Elite Distance Runners & Coaches Weigh In: How to Stay Fit During the Winter Months

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Historic Snowfall.

That has been my winter…our winter…here in beautiful Massachusetts. We are almost up to six feet of accumulation for the winter. To add to that, I also coach indoor track from December to March, so staying fit is a major challenge for me. My workouts are pushed to the local YMCA, mostly after 5:00 p.m.. Every spring seems to mark yet another comeback for this 43-year old.

To add to my winter joy, we moved in late December and my wife finally bought a new scale for our bathroom of our new house. I made the mistake of stepping on it a few weeks ago and realized I needed to get back at it. FAST.

The question is: What indoor workout gives you the most benefit and the fastest results?

Last winter, I primarily worked out on the elliptical, a Life Fitness machine, at the Hockomock YMCA to stay fit with some treadmill and outdoor running mixed in. However, with the roads in bad condition this year, running outside has been difficult.

Why the elliptical? I like this machine because it measures miles – not accurately, it is like riding a bike with the ability to speed up with your arms. However, I’ve worked on my running conversion formula. I’ve found that if I can go 4:30-4:50 miles on this machine on Level 1, I’m in shape to run 7:00 miles up to seven miles. I even took it up to 13.1 miles (generally an hour plus at 140-160 HR) It helps me lose weight, sweat out the evils of winter and the holiday diet, and get back to running shape. I tried this approach through February 2014 and was able to run a 1:30 1/2 marathon at Hyannis in 2014. Unfortunately, this year Hyannis was cancelled due to the snow. The next goal is New Bedford 1/2 in March, my all-time favorite road race…mostly due to the downhills in the middle of the race. I was able to go 1:28 after a winter of being trapped inside the gym.

I was first introduced to this elliptical machine by Mark Gomes, former high school and college mile and steeplechase rival and author of the website and book Faster Than Forty (http://www.amazon.com/Faster-Than-Forty-Mark-Gomes/dp/0988626608/ref=zg_bsnr_tab_pd_bsnr_1) which chronicles his successful weight loss and return to the track in his forties. He suggested that I switch my marathon road running to the elliptical when I ran into some “dead leg” issues while training for the 2012 Boston Marathon. In his own attempt to win a US Master’s Title in the 800 and 1500 meters a few years back, he used the elliptical and later his Elliptigo to build a massive aerobic base he didn’t feel he could build doing long runs at age 40. Instead, he would get on his trusty elliptical for an hour or more, bring along his iPad and music and work as he worked out.

The result for Gomes? A 1:57 for 800 meters followed by a 4:01 for 1500 meters, and a U.S. Master’s Championship at 41. He also incorporated form and dynamic flexibility drills as well as track workouts but his aerobic base came from these workouts. He got fit as a runner by not running.

I found the elliptical freshened up my legs enough to do a 23-mile training run on the marathon course the spring of 2012. After a few days on the elliptical, I felt like my legs were back again and that I didn’t lose any aerobic fitness. Just watch your back and hips; the elliptical does not allow the same range-of-motion that an ARC trainer will and that can be

Here’s what other expert coaches and elite distance runners had to say about their winter training:

  • Nate Jenkins, 7th place finisher in the 2008 Olympic Trials Marathon (2:14) of Andover, MA: “I do non-running Bikram Yoga. It is hot and sweating like a dog when it is 2 degrees below zero outside is awesome. It is a great injury treatment and prevention. As far as running: Mona fartlek on a woodway curve manual treadmill. A treadmill that lets you run ANY and EVERY pace without pushing any buttons is a dream come true for me!”
  • John Trautmann, 5K Olympian and New York-based Masters 45+ Mile WR (4:12.33) holder: “I do a lot on the treadmill. I try to get on the indoor track two other days a week with the NJNY Track Club. Back when I was first starting to lose weight, I would also go to spin classes a few times a week. This year, my easy days were all cross-training on the Arc trainer and my only running was on my hard days. I would do an hour in the morning and an hour after work. I did a lot of Fartlek workouts on the Arc. Also, when I don’t have access to a track I get some great intervals in on the treadmill varying the incline anywhere from 2-12%
  • Mike Moverman, former Duke University 5K/10K runner prefers to run indoor track workouts: “My favorite workout from indoor track: 4 x mile with 400 jog. The miles started about 15 seconds above 5k race pace and worked down to 5k race pace. If I nailed that workout I knew I was ready to run fast (usually 10 days later).I always tried to hit the last lap of the 4th mile hard to simulate the pain of the last 400 of a race.”
  • Brad Barton, U.S. Masters 3000-meter holder and 4:16 miler (at 48) of Ogden, Utah: “I do a about 30% of my weekly 60 miles on my elliptical cranked up to fairly high resistance, heart rate between 140 and 160. Low-impact, with strong cardio benefit. Two longer runs each week between 6:10 – 6:20 pace. Usually two indoor interval training sessions, one longer – 4500/5500 m & one shorter (faster) – 3000/4000 meters with typically one-to-one rest.”
  • Latif Thomas, UCONN track star, national speaker, founder of CompleteTrackandField.com, and Bishop Feehan High School (MA) coach: “We do circuits, mostly from the general strength section of this inventory: http://completetrackandfield.com/training-inventory/ about
    8-12 minutes in length. Could be multiple circuits per session. For fitness: 2:1 work:rest ratio. For recovery 1:1 work:rest ratio.”
  • Vanessa Molloy, Irish National Champion, Providence College star, and Cumberland High School (RI) coach: “Lots of circuits…great use of indoor season…lower the pounding…up the strength and core. We do 30 minute circuits that kill my girls.”
  • Billy Myers, Iona College stand-out and LaSalle High School (RI) coach: “All the above. We set up different stations: box jumps – medicine ball etc. core stuff: planks, leg lifts etc.”
  • Mike Fanelli, 100,000 miler distance runner and Master’s T&F Athlete: “Push ups! The PERFECT exercise!”
  • Carl Rose, Head Coach from the Strawberry Canyon Track Club (Northern CA): “Working out on the heavy (boxing) bag is a good one. We also do pool running two mornings a week or in lieu of running. Deep water, preferably no vest. If you need a serious interval workout – do 1:00 moderate, 1:00 hard, and 1:00 with your hands out of the water for 8-12 sets. There is also snow-shoeing if you want to embrace the crummy weather.. Another way to really kick things up is to hammer on the Concept2 rowing machine. Only set the fly wheel to 4-5 (out of 10) for optimal performance. Do about 25-28 strokes per minute. A good rule of thumb for the indoor rower, they do have ERG competitions and it’s a pretty serious element of rowing because high end rowers have to train on this pretty consistently.”
  • Joe McLouglin of the Wampanoag Road Runners (MA): “X-C Skiing has been incredible! Plus all my running aches and pains are gone!”

So there you have it. Some runners like the machines while others get out of the gym and seek alternative workouts. Either way, if you are consistent perhaps you can stay fit until the spring when the weather gets sunny and warm….hopefully.

Coach Atwood is currently at work on his untitled book project on coaching distance runners. He has also published a short story collection, HiStory of Santa Monica: Stories available at http://www.historyofsantamonica.com, and Amazon.com. For ideas on distance training, check out CoachAtwood.com. He is the head indoor track and field coach at Middleborough High School, mentors the Wampanoag Road Runners, and has helped many high school runners realize their success with individual coaching. Have an idea for a blog post? Feel free to send him a note at CoachMikeAtwood@Me.com . He Tweets @AtwoodWrites.

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