As a marathon runner I think I’ve pretty much trained in all weathers; sun, rain, gale force winds, snow, sleet, hail…you name it. But we runners are dedicated folk and come rain or shine, we’ll be out pounding the roads. Most marathons tend to take place in either the spring or the autumn, which means doing the bulk of your training in either the winter or the summer. With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at the pros and cons of winter and summer training.
Summer training: Pros
• Longer, lighter days With more daylight hours available your choice of running routes generally increases, with the option to get off-road and hit the trails or grass. Running off road is much kinder on your muscles, bones and joints as the level of impact is reduced. That means it’s generally easier to recover after an off road run, as opposed to a road run.
• Better weather! Warmer temperatures and slightly less rain and wind make it much easier to achieve quality in your training and to hit your desired pace for each workout. When you're exposed to sun, your brain increases serotonin (a hormone connected with feelings of happiness and wakefulness) production, which means that you’re more likely to feel more motivated and energised to train.
• Over-heating In warmer conditions your body experiences ‘cardiovascular drift’, whereby your heart rate gradually increases due to dehydration. In essence, your heart will have to work harder for you to maintain your desired pace in the heat. Therefore if you’re doing a longer run (60 minutes plus), you need to take on board fluid containing electrolytes in order to maintain your hydration levels and to replace the essential minerals lost through sweating. If it’s really warm, you may be restricted to running early in the morning or later in the evening when it’s cooler.
• Having to share your training routes with non-runners! There’s an unwritten rule that says whenever the sun is shining, every man and his dog must come out to play! Training routes often become busier during the summer months with more walkers, cyclists and dog walkers enjoying the weather. This can make things a bit more difficult, particularly when you’re doing faster workouts.
• Hay fever If you’re unfortunate enough to suffer from hay fever then training in the summer months can be pretty miserable. You may have to keep a close eye on the pollen count and adjust your training as necessary.
Winter training: Pros
• Cooler weather Running long is easier when the weather is cooler. In fact, the ideal temperature for running a marathon is between 7 and 10c. This is because your body has to expend less energy regulating your body temperature. Cooler weather also means that you can be slightly more relaxed with your drinking strategy during long runs. However, don’t forget that it’s still possible to dehydrate during the winter and even mild dehydration can significantly impair your performance.
• More tune up races If you’re looking to do some tune up races in your marathon build up then the road racing season is in full swing during the winter months, with more events to choose from.
• Grim weather! This one doesn’t need too much explanation really! Training in bad weather can be both physically and mentally challenging. One reason why many elite athletes seek warmer climes in the winter is because it can be very difficult to do the quality, higher intensity workouts or long runs in driving rain and howling wind. After this winter I’m sure many of you guys know how unpleasant a long run in the cold and driving rain can be. Mentally it can be tough to subject yourself to this day after day, particularly if you are following a strict training programme.
• Snow and ice! If the big freeze hits, then it may become too dangerous to run outside. In this instance, the treadmill is your best option, which is pretty tedious to say the least if you’re marathon training.
• Shorter, darker days Limited hours of daylight and working patterns mean that much of your running is restricted to the roads during the winter months. Of course if you plan to race on the road then you should do some of your training on this surface to condition your legs to the harder impact. However, too much road running isn’t always a good thing as asphalt can be unforgiving and your calves and shins can quickly start to become sore.
• Illness The incidence of cold and flu bugs tends to rise during the winter months, making you more at risk of picking up an infection or virus that can rudely interrupt your training.
So, which season is better for marathon training? As you can see, both winter and summer training have pros and cons, but on balance training is definitely physically and mentally easier when the sun is shining!
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