Ask Ann: How to Approach Winter Months

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Dear Ann,
At this time of year, how did you go about planning your races and schedule for the upcoming year? Also, how did you approach these winter months? I’m getting stir crazy and want to be out there, racing long out on the trails, right now. How do you approach and handle this?
—Luke


Dear Luke,

Decide on your key goal for the upcoming year. For me, sometimes it was a race I loved like WS100, a combination of races like Comrades and WS100 or a challenging series of races like the Grand Slam. I based all of my training and other races on achieving my key goal.

I also always reviewed my previous year’s races. Ultras are all about learning from experiences. What did I do right? What did I do wrong? What did I need to work on?

I picked early races that worked on weaknesses – Way Too Cool was not the optimal course for me, but it was great for working on improving my ability to cruise at high speed on rolling terrain. Sometimes I ran a spring marathons like Napa or Big Sur. Marathons are a race of truth. Find that sustainable level of discomfort and hold it. I would sign up for early-season 50 milers as part of my buildup. I knew I was not in optimum shape to run them fast, but that was not my goal. Sometimes I wanted to work on things I needed to improve: uphill walking. Aid station efficiency. Recovering from a bad stretch. Other times I wanted to try something new: How would my body (and mind) respond if I went out harder or slower? If I walked or ran more than usual on steep uphills? Still other times I just wanted a day where I could have no goals, just let myself run free.

“New Year, New Gear” was always my motto for the turn of the calendar.

Those dreary days in January and February were also the time for cross-training. I developed core routines for myself that were as tough as any training run, and a lot more beneficial than another long, cold slog in the rain. I joined a gym so I could do spin classes. Lots of runners profit from focusing on other outdoor (or indoor!) activities in the winter months. If you live in snow country, try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing for a fun way to build aerobic capacity and strength. Even spending the weekend downhill skiing instead of running can have benefits: that burning feeling in your quads can help build the muscle strength you’ll need for your downhill running. No snow? Try some biking: road, mountain, gravel grinders, even cyclocross are off-season fun sports. For a really good workout, when was the last time you signed up for a yoga class? Yes, guys, it’s not just for us women. Try it for a few months, and you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to float over the rocky trails this spring.

I liked to pick a destination race – someplace new that I’d never been to before. The races were at the optimum time of year for my best performance, but I didn’t care. My goal was to combine a vacation adventure with a good solid training run and a chance to meet new runners.

I also used the winter as the time to let my body heal. We all find ourselves nursing little aches and pains. Backing off on the intensity, distance, or number of days run each week can be difficult – especially for those of us whose bodies and minds crave exercise as much as food and sleep. But letting the body and mind refresh for a few weeks can pay off big time when fit and fresh the following summer.

So, Luke, do what I did: do some reflecting and goal setting, but then use the winter months to heal, build a strong foundation and refresh the mind with some new sports and new types of adventures. Let it be the other runners who go stir-crazy and over train and over race all winter. Don’t worry, this summer you’ll find yourself crazy fast at your goal race!

And I’d love to hear from you and all my other readers what you’re doing for cross-training.

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About Author

Ann Trason is a 14-time women’s champion at the Western States 100, and set World Records at the 50-mile (5:40:18 in 1991), 100K (7:00:47, 1995), 12-Hour (91 miles 1312 yards, 1991) and 100-mile (13:47:42, 1991) distances. Ann was co- director of the Firetrails 50 in northern California for 10 years, and has taught science at the college level. Ann currently coaches middle school cross country and supports other's ultrarunning achievements by volunteering, pacing and crewing at ultramarathon races throughout the Western US.

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