Thursday, January 13, 2011

Outrun the Seasonal Blahs

Every mile is two in winter.  
-George Herbert

This is no doubt the hardest time of year to stay focused and cheery. The short days and bitter cold make us want to do nothing other than cozy up on the couch and not come out again until April. 

So, in 2011 we'll be giving these oh-so-handy tips and tricks from Runner's World a try to see if we can "outrun the seasonal blahs". Of course it won't be easy - especially considering Mother Nature's latest winter fury - but we'll do our best to stay upbeat and make this year different from the rest. So without further ado...

Supplement Your Sun
Vitamin D, made by the skin when exposed to sunlight, is more than just a vitamin. It acts like a hormone, which means it affects every tissue in the body, Dr. Martinez says. Vitamin D deficiency may cause run-thwarting depression and fatigue, as well as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis... "You'll produce up to 20,000 IU of vitamin D by being in the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the summer," Dr. Martinez says. "But in the winter, leaving for work and returning home in the dark means no vitamin D." Getting outside during your lunch break—even for just a 10- to 15-minute walk—helps. [Sidenote: easier said than done in DC, Runner's World. But we'll give it a try]... To help ward off depression and fatigue, pop one 2,000 IU vitamin D pill daily in the winter.

Go for 20 Minutes

When you run, you feel good, and you keep at it. When you don't run, you feel bad, and it becomes more difficult to start back up again. [Sidenote: ooh! so true!] The cause behind this phenomenon is simple brain chemistry, says Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist who has completed more than 100 marathons and triathlons. When we're stressed from missing runs, our cortisol levels increase. Elevated levels of this hormone cause a domino effect in the body, reducing testosterone and interfering with brain neurotransmitter function, resulting in decreased motivation, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Luckily, running acts as a natural de-stressor, clearing excess cortisol, bringing testosterone levels back to normal, and rebalancing norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin in the brain. Talbott's studies have shown a 20 to 30 percent increase in vigor, a measure of mood, energy, and mental focus, in people who exercise. "Barring the need for physical recovery, it's those times you feel the least like running that you should run," he says. "And the best way to get back into the routine is to start running again, even if you have to take your workouts indoors or you run/walk just 20 minutes. Your mood will improve, sometimes drastically, as will your motivation to do more."

Reframe Your Training
There are more contingencies to deal with when running in the winter. In order to avoid missing workouts, Sharon Chirban, Ph.D., a Boston-based sports psychologist, recommends having a plan B. You're usually a morning runner, but the predawn thermometer is stuck at zero—be willing to run in the afternoon instead. If the street is an ice rink, head to the gym and hit the treadmill. "The key to maintaining a winter routine is mental flexibility," she says. "It's essential to have the ability to reframe your workout in order to avoid ditching it." That quitting action is what's most detrimental because it fosters negative self-attribution, which can manifest as I'm getting fat; I'm lazy or I'm falling out of shape; I'm not in control, Chirban says. That becomes a vicious cycle. "Once you're hooked into that negative self-talk, you lose steam and motivation." Chirban recommends coming up with a lighthearted winter goal, like participating in a Chilly Cheeks or Frozen Foot-themed fun run that keeps you excited about training but takes the focus off speed and time.

Find Your Winter Rhythm
The seasons have a biological rhythm, so the way you run in the winter will not be the same way you run in the spring, Chirban says. "Letting ourselves back off in winter can be restoring." There is a value in slowing down, as well as in recovery. Substitute a yoga class for one of your weekly runs, or cut back your mileage and spend that extra time strengthening weak spots. There's also a benefit to embracing what makes winter unique. Immerse yourself in the season—gearing up for a run in the cold, taking on a man-versus-nature mentality can be exciting and rejuvenating, Chirban says. Or switch things up. "When you hike or snowshoe a snow-covered trail that you usually run, it brings about a fresh perspective," she says. "If you can find a way to work with winter, not against it, in your training, you're setting yourself up for a powerful start to the spring running season."

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