Winter Training Tips


“Now is the winter of our discontent.” The darkness has been slowly swallowing the day since Halloween. It’s been a warm fall, yet the cold and snow arrived on time for Christmas. The tasks of winter still maintain their nuance, stacking wood, scraping car windows, and shoveling snow. It’s time for stopping by the neighbors for a little impromptu holiday cheer, and some sledding with the kids. There is Christmas shopping to be done, parties to attend; the season of eating and drinking has commenced!

The next thing you know, it’s New Year’s Day. You slowly put a foot on the scale to assess the damage. Meanwhile, the next six weeks mark the coldest and darkest period in the year. Your next race is the end of March. It looks like you indulged a bit too much over the holidays. Now how do you get back on track with your running goals through these “hangover” weeks of winter?

Well first off, let’s join hands with old Ebenezer and hop on the Ghost of Christmas Past back to early December. You did a fall marathon that went really well, and you’re starting to run more again after the obligatory post marathon break. You only have Thanksgiving “under you belt,” but you’re still in the black. Here are 9 things to do now to mitigate the pain of getting out of shape and weathering the long weeks coming of bitter cold.


Certain holiday goodies are your favorites; enjoy them. Frosted, sugar, cookies shaped like trees and Santa Clause only come around once a year, and I plan to eat my share. But every day of the next month isn’t a party. Eat well all week, and then you can afford a splurge on the weekend. Install a calorie counting app on your phone for this month. It’s not hard to eat an extra 3,500 calories when someone presents you with a vat of melted cheese or some chocolate, peanut butter poppers! A pound a party is going to be rough to lose come January.


If you’re a one trick pony and only run, winter is a great time to find a new activity, indoor or outdoor, to do on your easy days. Pick up the class schedule at your gym. Try a little of everything and see whether you like spin, Pilates, boot camp, or the masters swim class. If you would rather be outdoors, get out on some cross-country skis or snowshoes, rent a fat bike, or have a buddy take you out for a skinning lesson. Not pounding the pavement all winter long will keep injuries at bay, and depending what activity you choose, you’ll be working on something that will improve your overall athleticism. Meaning you’ll be getting stronger, more flexible, faster, or continuing to build on your large endurance base.


Running on the “dreadmill” can be fun if you don’t have to do it every day. Save your treadmill runs for specific workouts. The treadmill is a great tool for dialing in pace, monitoring form, and running fast when it’s impossible to do so outside in the ice and snow. Stripping down to shorts and a sports bra a couple times a week and jamming out a workout with some good tunes can be exhilarating. Treadmills are also good for a marker workout or time trial. Getting in a workout that gives you a sense of your current fitness is a good idea once a month or that March race will hurt, “not so good.” Here are Greg McMillan’s 4 Great Treadmill Workouts.


These activities are a lot more appealing in the winter. Baby it’s cold outside, and you have more time to workout now that you’re not in a marathon specific training phase. Also, it’s difficult to make strength gains while marathon training because you’re working out with a fatigued body. When you’re doing fewer miles and more cross training, you’re fresh and can hit some heavier weight. Ultimately the strength gains you make now will make you a faster marathoner because you will have the muscle structure in place to complete an entire training cycle with no niggles or twinges. You’ll be able to power through the final miles instead of feeling like your legs are coming out from underneath you. If you don’t already have your own program, check out the prehab routines Greg McMillan has put together specifically for runners.


Run less but make your runs really count. Take 6-8 weeks to focus on your weaknesses or work on training that isn’t emphasized in marathon training. Hills provide power and are a safe segue into doing speed training. If you’ve plateaued in your times at the longer distances, you need to work on your speed and strength if you hope to get faster again. You can get a great workout in either doing a cut down fartlek ladder or 8-10 times 60-90 second hill repeats in less than an hour. That’s barely time for the sauna to get hot! You can also train using one of our Hills or Maintenance training modules in Run Team (there are also speed and stamina modules to choose from).


The loneliness of the long distance runner is a romantic ideal when it’s 70 degrees and sunny outside. But running alone all winter long is a harsh reality. Seek out other people.


In Northern Minnesota we had a saying. “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.“ It’s not too late to add a pair of wind briefs or some smart wool socks to your Christmas list. If you dress appropriately, the cold isn’t so bad. Get a nice headlamp for those dark mornings. Nothing beats running on a quiet road watching the sunrise while the rest of the world sleeps. Lay all your gear out the night before, so you can grab it and go in the morning without waking a mouse in the house.


Perhaps the best solution to the winter blues is obvious. If possible, get the heck out of winter for a week or so! Pre-vacation the miles will warm you in anticipation and post-vacation the surge of vitamin D and some great training runs will continue to inspire you come lion or lamb March 1st. Few people know the remainder of that verse I began with. “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun.”


You train with purpose. Rest with purpose. Winter is a great time for a planned break from running. Focus on getting more sleep. Sleep is the best healer. Take time to do meditation or yoga. Most people replace their workout time with running around doing other errands or taking on other responsibilities. Make time for yourself to rejuvenate.

Katie McGee is a McMillan Running Coach. Learn more about our Personal Coaching where you can train with a coach like Katie by your side to plan your training and talk about race strategy, performance nutrition, injury prevention, stretching, and much more.

“I have achieved my goals for 5K, 10K, and now a Half Marathon – thanks McMillan Running!”
-James W

Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

Read Greg’s Bio




“I got my first Boston Qualifier today with a 21 personal record!”

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