While some winter weather strongly suggests heading inside to a treadmill, I encourage you to embrace rather than flee the elements.
I hope you are complementing your winter running with activities like spinning, cross-country skiing, swimming and snow-shoeing. However the best winter training tool is embodied by Finnish “Sisu,” a very old word in Finnish history meaning to believe in yourself and have the guts to do it and the craziness to endure.
Exuberance for all sports and games played in cold weather conditions is an important part of childhood. Growing up in this way, they become hardier people and better runners. As adults, running in winter teaches us how to thrive on the power of nature and the elements. It makes us more independent, more accustomed to hardships and unflinching with discomfort.
If we let it, running in winter suits our souls like those of the Finns. Summers are short in Finland and the imminent return of darkness creates a higher sense of urgency, lending to an existential bent to running and life.
What about you? Are your winter runs leaving you exhausted, sweaty and smiling, like you’ve completely worked every system in your body? If not, next time bring your Sisu!
“Running is in the blood of every Finn. When you see these pure deep forests, these fertile wide-open fields with their typical red painted worker’s houses, these ridges with their clusters of trees, the endless blue horizon that shades over into lakes, then you are overwhelmed by excitement and you feel the urge to run – because we have no wings to fly. Just to run on light feet through this Nordic landscape for mile after mile and hour after hour after hour like an animals in the forest. They began to run because of a profound compulsion, because a strange dreamlike landscape, full of enchanting mysteries, called to them. It is not the hunt for records, for praise or honor that spurs on the sons of Scandinavia to almost superhuman achievement. Their awe inspiring times are a way of giving thanks to Mother Earth.”
– The Miracle of Finnish Running (1930) – (from Running A Global History by Thor Gottas)
It’s easy to focus on the uphill portions of a trail workout, but it’s the downhill stretches that improve balance, leg speed and confidence. Proper downhill form isn’t something you were born with or not; it can be learned.
The advice for downhill running is simple: lean forward slightly from the ankles and use mid-foot landings directly under your hips. This avoids the all-too-common tendency to lean back and heel strike, causing muscle pain in the quads and low back. Leaning forward while running downhill, even on a gentle slope, can be uncomfortable for many people at first because of the fear of losing control.
But taking risks — within the limits of safety — commands your attention and pushes you to focus. Leaning forward with level hips as you descend, stretching each foot marginally farther on every step, forces your nervous system to control your feet, ankles, and legs while optimizing your balance, speed and confidence.
The Trail Up-Tempo Workout
To run “up-tempo” is to carry out any workout at a considerably faster rhythm than your casual, conversational pace. The trail up-tempo workout is a real threshold run where we create attention-demanding challenges by running rhythmically in tougher environments. Pushing against the limiting factors of the trail helps us find our real lactate threshold pace for a period just long enough to initiate physiological adaptation, yet not so long that needless training discomfort occurs.
There are all sorts of ways to build energy and momentum on trails. This is done not by working harder, but by making agile movements, taking light leaps over tree roots, balancing on boulders, navigating sharp switchbacks speedily, avoiding muddy patches — or tromping right through them! Moving rapidly on rocky surfaces, through soft sand, dense grasses or shallow creeks, attacking a formidable headwind… all of these challenges force us to alter our habitual stride pattern.
Both the stride and the foot-strike are self-optimizing systems. By changing terrain spontaneously, climbing slopes vigorously, accelerating down hills freely and absorbing ground forces reflexively, we create efficiency and reduce the chance of injury by breaking out of the unhealthy repetitive-motion groove.
|Trail Up-Tempo Workout||1st 20 minutes||Next 20 minutes||Last 20 minutes|
1:00 total running time
|Slow, relaxed running with some uphill||Sustained up-tempo w/ form and breathing under control||Moderate paced, free running – however you feel|
|Trail Up-Tempo Workout||1st 20 minutes||Next 40 minutes||Last 30 minutes|
1:30 total running time
|Slow, relaxed running with some uphill||Sustained up-tempo w/ form & breathing under control||Moderate paced, free running – however you feel|
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can make this workout part of a training routine that can directly enhance your health and running performance, please contact me through this site to get on our mailing list, to schedule a private session or attend a complimentary group workout.
Keep This in Mind
The amount of training, the intensity of training, and the time it takes for that training to positively affect the body can vary greatly from person to person. Depending on the runner, a less intense session may actually be more beneficial than an intense one. On good days, running feels effortless; that’s the easy part of training. On difficult days, you might feel like you’re running through molasses. The difficult part of training is to stick with the run and not be discouraged by your lack of “progress.” On a deeper, cellular level you may have accomplished more on a difficult day than those speedsters who passed you!
Workout for New Intermediates: THE MODERATE RUN
We always start this workout at a slow pace for the first 25% of the distance. Then we gradually speed up until we reach a steady, comfortable pace with our form and breathing totally under control. It’s fine for anyone to slow down while they are figuring this out. We maintain this steady pace for the middle 50% of the distance. For the last 25% of the distance, we gently accelerate to a slightly faster pace without straining at all… whatever speed feels like it puts us in our “flow.” We’re conservative when making these speed changes.
The degree that we increase our closing speed depends predominantly on how we feel. Every workout can be a good workout as long as we’re putting in the right amount of effort… no more, no less.
Workout for Experienced Intermediates: THE VARIABLE-PACED RUN
In this workout we incorporate bursts of much faster running into a continuous run. Following our natural impulses to run faster in response to the natural terrain stimulates aerobic development and VO2 max. It also develops foot-speed, the ability to surge and change speeds, and cultivates mental resilience: we learn to lean into the run whether we’re having a good day or a challenging one.
Varying the speeds at which you run not only helps you become more efficient, it reduces your chances of injury by breaking up repetitive-motion patterns. The precise coordination required to sustain even a slightly faster pace, combined with the corresponding changes in cadence and habitual stride patterns, alleviates the stress of running at the same pace mile after mile.
We’re very careful with these runs! We regulate our top speed by being especially mindful that our form and breathing are totally under control.
If our aim is to run fast, why rehearse slowing down as we get tired? Shouldn’t we practice speeding up? Even though it’s very therapeutic and enjoyable to run slow and easy, the ability to change one’s pace is vital to the Way of Running.