Running in winter can be tough….really tough. The days are short, it’s cold and windy, when you leave for work or school it’s dark and when you come home it’s dark. No one would blame you for hunkering down and going into hibernation for a few months. Running especially is a mental grind during winter. When will this be over? I can’t wait for summer to train hard again. Sound familiar? This type of thinking might actually be holding you back.
It’s your mindset that can lead you to embrace winter, rather than fight it. Take it firsthand from the people who live in a place where the sun don’t shine for months on end. You could never live in a place like that, right?
Keri Leibowitz, PHD student at Stanford University lived in Tromsø, Norway from August 2014 to June 2015 on a Fulbright scholarship. Tromsø is located 200 miles north of the arctic circle. That means she spent months in total darkness. What is interesting about the residents of Tromsø, approximately 70,000 of them, and the reason she went there, is they have lower rates of wintertime depression than would be expected in a place with such long winters.
Leibowitz went to Tromsø with the intention of finding out why the people living there aren’t more depressed about their winter situation. How could you not be depressed? Cold, snow, little light, only a few short months of warmth, it all sounds so miserable. She quickly found out that everyone had a theory about why their city not only survived but actually thrived during the extreme darkness. People spoke about cod-liver oil, lamps that simulate the sun, community involvement, attending festivals, skiing around town. But, what Lebowitz realized is that most people simply didn’t see the winter as a big deal and actually were excited about it.
Do you curse at the thought of the upcoming winter? Growing up in Wisconsin, almost no one looked forward to winter. Winter was merely something to get through until summer rolled around again. People did not thrive in winter, they survived. You weren’t’ supposed to enjoy winter. Summer is the best time in Wisconsin and everyone knows it. Leibowitz says that’s the problem. What’s your attitude with your current situation?
Leibowitz studied the mindset of the people in Tromsø. “Can we measure positive or negative mindset toward winter? And might this wintertime mindset have something to do with Tromsø residents’ psychological well-being during the Polar Night?” What she discovered was, “The people who had a positive wintertime mindset tended to be the same people who were highly satisfied with their lives and who pursued personal growth.”
It’s all about your mindset. Do you dwell on things you cannot control or do embrace those things and find the positive in them?
Having a positive mentality can make all the difference. Seriously. I lived in the small ski town of Crested Butte, CO for a few years. It’s a place where the people cheer for winter. Crazy!! It’s a time for skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice hockey, etc. When a big storm is coming the town gets excited. The positivity was contagious, and almost no one complained about winter there. Now not everyone can go ski out of their front door, but there are always things you can do in the winter that you can’t the rest of the year.
The people living in Tromsø do not refer to winter as “dark time” rather they call it “blue time.” Sounds more positive doesn’t it? After hearing it referred this way, Leibowtiz more often noticed the beautiful blue light that touched the city and had a sense of being “cozy” and not dark. Throughout the U.S., complaining about the weather is common small talk. It’s something we can bond over. That sort of group complaining makes it difficult to have a positive outlook on something.
Seasonal depression is certainly a real thing and changing your mindset won’t work for everyone, but as a whole, a positive outlook can make all the difference. Think about what the cold weather brings – pumpkin spiced lattes anyone? Make an effort to meet up with friends more often. Run with people more often. Hold each other accountable. You don’t have to do anything drastic, simply making a shift in your mindset is all it takes to pull yourself out of the winter blues. Noted Leibowtiz, “You can just consciously try to have a positive wintertime mindset and that might be enough to induce it.”
Try to go into every run this winter with a positive mindset. You might be surprised at how it helps.
How do you embrace winter running? Share your stories.