Winter Running Tactics for a Successful Upcoming Season

Laying the groundwork for a successful running racing season next year will require strategy and planning this winter. It is important to honestly assess what you have done this past year and identify what your goals are for the upcoming year. Let’s look at how to create an attainable plan and how to build a training program to achieve your goals.

Where are you now?

It’s important to give yourself an honest assessment of where your fitness is and if you have made the desired progress in the last year. No matter your sport (running, cycling, triathlon, etc.) or focus (short or longer distances), give yourself a grade on your season. The more you can break down various skills and rate each individually, the better. Once you or someone else (i.e. your coach) assesses your fitness and your performance, then it’s time to look at your weaknesses and figure out how to improve them. This process can be very subjective or you can go to a more scientific approach and get some physiological testing done. Gauging yourself subjectively is more of an “art” and can work well for some athletes. Undergoing physiological tests is hard science and will give you definitive information to compare over time. These tests include VO2 max and/or lactate testing. The results of these tests provide insight into your fitness and identify where you need the most improvement (base endurance, lactate threshold, etc.). Whether you go the scientific route or the “artistic” route, you need to develop a plan to work on your weaknesses.

What should you do?

Let’s look at three scenarios and how to focus your training to help build specific fitness.

Case one is the athlete who tends to lose steam as their races progress. They may start out at a pace that seems sustainable, but they eventually have a hard time holding the pace. This person needs some serious base work. Winter training should be focused on systematically building endurance by doing long base training at low heart rate. These workouts should be 55-75% of VO2 max effort and should last from one hour to six hours. If you put in four to 12 weeks of this type of base training it will do wonders for your aerobic system. These types of workouts are great for establishing a “foundation” from which you will be able to build your overall speed and endurance.

Case two is the athlete who has good endurance, but can’t seem to hold a faster race pace. This would be the “one speed” kind of person who trains and races at the same pace all the time. This person needs tempo work. Your winter training should be focused on doing blocks of work at a slightly higher tempo pace and getting your body used to holding a faster pace for racing. These workouts should include blocks of work at 75-85% VO2 max effort and should last from five minutes to one hour (within the context of a longer workout). Putting in four to eight weeks of focus on these workouts will prepare you to race at a different level.

Case three is the athlete who has good endurance and speed, but they have limited “high end” ability. By this I mean that they can’t push extra hard when they need to, such as pushing hard over hills, chasing down an opponent or sprinting to the finish. This person needs speed work. Your winter training should be focused on developing your lactate threshold and VO2 max capacity by adding blocks of high intensity work to your training sessions. Intensity should be 90-100% and intervals should be 30 seconds to 10 minutes long (within the context of a longer workout). Putting in four to eight weeks of these high quality workouts will prepare your system for high-level demands.


In truth, everyone needs each of these types of workouts to some degree, so it’s important to understand that choosing the right mix of workouts is ideal. The traditional way to train through the winter has always been long, slow distance, but that isn’t always the best plan. Try to focus on your weaknesses with the appropriate training block, and then switch into different phases of training to focus on the other skills. You will enter next season with well rounded fitness and be ready to take your racing to new levels.


About the Author
Tim Monaco is a Multi-Sport Coach, Licensed Massage Therapist, Corrective Exercise Specialist and Holistic Lifestyle Coach. He is a former professional triathlete who has won Vineman Ironman, Buffalo Springs Lake 70.3 and has completed 15 International Ironman Events.