Much like Westeros from HBO's Game of Thrones, Minnesota appears to be caught in the clutches of a never-ending winter! This past week, we experienced temperatures that would have been considered 'average' for January 15th! Countless meets were cancelled, trails were unplowed, winds were gusting, and it is times like these that can make us wish we were in San Francisco where it is 70 and sunny everyday and the training continues uninterrupted! Alas, we live in Minnesota, so the winter is something we must deal with. This week we'll dig into how to keep training consistent through the snow, as well as what high school teams are doing to prepare in the early stages of this season!
At least for high schoolers, training through the winter makes it tricky to find a good balance between maintaining fitness and overtraining. It is more or less a universally-agreed fact that a high schooler who pumps out 60-mile weeks throughout the fall, winter, and spring will either 1) get injured, or 2) burnout. Many athletes choose to try other sports, the most 'like-for-like' for distance runners like me being nordic skiing, but basketball, wrestling, and swimming offer excellent alternatives to running as well.
From personal experience, I do compete in nordic skiing over the winter, however I have found that simply ignoring my running (as I did from 9th grade fall to spring) is not a recipe for success. Coming out of the winter with no mileage, and then proceeding to hit the pavement right away is a one-way path to impact injuries!
The right balance for me was cutting down to about ⅔ or ⅗ of my 'in-season' mileage. Those 30-40 miles per week were not high intensity, but rather easy mileage to keep my muscles used to the motion, with an occasional tempo run thrown in here and there.
The winter is also a good time to lift weights and build up a good balance of muscles, which is another necessary step to prevent injury.
My next winter training tip would be to get outside as best you can! Indoor tracks are not only hard to come by, but can also lead to injury with overuse. Furthermore, I can personally attest to the intense boredom that grips you after running for an hour and a half while doing nothing but staring at a wall. Weather permitting, I try to get out for every run. Invest in some winter running clothes and shoes (Salomon Speedcross are great). Something about braving the elements, and heading out gives you a sense of Minnesotan pride, knowing that only a small percentage of high school runners will experience winters in quite the same way as you experience them!
As the high school track season begins, it is reasonable to expect to have to cope with the elements for the first week or so, but as teams return from spring break, usually training outdoors is not a problem. Yet, here we are, April 8th, and it is supposed to snow once again!
The extended winters we face in Minnesota make it very difficult for athletes. For example, qualifying for the Hamline Elite Meet is the goal of many athletes like myself - however, it requires a fast early season time. With limited training due to weather restrictions, as well as meet cancellations, fast times are hard to come by during the opening month or so of the season. Weather is undoubtedly one of the primary factors that explains why it is hard to compare Minnesota times and athletic accomplishments directly with athletes from states like California or Florida, or even other midwestern states. I mean, consider that California has had nearly 200 female athletes break 10 minutes in the 3200m on the track, but Minnesota has never had anyone come close!
This year, our school (Mounds Park Academy) has four meets scheduled before the Hamline Elite Meet. However, one is an indoor meet, and two have a fairly significant chance of being cancelled due to snow on the track!
All of these factors require Minnesotan athletes to form a different viewpoint on how they approach their seasons. Time goals must be flexible and take into account the possibility for weather like this, because there may be seasons where you never get decent weather! Whether it is snow cancelling outdoor meets, torrential rain, or the 90 degree and high humidity days, an athlete may only have one meet per season that presents them with favorable conditions. Personally, the last three years I have competed at the State meet it has never been below 88 degrees. The 1600-meter race last year was run in 93 degree heat, with a headwind down the backstretch that ranged from 14-29 MPH (according to the St. Paul weather archives).
Minnesota times have to be taken with a grain of salt (maybe a few grains of salt), and it is in the face of less than favorable conditions that Minnesota runners continue to perform at the highest level, set new personal and state records, and demonstrate a admirable and unwavering drive to compete.
So don't be discouraged by the weather! It comes with living in Minnesota! Everybody is experiencing the same conditions, and everybody will have to adapt. The best athletes will find a way to soldier on, and come the end of the season, the athletes who deal with the adversity the best usually come out on top. Train on!
Questions, comments, concerns?
Fellow running junkie to talk to?