Stay on Track with a Winter Dozen Challenge Action Plan

A woman wearing warm running clothes and a headlamp warms up for a run

The Saucony Winter Dozen challenge is here. Staying motivated to run during the dreary winter months can certainly be a challenge, but you have some sweet prizes to win. So, here’s a twelve-step action plan to help you hit your goal!

We asked Regina Stump, a health and wellness professional based in Colorado, to share her top tips to stay on track this January.

Stump works with amateur runners, competitive athletes and top-tier tactical servicemen and women. She holds a master’s degree in sports medicine, is a certified strength and conditioning coach and is the author of the recently-released book Execute. Here’s what she has to say.

[Want to know more? Check out the Fleet Feet x Saucony Winter Dozen Challenge on Strava to get started.]

Three runners get ready for a workout at night

Set a Schedule

Building workouts into your schedule means one less excuse when it comes time to run. But thinking even bigger will net you the ultimate goal.

  • Map out your month, and don’t stop at twelve. Travel, holiday parties and gnarly weather can all throw a wrench into even the best-laid plans. Look at your month ahead of time, identify any potential roadblocks and schedule yourself for more than the minimum of twelve workouts knowing that there is a good chance you’ll miss one here or there.
  • Maximize your time. To successfully complete the Winter Dozen Challenge, you don’t need to run 12 marathons in a month. You only need to log at least 30 minutes of exercise each week of the month. By keeping a change of clothes with you, you’ll always have the capability to maximize your schedule and take advantage of unexpected down time. Plus, it makes creating the habit even easier. Cancelled meeting? Skip out to the gym. Delayed flight? Do some laps in the airport.
  • Make it work in your world. Exercise program adherence plummets if priorities are not aligned. What you are doing to keep yourself physically fit and active should complement the rest of your life, not detract from it. When you set up your schedule, try to ensure there is a balance between your workout plan, family life and professional career.

“To stay motivated, I have to value something that isn’t tangible,” Stump says. “This means that no matter whether I have a good workout or a bad workout, a good day or a bad day, or a feeling of ‘I really don’t feel like it,’ I can be motivated due to an internal focus.

She goes on to say that consistency and discipline help to keep her motivated. While these are challenging concepts at first, she says it helps her establish motivation as a habit rather than “something to be sought after.”

“Success comes down to a very simple thing: ownership. If (my clients) are focused and set on improving their lifestyle, they take ownership of their choices,” she says. “My clients who take ownership are the ones that succeed.”

Get the Right Gear

Nothing will ruin a run like a bad pair of running shoes, socks, insoles or clothes that don’t keep you warm or comfortable. Get good running gear to stay on track.

  • Trail shoes/Gore-tex. If you live in a cold and snowy climate, trail running shoes can help you find you footing. Trail running shoes are typically water repellant and provide better traction on the snow and ice, thanks to exaggerated rubber lugs on the outsole. Taking your road running shoes out for a spin in the snow increases the likelihood of an unpleasant workout experience and consequently decreases the chances you’ll want to get out the door again.
  • Apparel and accessories. Socks, gloves and a hat. Don’t risk injury or illness by neglecting the basics. You might not be hitting the slopes for an entire afternoon, but it doesn’t take long for your body temperature to drop on a short run.
  • Activity tracking. Whether you use a Garmin watch, an online calendar or a schedule stuck to the fridge, we all love to check boxes. Set yourself up with a good system of tracking your workouts, like Strava, so you can experience the satisfaction of marking your workout as “completed.” This will build momentum and help keep you moving forward as you close in on your Winter Dozen.

Have a Contingency Plan

A group of people wearing warm winter running clothes on a run together

Let's face it, things are going to get in the way of your run. That's OK. But you can be successful more time than not if you have a contingency plan.

  • Treadmill. It’s not always ideal, but a treadmill can be a useful training tool. Even going for a brisk walk while watching your favorite show is an easy way to sneak in 10 minutes.
  • Second session. When you create your schedule, keep your eyes open for days when you might have the option of a “back-up” workout. Perhaps you were scheduled for a morning run, but the kid’s school was delayed and your schedule shifted by a few hours. These things happen, so map out an alternate workout ahead of time to keep you on track during the days surprises pop up.
  • Plan for more than 12 runs. The best laid plans can always go awry, and you don’t want to come up short in the challenge just because you ran out of time. Intentionally over-book your training schedule, so that you can still complete the challenge even if you miss a day or two of training.

“Running outside becomes harder in the winter, wearing more clothing is frustrating, and preparation for each day takes more effort,” Stump says. “How much someone cares about their habits will deny these circumstances as a reason to give in.”

Stump suggests trying a reward system for your workouts. For every good decision or habit you want to begin, take note of it and reward yourself accordingly.

Start creating tiers of rewards—a new pair of running shoes or GPS watch in the top tier, or a new pair of the best running socks in the bottom tier. Then assign a point value to each action or habit. At the end of the month, add up your points and splurge on the reward you earned.

Keep Your Head in the Game

Staying focused on the goal can get you through the finish line. Keep your mind engaged by staying positive and reinforcing your good work.

  • Motivational mantras. Positive self-talk works, and having a mantra to motivate yourself can be an effective method to get you up and out the door. Maybe you’re excited for some sweet prizes at the end of the challenge, or maybe you just want to keep your hard-earned fitness level high. Do a little soul searching to uncover the real reason you are participating in the challenge, and develop a mantra around it.
  • Intrinsic/extrinsic rewards. Whether it’s checking boxes, getting cool prizes or wanting to cultivate healthy habits, we all have our reasons for staying consistent during the cold winter months. It’s important to not lose sight of these things. Write a reminder on your training calendar, or stick a note to the bathroom mirror. Having a physical reminder of the “why” behind the “what” has been shown to be more effective than simply keeping your reasons in the back of your mind. Do keep in mind that when building habits immediate rewards far outweigh long term rewards.
  • Don’t let today ruin tomorrow. So what if you missed a workout? There are 31 days in January! Even if you get off track or fall behind your proposed schedule, don’t let that keep you from getting back on the horse. The past is the past. Forget about it and move on!

“Mental practice is crucial for consistency,” Stump says. “The messages I tell myself are the ones that determine my ability to succeed athletically and personally. The voices and messages choose I listen to are so valuable for development. As an athlete, there are times when I know I must do things that I honestly know will be hard. I know that I must push myself to new thresholds in order to become better than I was previously.”

[Want to know more? Check out the Fleet Feet x Saucony Winter Dozen Challenge on Strava to get started.]

By Timothy Lyman. Timothy is the director of training programs at Fleet Feet Pittsburgh and an ACE certified personal trainer. With over a decade of experience in the field, his education ranges from sports psychology to exercise physiology. He has coached runners at all levels on every surface at any distance, with an emphasis on economy, injury-prevention and functional fitness.

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