Winter Running

These Sports Complement Your Winter Running

When you're living in places like Switzerland, Germany, Austria and other Western European countries running during the long and often very cold winter months can be a real challenge.

The same situation counts/applies for those of you who live in parts of Canada and the United States where you can often be surprised by big dumps of snow even in late March and April.

For years I would try to keep up my normal running routine in winter but feel that there wasn't too much point and purpose to fighting my way through ankle-deep snow every day any longer.

It would be too risky and dangerous long-term and spoil recovery during this important training period as well.

My love for the mountains during winter only goes as far as looking at the snowy peaks of the Alps from the far distance.

So this year I was almost forced into finding other sports that would complement my winter running. A foot injury in late fall eventually forced me to rest and explore alternative training methods other than just running.

At the start of winter I decided to get familiar with the bike trainer at home again. Within a very short period of time I started to feel the tremendous effects of the sessions on the bike.

I found that with the right program training on the bike could easily substitute a run outside.

What's important here is that a training session on the bike should always be followed by a short run at high cadence between 10-20 minutes. Not only does this loosen up the muscles tremendously but it also keeps the muscles smooth that are used when running.

Ideally, the run could be completed on a treadmill at home or in the gym. This prevents you from catching a cold, too.


Now, let me share one alternative sport to winter running with you. One that incredibly strenghtens your shoulders and arms, your lower back and your hamstrings.

Nordic walking is the alternative and additional sport to winter running for us ultrarunners.

When applying the right technique and putting real effort into the stride and pace you can even be quicker walking up a hill with the trekking poles than running up it.


By supplementing a steady 2-hour run with a 3-4 hour walk at fast pace you're also spending more time on your feet which helps your overall endurance. You'll notice a major difference at your first ultra race.

It might seem like tedious non-sense work at first but patience and consistency are the key!

There is no specific rule at which pace is good. If you're new to nordic walking become familiar with the trekking poles first and work on getting the right balance.

Start with a 45-60 minute walk in the beginning and gently build up volume before stepping up the pace, i.e.intensity.

Eventually, to make the nordic walking training worth it, a female runner should aim to be walking at around 4.5-5 mph or 7.5-8 km/h. Male runners can try to walk faster.

What other benefits can I expect?

Let's start with the most important facts why nordic walking is a great alternative to winter running:

  • Long walks are a lot less strenuous on your core and that is what you should be looking for during the winter months of your running training. Building up your base endurance through low-impact exercising in a gentle, yet challenging way, is the key
  • Tendons, ligaments and joints, shin muscles and the upper body are strenghtened
  • There are barely risks of getting injured; if walking on very uneven terrain hold both trekking poles in your hands
  • Another positive side effect of nordic walking is that the mind can recover from running and at the same time be stimulated in a new way
  • Take your patience to new levels and feel more aware of the surroundings you're walking in and enjoy the challenge of weekly long walks
  • Instead of focusing too much on the pace take some music with you or listen to an audio book for a few hours. Lay the foundations now and charge up your batteries this way
  • Vary your long walk by running for one or two miles every 15 minutes or go hard on any uphill on your loop. Spin it any other way you prefer. There are no limitations to your own creativity

Here is a sample of a 3-day-training session that helps you to put theory into practice:

Friday: 50 mi. hard bike; extra effort on the hills. Ideally find a 25 mi.lap with about 1000 Hm and cycle twice + 140-150 mins. nordic walking; steady

Saturday: 30-35 mi. hilly bike; steady pace + 180 - 210 mins. nordic walking on hilly course; run either the downhills or uphills

Sunday: 240 - 270 mins. nordic walking; effort on lap with rolling hills

Repeat every 3-5 weeks and suit this program to your needs.


Intrigued about more alternative ways to winter running?

Here we go...

More or less by chance I discovered bouldering during the off-season.

Some of you might already know a lot about climbing. For those of you not familiar with this supplementary sport to winter running yet let me say a few words about bouldering.

Bouldering by definition limits the height a climber can reach to that assumed not to need ropes and harnesses. Bouldering can be done indoors or outdoors.

Here are the advantages of this sport and why it is a fabulous addition to your winter running routine:

  • This is definetely one of the best sources of developing core strength
  • Especially your pelvic floor muscles and feet are strenghtened
  • You could use bouldering as a complete alternative to gym-based weight training because bouldering is an all-body exercise/sport
  • It recruits most of the muscle groups needed during running
  • Bouldering as another sport to winter running that trains the mind and focuses on concentrating on the next step - virtually the same as ultrarunning when we eventually come to the point of feeling bodily and mentally tired
  • The experienced climbers I've met are very helpful friendly people. Most of them in tune with nature and very understanding of newcomers giving tips and advice
  • The mind is really challenged during bouldering and it requires a lot of concentration to follow certain climbing routes; just like out on the trails where you must be focused on your rhythm and stride

Again, patience is important in the beginning because the muscles of your hands are most likely to weaken first. I'd recommend to start with 30 minutes of bouldering twice a week and build from there.

You'll advance very quickly and within a month you'll have enough power and endurance to climb for an hour or longer.

For interest, group lessons or private tuition might be an option to improve and fully explore different techniques.

But what about typical winter sports such as cross-country skiing and snow shoe walking?

Obviously cross-country skiing has long been used by endurance athletes to supplement their winter running training. This can be extremely effective providing one has sufficient opportunity to have this form a consistent integral part of your winter training program.

These sports must be taken into account, too, when talking about training that is beneficial to your winter running.

cross country skiing


The same applies for snow shoe walking and downhill skiing. Admittedly, downhill skiing and snowboarding can be really hard on the knees and may not be the best sports to prevent yourself from an injury during the long winter months.

Believe me, winter running training is all about the right balance of running and alternative, complementary sports.

Your season of ultrarunning is long enough so beware of overexuberance early in the winter months of running which may lead to injury and staleness.

Enjoy exploring other ways of training efficiently and you will reap the benefits later without a doubt.



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