Gutting out the last weeks of winter, one step at a time

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 8, 2013 - 5:23 PM

Marathoners dread hitting “the wall.” We think that describes March in Minnesota. Fortunately, the strategies for survival are similar.


Istock photo, woman running in spring

Technically, spring arrives at 8:02 a.m. March 20. So it’s tempting to think that winter’s end is near.

But just as marathoners know the weird phenomenon of an ever-receding finish line, so these last few weeks of the snowy season can seem interminable even to the heartiest Minnesotans.

We drive by garden centers, yearning for the tarps to come off and the trestle tables to be burdened once again with impatiens, vinca and Sweet 100s. We settle for a pot of bulbs, and still wait impatiently for them to bloom.

We look at our shoes with their delicate tracery of salt stains, wondering if we can get through March by tucking our feet beneath our chairs until we can safely switch to sandals.

We prepare to dig deep for fortitude, only to be handed a snow shovel.

This last kick in the seasonal marathon can be the most cruel “because the fact is, we don’t know where the finish line is going to be,” said Kris Swarthout, a running coach with OptumHealth Performance. “In Minnesota, we find fake finish lines every once in awhile,” like a balmy St. Patrick’s Day followed by snowbound basketball tourney fans.

So, from a coach’s view, what will help us gut out these last few weeks of winter? Swarthout shares some strategies for arriving at the season’s end feeling like a victor — or at least a worthy competitor.

Cue the sun

“The big thing is for people to set small, reasonable goals,” he said. It’s still going to be cold, sloppy and wet. But there’s a lot more light now, with the sun as high in the sky as in October. Decide you’re going to take a quick walk after work, even if it’s just around the block. “Embrace that sunlight. For a lot of us, the sun is our fuel.”

Dress for success

Sick as we are of bundling up — and let’s give an extra ration of energy bars to parents of kids in snowsuits — rushing the season only makes winter seem longer. Puddles of melting snow make waterproof footwear essential. Gloves still make sense. Don’t ditch the hat. A sun-drenched 32 degrees feels lovely after a frigid cold stretch — but 32 degrees still makes water turn to ice.

Treat yourself

“Having a defeatist attitude is not going to help you get to that finish line — ever,” Swarthout said. “You need to stay positive.” Not so easy when Facebook friends are posting poolside pix from Mexico or images of skiing through fresh powder in Wyoming, while we’re here kicking chunksicles from the wheel wells of your car. Do something that keeps you focused and happy. Fire your imagination by sketching a new garden plan. Shop for new covers for the porch cushions. Anticipation is powerful: “Keep that carrot out there.”

Lose the stews

Just as nutrition plays a role in preparing for a marathon, so it can help propel us into spring. Start moving away from heavy winter fare and seek out lighter, fresher foods. A gorgeous salad will put you in a better mood, plus it starts setting you up for swimsuit season and summer fitness. Eating healthier was your failed New Year’s resolution? Kick that to the side, Swarthout said. “Give yourself a mulligan.”

Visualize gloating

One reason that people run marathons is because they know that not everyone runs marathons, and so this sets them apart. Same with winter. “We live in Minnesota because we love it, because we embrace the change of seasons, and not everyone can do that,” Swarthout said. “By us doing this every year, we’re proving to the rest that we’re tough by doing something that they choose not to. It’s an accomplishment — not becoming a complete basket case.”

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