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11 Ways to Thrive in Winter Marathon Training

Quite a few runners find themselves training for a marathon in the winter – whether by choice, or by circumstance. Whether you have a spring goal race or there is simply more time to train during this less-busy time of year, winter marathon training is often the only option.

Can you run a marathon in the winter?

Yes, you can absolutely run a marathon in the winter. Winter running certainly presents a few challenges, but there are some benefits as well.

Learning how to training for a marathon in the winter can help amplify your success, keep things comfortable, and set you up to conquer your goals on race day. While many runners prefer the ease of summer or fall running, quite a few others enjoy the brisk, cold training runs before a late winter race.

Obstacles with Training for a Marathon in the Winter

Winter running presents quite a few more obstacles when compared to other seasons. Unless you live in a mild climate, it’s likely that winter means chilly temperatures and plenty of precipitation. These obstacles certainly are not enough to deter runners from completing their training, but are worth considering.

Winter marathon training often includes:

  • Less daylight
  • Cold temperatures
  • Harsh winds
  • Snow and/or freezing rain
  • Icy and/or snowy terrain

While this list is definitely not appealing, each of these obstacles can be conquered or diminished with just a bit of preparation. These conditions might bring a few challenges, but with proper gear, timing and attitude, they can even become comfortable and even enjoyable.

Advantages of Winter Marathon Training

Despite the obvious obstacles, quite a few runners find that training for a marathon in the winter is worth the struggles. Many runners believe that the benefits of winter marathon training far outweigh the obstacles.

Here are few benefits of training for a marathon in the winter:

  • Adverse conditions build strength for race day
  • Uneven terrain helps prevent muscle imbalances
  • Gain mental strength from more repetitive runs
  • Helps prevent the winter blues or seasonal depression
  • Avoid losing fitness/gaining weight during the holidays
  • Regular fresh air and sunlight

It can be tempting to take a break and hibernate through the winter, even for runners. However, as tempting as it initially might sound, a surprising number of adults find themselves feeling down through the winter as the temperature cools and darkness increases.

Training for a marathon in the winter is a great way to avoid these seasonal blues, prevent the traditional weight gain, and start the new year off with even more fitness than the year prior.

Training for a marathon in the winter doesn't have to be miserable! Here are 11 ways to enjoy winter marathon training.

11 Ways to Thrive When Training for a Marathon in the Winter

If you’ve started training for a marathon in the winter, or are simply considering it for the next season, taking the time to plan ahead and prepare will help propel your success – even in adverse conditions. Here are a few ways to thrive this upcoming season.

Find the right running clothes

Even the coldest temperature can feel comfortable with the right clothes and gear. Paying a little extra for a few, high quality pieces of clothing will be of much more use than trying to find cheap, light gear.

Try adding a balaclava or face mask to protect your skin from the wind, use waterproof shoes, thick running tights and waterproof jackets. Invest in the right gear and even the coldest run will be manageable.

Have a backup, indoor option

No matter how well prepared we may be, the weather is not always conducive to running. Whether the temperature is too far below zero or the winds and snow make for too little visibility, sometimes running outdoors in the winter is not possible.

Winter marathon training requires having an indoor option for those days when outdoor running is impossible. While the treadmill or indoor track might not be the most exciting options, they make marathon training in the winter possible.

>>Related: Marathon Training on the Treadmill

Complete an indoor warm up

Warming up is especially essential when training in the winter. However, warm up stretches and dynamic exercises are of most benefit when completed indoors.

Make a point to complete your dynamic warm up inside before heading out to run. Your body will be warm and ready before the cold even hits, making the transition that much easier.

Stay hydrated

Surprisingly, staying hydrated in the winter is often harder than in the summer. The cold weather makes it harder to notice that we are thirsty, which usually means that less water is consumed before, during and after runs.

Be intentional about your water consumption even if you don’t think you are thirsty. Make a point to drink water during all of your long runs, just as you would in warmer weather.

Use the right gear

Just as finding the right running clothes is important, the right gear and accessories can make a huge difference as well.

Running on ice or snow can be better managed with spikes or traction accessories for your shoes. Waterproof gear is really beneficial for staying dry in the snow or rain, and hand warmers are perfect for keeping your fingers toasty in even the coldest temperatures.

Be flexible with your training plan

Regardless of how well prepared and determined you may be, staying consistent with the schedule is not always as easy when training for a marathon in the winter.

If a huge snow storm comes through on the weekend, it might be better to move your long run to a Friday or Monday. Head into winter marathon training knowing that you’ll need to be flexible, and adjust each day and week as needed.

Complete long runs in loops

Most trails or sidewalks are not completely shoveled and maintained throughout the entire winter. If you’re struggling to find a clear path, it might be worth completing your long run in loops or segments.

Find a loop or path nearby that is maintained and cleared, and run repeats to fit in the entire mileage of the long run. Not only will you complete your run as scheduled, but you’ll build incredible mental strength.

Plan ahead

Winter marathon training is not a time when you’ll be able to wing it. If you’re planning to train for a marathon in the winter, you’ll need to be committed. Each week, check the weather and plan your training ahead of time.

Pack any gear or clothes you’ll need for runs, adjust your schedule to be able to run during the hours of daylight, and get creative with how and when you’ll fit in each activity.

Use cross training to compensate

There will likely be at least one or two times throughout your marathon training when it will be impossible to fit in all the workouts. Whether that’s due to the weather, an injury or a busy schedule, you’ll need to use cross training to compensate.

If you were only able to fit in 6 miles of a 12 mile run, adding an extra hour on the elliptical can at least help maintain cardiovascular fitness. Try to compensate with a similar cross training activity, focusing on cardio-based workouts, to make up for any runs that were missed.

Stay accountable

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut during the winter. One missed run turns into a full week of skipped workouts or cut backs. Before you know it, it’s harder than ever to get moving and head outside.

Find a way to stay accountable – whether that means sharing your goals with a friend, joining a running group, or going public with your training, the accountability will keep you motivated even when the weather is at its worst.

Find races to stay motivated

Another great way to stay accountable and motivated to continue winter marathon training is to participate in races throughout the season. Even local 5ks can help you stay motivated and find joy in the sport.

Just because you’ll be training for a marathon in the winter doesn’t mean it’s going to be a struggle. Finding ways to stay excited about training will keep things fun and interesting. Focusing on all of the advantages and benefits of running during winter will keep motivated to accomplish your goal.

When you’re ready to begin winter marathon training, be sure you are prepared with gear to keep you warm and safe in even the harshest of conditions. Here are some must-haves for training during the winter season.

Gear for Winter Marathon Training

Training for a marathon in the winter involves running through snow, ice, wind, freezing temperatures, and dark days. This gear will make each and all of those conditions feel more comfortable – and even enjoyable.

  • Gortex running shoes (waterproof)
  • Yaktrax or other running spikes
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Balaclava or face mask
  • Running hat and mittens
  • Hand warmers
  • Waterproof socks
  • Thin base layers for layering
  • Thick, fleece running tights

Winter marathon training is a unique adventure that many runners don’t get to experience. If you’re preparing for a marathon this winter, planning ahead will be key to success. Spend time setting your mindset and focusing on all of the advantages as well as the beauty of the season. Stick with it, and you’ll be stronger for it.

More tips for training for a marathon in the winter: