The hibernation factor

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I knew there was a reason why I don’t normally line up events for January and February and why my mileage goes down over the winter.

It’s the I just want to rest on my summer laurels, kick back, reduce the mileage and lie about in the warmth and get fat factor. This bear just wants to coorie in and hibernate.

For me, winter is a particularly hard time of year to stay motivated. It is also the period when I do genuinely want to reduce my mileage and move into a bit of a maintenance pattern of shorter runs, focus on core and strength work and the old intervals (hill and sprint).

It is also the time of year when I find my project management skills stretched to the limit. Work is often busy trying to deliver projects before change freezes. Then the Christmas preparations, the socialising, and the priority that I want to give to family time. It all adds up to a period of frenzied juggling and re-arranging.

There is the now well established Marcothon; run 5k or for 30 minutes every day in December. Set up to specifically keep runners motivated and training through the darkest month, setting an achievable daily target: everyone can find 30 minutes, right? Many people complete it and I truly admire them for it. It has never worked for me, I just find that it adds an extra level of stress into life, I stop enjoying the running and start to resent it. As a runner who does not run or train every day I also find it counter intuitive. Don’t get me wrong it is a good thing, just not for me.

Another issue for me during the winter is that I am out on the streets on the dreaded tarmac, unable to run in the parks during the hours of darkness. I could go in with my head torch and I am sure it is safe enough, but my family are comfortable with the idea, as there have been occasions where things have not gone so well for people in or around the parks.

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It does take a little bit of additional discipline but with shorter runs the streets are not so bad, and if you get the route right you get that lovely, secret voyeuristic glimpse of other people’s houses and lives through lit windows to distract you from the monotony of tarmac. And just occasionally there is the most incredible surprise like the coming face to face with a tawny owl along the road by the graveyard. Luckily too there is a decent selection of hills and flat stretches close by for the intervals.

If it’s a pre-dawn run, as hard as it is to dislodge the cat and drag myself out of my cosy warm bed I know it is worthwhile. It can be cold and damp, a lung-bursting combination, but there is a comforting silence and quiet that gradually breaks as the birds begin their dawn chorus. There is too, the occasional glimpse of the urban fox on its’ way home. On one of my routes, if I time it right, on a clear morning I pass an Asian lady who pauses her walk and turns to the rising sun and does a namaste.

A key tip, if running before work lay your kit out ready before going to bed and if at night don’t delay going out: get home, get changed and get out within fifteen to twenty minutes.

This year I am having to maintain ultra-training through the winter as I thought it was ever such a good idea to plan a 100k in January in Morocco. Not ideal on two counts: the above mentioned and the temperature. The opportunity was there: Morocco was the back-up for if I failed to complete my 100k in Tunisia, which I did. Also, major benefit, Morocco in January is rather more temperate but still significantly warmer than I will encounter in Scotland. A good excuse to reward myself post training with more frequent long hot soaks in a bath full of bubbles to ease tired muscles and acclimatise. The quick post run shower long forgotten.

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Oh, but I still want to go into hibernation!

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Like a recalcitrant teen I drag my knuckles along the ground looking for excuses: I just don’t want to tackle those long runs. Luckily, Alasdair, is taking none of my nonsense and is planning the days, packing the kit and head torch, and ensuring that we get out there and out there early enough to get the runs, as far as is possible, done in daylight hours.

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It can be glorious out there and well worth the effort. The Scottish Highlands and trails are magnificent when it’s a clear, calm crisp day. I smell the cold, I warm up, I feel my cheeks heating up and get a healthy rosy glow. Then that warm sleepy afterglow. It lifts the soul and the memory of those runs keeps me motivated on the wetter more driech ones.

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So, gird your loins, be strong, be motivated, get an Alasdair and resist that urge to slip into hibernation.