Now vs. Later (What to Focus on During Winter)
In January of last year, I wrote a blog about Time and being patient with your winter training and not pulling the trigger too quickly on your emotional involvement with your spring race calendar. It is still only January and we don't need to be thinking too much about spring races right now. With 5 more weeks left in the true off-season period, make it count. Pack it in now before the spring race season arrives. Generally speaking, we shift gears both mentally and physically once March 1st hits, with strength training (ST) getting slightly less priority as your race schedule gets broken in and your weekend runs become more intense.
In order for an off-season to be effective and to accomplish its goals, we need it to be relatively long. 8 weeks would be the absolute minimum, but as non-professional athletes, we tend to have much more catching up to do in terms of general strength, specific strength, flexibility, coordination, balance and athleticism, all of which are related to your race performances and your ability to make your ST sessions dynamic and functional. So, we want to make the off-season 16-20 weeks in order to better prepare the body for the harder training that will come in the summer and fall. "Most people run to get fit, whereas more people should be getting fit so that they can run."
Month to month we should begin to make subtle shifts mentally in terms of prioritizing certain types of workouts and how much emotional energy we're giving to spring racing. As I remind my athletes each fall, a training program in Dec should look much different that it does in Sept. Similarly, February and March training should look different than Dec, and so on. The physical aspects of training and the mental components will hand in hand. Keep the focus on ST right now, it's still only January and you’re not racing. Carry that gym rat approach through the end of Feb and transform your body as much as possible via ST, XT and PT. Knowing that all of these off-the-field aspects of training are taken care of lends itself to lots of confidence at the start line of spring races. But as I stated above, you have to be really dedicated to these aspects of the off-season or else the changes won't happen.
It takes many, many weeks of training and repetitions (ST, XT and PT) to attain benefits. No PT or chiro has ever said, "Just do those exercises here and there once or twice per week and you'll be fine." That would be rubbish. You can't fake fitness and you can't fake functional corrections in the body. It either is, or it isn't. Injuries are not mysterious; nobody is "unlucky" in that regard. Stronger, leaner, more resilient athletes don't get injured, and now you know why. They become stronger, leaner and more resilient because they beat the hell out of their bodies (in a good way, without overdoing it) for a long, dedicated off-season. Read any of their post-race championship interviews and you'll see what I mean. Therein is lots of motivation for ST in February.
The reason I encourage everyone to delay this shift toward racing and race mode is mostly due to the principle of specificity of training and also due to the weather. Remember, the physical aspects of training and the mental components go hand in hand. Meaning, if the specificity of training is still relatively low in January, then I doubt that you're feeling (mentally) your spring races during your workouts. Rather than dabble in a grey area of "mental training," I say nay...just wait until late Feb or March 1st to get fired up for spring racing. There will be more connections between mind and body at that time because, a) your legs will feel fresher/faster due to less intense and less frequent lower-body ST, b) your run workouts, like track work and select long runs, will begin to resemble races, and c) we can't forget about the large role that weather has.
Each summer I encourage all of my athletes who are running a peak fall marathon or Half not to be in "race mode" yet. Why? Because if you honestly think that a 2 hour run in 90-degree weather with 85% humidity gives you any resemblance of the "feel" or your fall marathon, then you are unnecessarily dooming yourself. I would take it a step further and say that you're dabbling in a grey area of mental training and detracting from your confidence. So, the same rationale about the summer also applies to the winter. Regardless of how well you train in the winter (god bless you all), the winter is not the spring. You cannot deny the effects that the weather has on our bodies during key workouts. Don't compare apples to oranges. Don't compare summer slugfests vs. perfect fall weather. Don't compare how your body feels in 35-degree weather with slightly fatigued legs vs. perfect spring weather on fresher legs. In sum, if you are struggling to "feel" the races during your winter workouts, then stop trying, there's no reason to put dents in your confidence. Put that mental energy back into ST, XT, PT. Patience is a virtue, but in this respect, the real virtue is in understanding the body-mind connection because specificity of training applies to the mental training too. As you may guess, you can insert here what you think I would say about exact pacing (and garmins) during Jan/Feb.