The cold winter air is moving into southern New Hampshire and my dark evening runs are becoming more about survival and less about fitness. So, I’m scaling back. I still run a few easy days each week on good weather days when the roads aren’t too slick and the winds aren’t brutally cold. But, now I supplement my routine with some time on the stationary bike watching Anthony Bourdain or reruns of Cheers. And I feel guilty about it.

It’s ridiculous of course. The idea that runners can’t take a break from running. We need to give ourselves a break from the physical stress of running thousands of miles each year. The mental and emotional grind of a 8 or 9-month road racing season is reason enough to find a new interest. There’s a good chance you’ll burn out if you don’t slow down. Ask a grizzled old veteran how they lasted so long in the sport of running and they’ll tell you it’s about humility and respect. Moderation is the key to longevity and happiness as a runner.

A running break doesn’t mean a break from healthy living. You can maintain your fitness and be ready to run again if you follow a few rules. Eat smart, keep moving, and have a plan.

Eat Smart

If you’ve stopped running and scaled back your physical activity, you need to scale back your eating. That second helping of chicken Parmesan was okay during marathon training, but you’re engine’s not running as hot these days. It takes a lot less calories to make it through a day in the cube farm. Continue to make good decisions about the foods you eat. Fresh vegetables, homemade meals with real ingredients, and healthy snacks will keep you fit and trim during the off-season. Minestrone soup is always a good option.

snowshoe running in the winter

Keep Moving

Just because your running shoes have moved to the back of the closet doesn’t mean you should stop exercising. You can have fun and stay in good cardiovascular condition by swimming, biking, rowing, or climbing stairs. If you have snow this time of year, you’ve hit the cardio jackpot. Snowshoeing and Nordic skiing are two of the very best ways for runners to stay in shape aerobically and build muscle.

Have a Plan

French pilot and philosopher, Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” You want to start running again in the spring? Make a plan. Pick a race and mark it on your calendar. If you’re going to swim or ride a bike this winter, mark some days on the calendar and keep yourself accountable. A plan will not only help you stay on track, but it will reduce the any guilty feelings you might have about taking break from running.

Enjoy the holiday season and keep moving this winter. Spring is just a few months away.

Thoughts?