How to motivate yourself to run in the winter, according to a marathon champion

Can't pull yourself out of bed in freezing temps to hit the pavement? These tips from Olympic medalist and marathon champ Meb Keflezighi will help.
Virtual For the Kids 5K
Meb Keflezighi running the 2018 NYRR Virtual For the Kids 5K benefiting Rising New York Road Runners in February last year.Da Ping Luo
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By Julie Compton

Snow. Ice. Freezing wind. The winter months can be the bane of anyone with a regular running routine. Even with the warmest winter gear, getting outside in freezing temperatures often comes down to one thing: motivation, according to four-time Olympian and marathoner Meb Keflezighi.

Whether you’re an elite, intermediate or novice runner, your biggest motivation to get out and exercise should be your health, says Keflezighi, winner of the 2009 New York City and 2014 Boston marathons. Runners tend to lose their conditioning and gain weight when they shut themselves indoors, he says.

“When you’re not running, you’re not going to have a good diet. It goes hand in hand,” Keflezighi tells NBC News BETTER.

Keflezighi, who resides in San Diego, lived periodically in the mountains of Mammoth Lakes, California for nearly a decade, where he trained regularly in the cold and snow. Here’s his advice on how to stick to your running routine through the cold months.

Warm up and stretch in the morning

A simple way to motivate yourself to get out and run in the cold is to wake up early, have a light snack with a cup of hot tea or coffee, and stretch or use a foam roller, says Keflezighi. This will warm up your body and get you in the mood to run.

“Those are good things to wake up the muscles,” says Keflezighi. “Just give it a half hour, or set the alarm a half hour before you think you’re going to go out.”

Join a local running group

If you need extra motivation, Keflezighi says planning regular runs with friends or joining a local running group will push you to get outside.

“That can be your accountability and give you a routine,” he says.

Keflezighi says many running shops organize meet ups for runners in their areas. Social media is also a great way to find local running groups in your community.

If you’re new to running, don’t be shy about reaching out to these groups, says Keflezighi.

“Runners are typically very friendly,” he says.

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Sign up for a race

Another great way for runners to keep up their training in the cold months is to sign up for races throughout the winter and spring, says Keflezighi. He says having a race to train for will give you extra motivation to get out the door.

“You want to do the best that you can, and you’re not going to wait until the last week before [the race], so that kind of keeps you a goal-oriented person,” he says.

Whether your goal is to complete a 5K, 10K, half marathon or even a marathon, you can find plenty of upcoming races in your community by searching online. You can even download apps on your phone like the New York Road Runners Virtual Racing series where you can participate in virtual races.

If you’re new to running, Keflezighi says to avoid longer races like half marathons, which can lead to muscle strains and other injuries for novices.

Have a plan

Keflezighi, 43, has competed in 26 marathons and has trained in all kinds of weather. His book “26 Marathons: What I've Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, and Life From Each Marathon I've Run” will be released in March 2019. Experience has taught the champion one thing about running outdoors: Always be prepared for what Mother Nature throws you.

Having a plan gives you a sense of accountability and will keep you motivated, says Keflezighi, but he says to be flexible. Be sure to check tomorrow’s weather before you go to bed, he says, so you know what to expect.

But keep in mind that no matter how much you plan, the weather doesn’t always do what the forecasters predict, he says, which means you need more than just one plan.

Always have a plan A, B and C for the next day’s routine, says the champion runner.

For example:

  • Plan A: Run three miles outside after work
  • Plan B: Interval training on the treadmill after work
  • Plan C: Strength training at home after work

If you have to scratch plan A because it’s too icy to run outside, you can opt for plan B. If you ditch both A and B because you can’t get to the gym due to a blizzard, you have plan C to fall back on.

“Don’t be so firm on your training or your racing that you can’t have other options,” says Keflezighi.

If the weather is too dangerous to run outdoors or drive to the gym, it’s perfectly okay to sleep in or spend the day binge watching Netflix, he says. Taking one day off your training won’t hurt your conditioning, he insists, and can give your body the extra time it needs to recover from your last workout.

“I’d rather take the day off or do the treadmill than risk falling [on ice],” Keflezighi says. “It’s not really worth it, because the most important thing is to get healthy or to reach your goal. If you fall, you jeopardize your whole season or your whole year.”

How to get motivated to run in the cold:

  • Implement a morning a routine. Wake up early, have a hot cup or coffee or tea, eat a light snack and stretch. This will warm you up and get you in the mood to run.
  • Don't go it alone. Join a local running group and/or sign up for one or more upcoming races. Doing this will give you a sense of accountability.
  • Have a flexible plan. Check what the weather will be like tomorrow before you go to bed and adjust your routine accordingly. Since the weather is often unpredictable, make sure your plan is flexible. Having a plan A, B and C will ensure you stick to your routine despite Mother Nature’s whims.
  • Know that it’s okay to take a day off. If the weather is too dangerous, it’s smarter to sit it out than risk injury.

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