It can be difficult to stay motivated to run when the mornings and evenings are dark and the temperatures are low at this time of year, especially with a fair number of the SA running community in post-Comrades hibernation, but one effective way to keep your fitness up in preparation for spring is by introducing strength work and cross-training. – BY RAY ORCHISON
It's dark and cold, and as you grudgingly plod through your morning run in tracksuit, gloves, beanie and thermal underwear, one question remains: “Am I crazy?” Fortunately, our winters are not that bad – there are very few parts of our country that require us to run through snow and temperatures below freezing – but it's still a challenge to stay inspired to run instead of waiting for warmer days!
The Comrades Marathon effectively marks the end of the main running season in this country, with the new season starting round about September/October. As runners, we all know that two to three weeks of no exercise will have a very small effect, if any, on our base fitness. We'll probably lose a bit of our racing 'sharpness,' but that comes back very quickly. The problem is missing two to three months of training. That's a long time to be doing nothing, and by the time we get started again, we basically have to start from scratch in order to build our fitness back to a reasonable level.
Now wouldn't it be nice to come out of winter ready to start hitting some quality training and with the possibility of going for a PB before the end of the year? It's possible if we simply keep our base fitness intact through winter, and tree or four runs a week with a weekly average of around 30 to 40km is more than enough to keep you ticking over.
Having adequate upper body and especially core strength is a critical part of running, ensuring that we're able to take on high mileage injury-free, but one of the areas that most runners ignore – or don't find the time for once the running season is fully underway – is strength work. Now I'm not saying we need to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, because having strength does not mean having bulky muscles. Just look at the Kenyan and Ethiopian middle and long distance runners – they're very thin and light, but if you look at their muscle definition, you'll see that they're incredibly strong. As middle and long distance athletes we want to be light and strong, so we should aim for muscle strength as opposed to muscle bulk.
The dark winter months offer you a great opportunity to slip into the warmth of a local gym and to start building and developing your strength. If you're new to it, start light and concentrate on doing the exercise correctly, with proper form. Doing strength work incorrectly is not only a waste of time and energy, but can also lead to injury. Once you've mastered the exercise and you can feel it working the areas you are expecting to work, then gradually start increasing the weight while reducing the number of reps. For example, you might start with a light 5kgweight and do 12 to 15 reps per set. As you begin to master the exercise, you can increase the weight to 10kgand reduce the reps to 10. Eventually you might build up to 30 or 40kgwith only six reps.
Some cross-training is also a great way to keep your cardio fitness up and to work your muscles in a different way to running. Swimming, spinning and rowing are great cross-training sessions for a runner, both in and out of season. But most of all, enjoy the winter running, strength work and cross-training, and hang in there, because spring is not far off.
You can train for a road race mostly on a treadmill, but you’ll have to make a few tweaks. For starters, increase the incline and ‘run hills’ once or twice a week, for balanced fitness. The slower uphill workouts build strength and power, while faster flat workouts build stamina, endurance and foot speed. Better yet, keep adjusting both speed and incline during your workouts, to simulate the changing terrain of an outdoor run.
Also, because treadmill belts offer a relatively soft landing, prepare your body for racing on harder surfaces:
· Strength-train twice a week (lunges, squats, hip extensions, planks, push-ups).
· Run outdoors at least once each week during the last four weeks of training.
During your race, walk for a minute at every refreshment station, to ease the overall impact on your body and give you a chance to hydrate.
Ray Orchison is a Johannesburg-based USATF and NAASFP certified coach. Find him at www.runetics.comor firstname.lastname@example.org.