You’ve set your goals for next year and secured your dream marathon or ultra place. You’re fired up with motivation for a winter of training with your sights set on a new personal best for time or distance. What could possibly go wrong? Well, this is Britain, the winters are dark, cold and most significantly, full of germs! Simple viruses can wreak havoc with your body and your training plan, leaving you wondering how on earth you can catch up on the miles and get back on track. Having been there once or twice ourselves we know how frustrating and demoralising this can be. But this miserable fate can be avoided! If you can look after your training plan and look after your body to maximise your defence, then you can stay well this winter and smash your spring races – here’s how to do just that….
It’s crucial that your training plan fits the season. A winter marathon training plan needs to be much more flexible than a summer one. You might need to adapt the sessions you’re doing if you don’t feel 100%. It’s much better to do this than just plough on regardless. You might need to swap things around according to the weather conditions too.
It’s likely that at some point you’ll fall ill and not be able to run. It’s much less stressful if you know you’ve got a week or two to play with and you can concentrate on getting better, instead of fretting over missed sessions. Build in an ‘emergency week’ in the middle and second half of your plan. If you don’t need them then you can just take an easy week and feel proud.
Make every fifth week an easier week. Your body can’t cope with increased pressure week after week. It needs to adapt to the training load you’re subjecting it to. These easier days and weeks are vital, you’re not being lazy, your body is repairing itself. Relentless training will just lead to illness and injury.
With endurance training it’s so tempting to skip to really long runs too quickly. This then gives you many weeks of high mileage and can lead to fatigue, over training and illness. Patience is key, don’t increase intensity or distance by more than 10% per week and you’re much more likely to remain well and finish the plan.
Looking after your body will help to keep you well throughout winter marathon training. Your immune system is extraordinarily complex, yet so effective at recognising and fighting disease. There are lots of things you can do to give it a helping hand. Such as…
Most of us don’t get enough and sleep deprivation puts a strain on our immunity. When we’re endurance training we need more sleep than usual, so being disciplined and switching off social media and getting some extra shut-eye will help.
To act effectively your immune system needs a good supply of vitamins and minerals from fresh healthy food. If you fill your fuel tanks with rubbish your performance will suffer. The body is constantly repairing itself and a great supply of top notch fuel will help this process. Eating a snack within half an hour of finishing your exercise is important but make sure you eat a proper meal later on too.
If you get ill then be ill. Don’t battle on pretending that you’re OK. Taking a few days rest will speed up your recovery. You’ll just be ill for longer if you stubbornly decide to keep going. At the first sign of a cold there’s some evidence that a large dose of vitamin C and a zinc supplement might shorten your illness.
Easier said than done but we know that the immune system is slightly weaker for 24 hours after a long or intense training session. It might be that you can adapt your week so you aren’t standing in front of a class of snotty children, or squashed up next to coughing commuters the morning after your long run. Don’t forget simple hand washing too; it reduces the spread of infection.
You must remember that it’s not only your training that is adding stress to your body. Most likely you’re trying to fit it in among a million other tasks. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can suppress immunity. It can all take its toll on your health. Prioritising and delegating are key. Don’t overload yourself, you can’t do it all and remain well.
Set about your winter training the right way with a suitable plan and with respect for your body. Being over ambitious, inflexible and too casual about what your body needs is likely to lead to disappointment. Runners are generally very healthy people and suffer less infections than sedentary peers, but it’s hard to remain well all winter if you’re pushing yourself physically. Follow these tips to put you in the best position to make it through. Laughing and smiling are supposed to boost immunity too, so don’t forget to have fun!
You can find more tips from GP Juliet McGrattan on staying healthy through winter here.