How High Should You Set Your Winter Running Expectations?


Winter is a lull in my race training schedule. For the past three years, I’ve run the Chilly Half Marathon in November and then spent several months running with no specific purpose until about March when I might start an actual training plan for an event in May or June.

I love these winter months.

My running expectations in the winter are intentionally low. I’ve learned to set myself up for success by factoring in the weather, snow days and cold season and not try to run my highest mileage weeks in January.

My goal is just to run enough to elevate my spirits and not lose too much of my aerobic capacity.

But there’s a real pleasure in going a bit further on some of these winter runs, or pushing a bit harder. It feels like cheating. It’s not part of my training plan for the next race, it’s squeezing in improvement for fun. Not that training isn’t fun, but it’s purposeful and goal oriented. When I accomplish a training workout, I’m hitting a target I already set, not doing extra credit.

When you expect yourself to run 3 times a week easy in the winter just to remind your legs you’re a runner, it’s easy to feel extra accomplished if you suddenly run a 5 day week. You could run the same 5 day week in the midst of a training cycle and have missed your goal and feel disappointed.

Not in the winter!

I have to achieve so little to pat myself on the back in the winter, and it’s GREAT.

I think that’s why I love the cyclical nature of training for races. I work hard getting ready for a race, then I ease up expectations and coast through some lower mileage weeks on those racing legs. Then I spend some time with the lowest of expectations, feeling awesome for just getting out and running at all when it’s 19 degrees out. By the time Spring approaches and I’m excited to get out, I’ve taken it easy enough all winter that I’m ready for the physical and mental challenge of more intense training.

Whatever your winter running goal, or your New Year’s Resolution, it’s worth keeping in mind that the easier it is to meet or exceed, the more likely you are to hit target and feel good about it.

It’s awesome to really challenge yourself, but if you really challenge yourself all of the time, you may risk burning out. In any category of life.

Happy Winter Running!*

*Or tea drinking, or reading, or making snowmen with the kids because school is cancelled, or otherwise taking it easy because you’ve set realistic expectations for yourself!

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  1. This winter I’ve done the most outdoor running in my running career. Partially due to it being milder than normal, partially due to signing up for a spring marathon. But there is definitely some satisfaction in completing a normal workout outside when it’s 10 degrees and poor road conditions!

    1. Totally! Though, um, not enough satisfaction to get me out there recently… I need to get it in gear and get out there!

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