Training For a Half-marathon During the Winter Months

My brother and I running in the cold (Turkey Trot 2010)

I have to admit, running in cold weather is not a favorite pass-time of mine.  In fact, if you take a look at my weight chart here, you will see that my weight tends to dramatically increase during the winter months.

Why is that?  Well, I think its a combination of cold weather, lack of sunlight, lots of Holiday food, and if I’m brutally honest…laziness!

So, this year, I decided to sign up for the Tri-cities half-marathon on February 23rd.  In years past, I usually stay in shape until mid-November, and then go into a bit of a hibernation period until March or so.  Its not good!  I usually need about 3 or 4 months to get back to the running shape I was in before the winter!

Now, while this winter has not been perfect for me, I’ve done WAY better a keeping up a jogging schedule and keeping at least some of my long runs in place.  Rather than putting on my standard 20 pounds during the winter months, I’m only up 7 or 8! 😉

So, rather than go into a personal log of how my winter running has gone, I wanted to pass on a few tips that have worked well for me or NOT worked well for me in terms of half-marathon training during the colder months.

The Dreaded Treadmill

Living in Washington state, the time the sun goes up and down changes drastically from summer to winter.  By the time December rolls around, its often still dark at 7am and gets dark again before 5pm.  This can make early morning or evening workouts near impossible to do outside.

So, I typically resign myself to the treadmill for most of December and January.  Maybe this is my laziness kicking in again, but I just like to be in a heated room rather than freezing cold outside and darkness.  Here’s a typical week of treadmill workouts for my half-marathon training:

  • Monday – 6 miles slow and easy (around 8:30 to 8:45 pace).  On the treadmill 🙁
  • Tuesday – Intervals/Speed workout. 1 mile warm-up. 6 x 800 meters at 6:45 pace (could be faster or slower depending on the week).  1 mile cool-down.  On the treadmill 🙁
  • Wednesday – 6 miles slow and easy.  Same as Monday basically.  On the treadmill.
  • Thursday – Tempo run.  1 mile warmup.  4 or 5 mile tempo at half-marathon pace (around 7:40min/mile or so).  Short cool-down. Treadmill.
  • Friday – Rest or 3 mile slow and easy pace.  Treadmill.
  • Saturday – Long run outside!  Depends on where I am in my schedule, but usually around 10 to 13 miles.
  • Sunday – rest.

I could obviously force myself to run outside more, but its just so much easier to not get bundled up and brave the cold and dark.

Related: The best treadmill to use at home.

Bring on the Sun!

I wish I could say I followed that schedule faithfully throughout the winter, but there were a couple of weeks where I only made it out once or twice.  And several other weeks where I missed a couple of days.

I really just didn’t feel motivated to run during some of these cold, dark weeks.  Have you ever felt like that?  I knew I had a race coming up, but the winter was getting the better of me.  Honestly, I probably would have just sat around all day without my friend Stephen and others motivating me to get out on the weekends.  Accomplishing goals is always easier when you are held accountable.

Related: Best Cold Weather Running Gear

But something interesting happened about 2 weeks ago.  Suddenly I felt like I actually WANTED to go for a jog.  I had been forcing myself to get on the treadmill but never really enjoyed it.  But one day I woke up and noticed that the sun was a little brighter outside than it had been, and I just felt like I had made it over the hump of the winter!

These past 2 weeks (last few days of January until now, Feb 10th), I’ve been able to hit all my planned workouts!

Having just a little bit more sunlight is bringing back the desire to get outside more, run a little longer, and start some serious training!  Of course, I may not be setting any sort of personal record in my race (see my PRs here), but just having this race to keep my jogging is good enough.

Final 2 Weeks Before the Half-Marathon

My final 2 weeks of training before the Tri-cities half marathon on Feb. 23rd are starting today.  This week, my plan is very similar to the standard workout plan I wrote above, except most of it will be outside (yeah!) and my long run will probably be about 8 miles on Saturday.  The final week will be more of a taper week, that may look something like this:

  • Monday – 5 miles easy (8:30 to 8:45 min pace or half-marathon goal pace + 1 minute)
  • Tuesday – 4 miles easy + 4 strides
  • Wednesday – 5 miles easy
  • Thursday – 4 miles easy
  • Friday – rest
  • Saturday – Half-marathon race!

Now, this is not meant to be an ideal plan for everyone.  But this is just a real basic taper week for me with reduced mileage and intensity.  This post is also not meant to be a discussion of the best ways to taper, I’ll try to get to that in a future post.

Anyway, the sun is starting to shine a little better, and I’m feeling like I’m going to survive the winter!  As much as I hate the treadmill, I’m glad it was there to keep me in shape (not perfect shape, but not 20 lbs out of shape either).

So, if you are plugging along, training in the winter…I totally understand what you are going through!  You can make it!

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them below.  And of course, I’ll be sure to come back here and post my race results…so stay tuned!

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