Outrun the February Doldrums

Coach Dan’s five ways to successfully maintain a running routine through the dreariest month of the year.

By | Hub Health |

(Photo via Jupiter Images.)

As this is my first post on Hub Health, I’d like to take moment to introduce myself. I’ve been a runner for more than half my life and now run for New Balance Boston. I currently serve on the USA Track and Field (USATF) New England Association board of governors as cross country chairman. My wife, Lesley is also a running coach, and we help people with their running and fitness goals through our website, nerunningservices.com.

Even with the unseasonably mild winter we’ve been experiencing of late, staying fit through a New England winter is a challenge. Every January, I see a huge spike in runners outside and fitness enthusiasts at the gym, most of which derives from a combination of New Year’s resolutions and penance for holiday cookies. Inevitably though, the gym thins out again and the foot traffic on the streets grows sparse. I call this period the February doldrums, and to help you get through them, here are my top five tips for staying motivated this winter:

  1. Find a running coach or fitness instructor. First, it’s easy to make an excuse when you only have yourself to answer to. Having a coach keeps you motivated, but it also has other benefits. For instance, it’s easy to second guess yourself and question every decision — an objective coach takes away that burden, helping to guide you in finding the right balance of training and resting that’s right for you. You can find a coach through a local club, gym, running store, or online. The coach-athlete relationship is very important, so talk to prospective instructors before deciding on one to make sure you will have a positive and productive relationship. It’s a lot like dating, someone might be great, but it doesn’t mean you’re great together.
  2. Find a training partner or group. As with having a coach, a partner keeps you motivated by expanding your accountability. Your partner also pushes you to be better and to challenge yourself, and can add a level of enjoyment to the run. Just like with finding a coach, look into clubs online or through gyms for something more formal. The Boston Athletic Association, Somerville Road Runners, and Cambridge Running Club are just a few of the options in the Boston area. Running stores, such as the Greater Boston Running Company, often have regular “pick-up” style group runs. No commitment but all the enjoyment.
  3. Keep a training log. Accountability is the word here. By recording your daily toils, you’ll find motivation to get out the door and also to improve on particular loops, challenging yourself to go faster. Keeping a record also helps to prevent repeating training mistakes. You can just use a notebook or you can buy a running or exercise specific training log. There are also a multitude of logs online: Athleticore is a little bit clunky but popular with Boston-area runners; Training Peaks is a more sophisticated log and also allows you to track food and other health metrics (free and pay options).
  4. Keep a schedule but vary your exercise and running routine. Unfortunately, too rigid a schedule can lead to metal fatigue, boredom, and ultimately lack of motivation. Even worse in the case of running, a lack of variety causes injuries. Be sure to spice up your routine with some variety. Throw in some sprints in the middle of a run, even if you have to walk in between (high-intensity intervals are also a good way to further weight loss). Do a few auxiliary exercises to prevent overuse injures and increase overall fitness. Variety may be the spice that keeps you healthy and motivated.
  5. Invest in quality, non-cotton exercise garments. Getting out the door in the winter is hard enough. It’s cold, it’s dark, and it’s often wet. Unlike cotton, wool and synthetic fabrics — especially when layered — keep you warm even when wet. I tend to wear a polyester running T-shirt as a base layer, then a long-sleeved synthetic running shirt, with a thin jacket on top to break the wind and keep me dry. Traditional running pants or spandex allow me to run without heavy, soggy legs. Wind briefs are often critical for men on the coldest days of a New England winter. Don’t let your wardrobe be your excuse for skipping a run.

Bonus tip (I couldn’t keep it to just five): Sign up for a race in March or April to give you a focus. There’s no better motivation than the threat of public humiliation. Or potential glory if you’re more of an optimist than me. The New Bedford Half Marathon is great for those looking for a spring challenge less ambitious than the Boston Marathon. On the shorter side, there are numerous 5k races around St. Patrick’s Day, including the Ras na hEireann USA in Somerville.

I hope these tips help you through a happy, healthy winter. I look forward to hearing your stories and ideas about my Health Hub posts. A blog is a great platform for sharing relevant, timely information while creating a community dialog. With that in mind, I hope that you take the time to post comments and suggestions. I would love to focus on the running, health, and fitness challenges that are important to you, so please email me if you have questions you’d like discussed on this blog. You’re likely to find me at a multitude of races (cross country, track and field, road races) in the Boston area, but in the meantime you can contact me directly at coach@nerunningservices.com.

  • Whitney

    So it’s ok to walk as long as I do some sprinting! That’s good news and a good motivator.

    • Daniel Hocking

      Walking is certainly better than sitting on the couch and if it allows you to extend the time you spend exercising, even better! Plus mixing up the pace is good for your motivation as well as your health. The goal should be to gradually increase the pace of your walking between pickups (don’t have to be full sprints) until you’re able to jog continuously during recovery. But don’t worry if that is a long way off, getting out the door is the most important thing.