As the temperatures drop and snow looms ever closer, many runners reduce their miles for the winter break. Some even stop running all together. One of my friends, Spongebunny, thought stopping sounded like a great idea. His line of thinking went something like this: My next race is not until the end of May. I need sixteen weeks to train for a marathon. If I start training in January, I will be all set for the marathon.
There is nothing wrong with this line of thinking. He would be ready for the marathon in May if he began training in January.
However, there are also drawbacks to proceeding this way. First is the big one. You lose all your fitness that you have worked so hard to gain. You are actually safe for about ten days before it begins to decline. The longer you have been training the slower it will decline. More experienced runners have a larger base to draw upon.
After two weeks you lose 6% of your fitness and you begin to lose muscle power. Not too bad you say. You’re right it’s not too bad and you can actually make up for it with two or three weeks solid training. From 3 weeks to eight weeks it is 12% and more muscle power loss. Nine to eleven weeks off and you’ve lost 19% of aerobic fitness and significant muscle power. After 11 weeks you’re down by 26% and are waving goodbye to more muscle.
By the time winter is over, you are starting over from the beginning. So what can you do about this? Maintain a base of miles through the winter. How big of a base depends upon your miles at the end of race season and what length of race you are going to start the season off with. If you finish with a marathon and want to start with a marathon, shoot for maintaining a 15-20 mile base through the winter. If you are a 5k or 10k runner, shoot for 10-15 miles a week throughout the winter.
The second problem my friend Spongebunny will have by starting training in January is that his body will not have the chance to adjust to the dropping temperatures during training. The gradual adjustment to the cold is much easier to deal with than the sudden freeze zone. This will be a huge blow to his motivation especially given his decline in fitness over that time.
He could just train in doors on a treadmill or on an indoor track, but I am here to tell you a 15-20 mile run on a treadmill sucks almost as much as it does on an indoor track.
If you are going to do you winter training on a treadmill remember to set it at a 1% incline to account for wind resistance and the belt moving below your feet.