Creative Ways to Stay Motivated During the Winter Months

Running along the Potomac River
Running along the Potomac River

Last night, I bundled up to run 3 miles across the Key Bridge into DC. It was somewhere around 36 degrees, the sun had set, and there was a breeze that felt like gale force winds once I got outside. The inevitable dilemma of wondering if I had dressed warm enough came to mind numerous times, and it went back and forth from, “I totally overdressed,” to “I definitely should have worn that fleece-lined quarter-zip instead.” It happens with winter running. Sometimes you just don’t know until you are out there, and it’s not like dressing for summer running for which all you need to wear is a tank and shorts. Bundling up for cold winter runs is definitely one of the biggest barriers for us winter warriors. And most of the time, it’s a guessing game.

Another barrier: that first few steps out the door. It’s hard enough already to keep your motivation intact, but getting outside and exposing yourself to the shock of a 50-degree drop in temps compared to your cozy, snug apartment is definitely enough to make you want to turn around and say forget it. Most runners who can’t take it choose to battle it out on the treadmill, which is totally fine. The point is to get it done, right? But I personally can’t stand the treadmill, so that’s just not an option for me.

Staying motivated to run in the winter months is absolutely a mental game, but it’s not a tough one. It’s also not an added challenge. There’s almost nothing better than being all warm and bundled up on a winter run, in my opinion.

Here’s how I stay motivated to run during the dead of winter.

  • Remember that it’s still less than 1% of your day. Unless I am training for a spring marathon, most of my runs are no longer than an hour or an hour and a half.  There are 60 minutes in one hour, 24 hours in one day, and 1,440 minutes in 24 hours. You do the math. No matter the season, an hour-long run is still a tiny part of your entire day.
  • Plan ahead. This is an area I struggle with as far as making sure I get my running in for the day, but with fewer hours of daylight, there is not as much time to take your time. Bringing your running clothes with you to the office, if that is convenient for you, waking up early to run, or planning meetings around a lunch hour are the keys to making sure you get your miles in.
  • Find a way to love what you do. I tell everyone who asks me how I can run that many miles that it’s like anything else: you have to love what you do. If you look at the positives of winter running, whether it’s the brisk feeling of cold on your cheeks as your whole body is snuggled up warm in your fleece, or feeling extra hardcore for beating the elements, finding what you love about getting outside is the best strategy to getting outside when you plain just don’t want to.
  • Aesthetics matter. There are some trails that will probably never be beautiful no matter the season, and those are the ones to avoid during the winter when they will likely be even uglier. Find a route, even if it is out of your way, to run during the winter so you at least have something to feast your eyes upon .
  • Run with a group or a friend. When I am training for something, running with a group or a friend is hard for me because I usually have a goal in mind for the run. Running with someone else sparks my competitive side, so I prefer to run alone. However, in the winter months, getting out there with friends or other runners makes running fun again. And there is definitely more time to be social when you are not training!
  • Find a virtual race. It’s always easier to run when you know there’s a medal waiting for you at the end!

Winter is definitely one of my favorite seasons to run in, and it doesn’t take much to appreciate the benefits of this season as a runner. What are some of your running tips for the cold winter months?

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3 thoughts on “Creative Ways to Stay Motivated During the Winter Months

  1. I really do think the hardest step is that first step out the door! Once I start running, I love the crisp air – as long as it’s not too windy. Even when it is, I remind myself that I am out in the elements because I WANT to be, and count my blessings — including the grande Starbucks I will enjoy when I’m done!

  2. Great post! I like to think that I am the expert at knowing how to dress based on looking at my weather app. But then when I get out there, I always question myself! I much prefer winter running to summer running, except for when it snows and ices, making it unsafe and forcing me on the treadmill!

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