a fire!
Come to think of it, our Forum would be a great place to connect with other ultra runners if you’re on the hunt for winter training buddies.
2. Invest in adequate kit
There’s nothing worse than heading out into inclement weather with inadequate kit. Whether that’s freezing temperatures and rain for us in the North, or the heat our Southern Hemisphere compatriots are currently experiencing.
It’s much easier to get out the door knowing that the clothing battle is already won. We’ve reviewed a lot of kit – see if anything takes your fancy.
3. Get a proper head torch
A bit of an extension of #2, a proper head torch is an absolutely vital piece of kit to keep your winter miles ticking over.
The difference a headtorch can make is massive. If you’re trotting along with 300+ lumens pumping from the top of your head, much like a car headlight, then you’re not only much less likely to trip and injure yourself, but you will also feel safer and more willing to go out in the dark.
This is a piece of kit we really recommend you don’t skimp on. Steve reviewed 7 of the best head torches in 2016 – of course many of these now have new editions, but it’s a good place to start. More recently, we’ve tested the Petzl ACTIK, the LED Lenser and the Petzl Reactik+ amongst others.
4. Follow the 10-minute rule
If you simply can’t be bothered to run but know you should, commit to 10 minutes. Then commit to just that – that’s all. If you run for 10 minutes and you still want to stop, then head home.
Nine times out of 10 you’ll continue once you’ve done those 10 minutes, but starting with that ‘out’ will help get you going in the first place.
5. Get a coach
A coach will add structure, shake up your normal routine and will provide motivation and accountability. All of these will improve your running, so employing a coach over winter is a great way to take the next step in developing as an ultra runner.
You’ll find our Head Coach Andy Mouncey has written a lot of articles on our Training Pages, so head over there and check him out. There’s link to his website too if you want to reach out to him.
6. Join a gym
Even if motivation to train is high, it can still be hard to drag yourself out onto the trails in the depths of winter. And even though most of us would prefer to stay away from the stifling sweat-pits, they do offer benefits to the motivated ultra runner in winter.
They’re a great place to build a foundation of strength on which to add running miles, but don’t waste time in there – it’s very easy to lose hours faffing around, not really getting much work done. Check out our strength and conditioning for ultra runners article for exercises, rep ranges and how to structure a plan.
And if you find yourself in the gym, why not make use of the dreadmill and get some running-on-the-spot done! These three treadmill sessions to spice things up will get you started.
7. Have a nutrition strategy for the office party / Christmas lunch / New Year bash
Not only is it dark, wet and cold North of the Equator, but it’s the time of year that all the good stuff graces our plates…
Roulade. Banoffee pie. Yule log. Irish coffee. It’s all sitting there, looking at you. Luring you in. But hold fire.
It might sound a little anal but having a plan of attack in these situations will help you indulge guilt free and might just see you consume fewer calories than if you’d ploughed straight in with no plan!
So, before plunging into the pile of profiteroles, follow this three-step plan:
- Ensure you’re hydrated. Drink a pint or two of water before heading out.
- Hit the protein first – you’ll feel fuller for longer.
- Get the savoury food in second, it tends to contain less sugar.
Of course, if there were a ‘fourth’, then it would be most definitely to enjoy all the above guilt-free. Reward your hard work in 2018 and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to eat healthy.
8. Commit to some cross-training
I’m a big fan of cross training in winter. Get in the pool, on the bike or sit yourself on a rowing machine and you’ll not only make training more enjoyable, but you’ll also become a better athlete for it.
When we focus on running, which is right to do as race season approaches, high-mileage takes priority. But while mileage is relatively low during winter, use different exercises to build a foundation of strength and develop a more ‘balanced’ body which is also more injury-proof.
Check out our four ways to hack the winter long run to get the endurance benefits without having to commit to hours on the trail.
9. Plan your 2019 race calendar
Get fired for 2019 by planning out your season. Enter races that not only challenge or even intimidate you, but also local races where you can just run for fun or enter with mates.
If you need inspiration, our comprehensive race listings page is a good place to start.
10. Visualise 2019
It’s difficult to picture yourself on the start line of a race when your next one seems like months away, but visualisation is a key technique to keep your mojo flowing and motivation high.
It doesn’t take much to reflect on those great moments when you ran well and felt strong. Remember the adrenaline that surged through your body as you approached the finish line?
Reflect on those brilliant moments and impose them onto future events. Picture how you’ll feel standing on the start line of your first race in 2019, well prepared with months of training in the bank, confident you’re in shape to get the best from yourself.
11. Make the most of the off season!
At the end of the day, unless your surname is Jornet or Forsberg, it’s unlikely you’re making a living from ultra running.
Yes, it’s a passion, but it’s not worth sacrificing all fun and frolics over the festive period for.
So, enjoy the mince pieces, the Irish coffee and the profiteroles and keep training ticking over – hopefully the above will help you do just that.