Setting Your Running Thermostat

Back in grad school, my friend Kevin’s thermostat setting hovered somewhere in the 50s from late October to early spring.

No matter how cold it got in the dead of an Ohio winter, his thermostat didn’t budge. No amount of his girlfriend’s protests over having to wear socks and sweats to bed or the ribbing he got about being cheap would change his mind. Kevin’s determination to keep his heating bill low would always win out  – no matter what anyone said or did. I’m pretty sure there were times when even he was bothered or uncomfortable by the cold temperature in his apartment, but he never wavered. The heat simply was not going to get turned up.

At first blush, you wouldn’t think that  Kevin keeping his thermostat ridiculously low during winter months would have anything to do with becoming a better runner, but stick with me here.

Why do you do what you do?

by Alpo Hassinen - via Wikimedia Commons

the temperature inside this igloo may or may not be warmer than the temperature in my friend Kevin’s apartment

Runners who train for any type of race longer than a half marathon have probably heard some variation of this question at some point or another. People who couldn’t fathom running more than a mile often ask this question incredulously. I’m sure we’ve all heard “why do you run that far if someone isn’t chasing you?” more than we care to admit.

When you stop and think about it, it’s actually a really good question.

Just like Kevin’s decision to keep the heat low, you’re probably not training for a marathon for the sake of doing it.

Maybe you’re trying to cross something off a bucket list or you’re going for a PR. Maybe you’re raising money to help support an organization or charity you believe in. Regardless, you have a reason to go for two and three hour training runs.

It would have been easy for him to give in to peer pressure and turn up the heat while he had friends over or to bump the heat up into the 60s at night, but that would have also bumped his low heating bill up. Similarly, if you were  to cede training mileage  due to peer pressure, chances are pretty good that you’re not going to do as well as you’d like in your race.

Just like Kevin had a pretty good idea how much his heating bill would be each month, you probably have a pretty good idea of what you need to do to be ready for your race. The biggest difference is that more often than not, the “peer pressure” you experience during marathon training comes from within. Whether it’s that little voice that psyches you out during your longer training runs or it’s your ability to rationalize not running, it’s up to you to quiet those doubts/voices.

I’m pretty sure Kevin just ignored anyone who gave him crap about the temperature in his apartment. Ignoring naysayers during your training will only get you so far. You have to keep reminding yourself why you’re training and why you set your ambitious running goal to begin with.

Having said that, we all can take a cue from my buddy Kevin and do what we need to do. Set your thermostat – or your goals – and don’t let anyone or anything get in your way.




  1. Love this! Especially since I keep my thermostat super low too! It’s hard to train for a marathon when so many people are out doing fun things and being social. I basically have become a hermit over the past 4 months. But it’s worth it for me! I won’t let anyone get in the way of my training or my race 🙂

  2. Of course there is a thermostat downside and a training corollary … it is the ‘law of unintended consequences’.

    The assumption is that you set your thermostat at a level that balances comfort and cost. Similarly you want a training program that will maximize performance results while minimizing injury and other negative impacts.

    If you could cut your heating bill by 10%, you would jump at it … but what if that meant a 25% reduction in people willing to spend any time at your house, increased friction in relationships, and so on? At what point does the cost/benefit break down?

    Similarly, if someone told you they could decrease your marathon pace by 15 seconds, you would be interested. But if they said the cost would be doubling your workout time and increasing your injury risk by 25%, would you still do it?

    Having goals and the drive to achieve them is critical … but sometimes the mindset of ‘nothing will stand in my way’ has unintended consequences that we don’t even see while we are plowing ahead with blinders on. We must see our goals – but not be blind to the rest of our life.

    • That’s a really great point Michael. Anyone who grabs hold of a goal can fall prey to this and it’s good to keep your other priorities in mind when mapping out how to achieve said goal.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. Nothing to do with running, but my husband insists on keeping the temp low as well. I’m sure he knows that when he’s at work I go ahead and turn it up! No ice box for me!
    Great analogy!

  4. Great post…very int-depth. I have not always been into longer distance races. But as I have one marathon under my belt and two more in the works this month, I realize that I don’t want to run them for speed or to set a PR’s…I run these runs for the meaning they bring into my life…it gives me so much as far as relieve stress and takes me to a place mentally I want to be. You could say it is an addiction, but at the same time it is keeping me happy…a happiness that cant be found anywhere else in life.

    • I’ve found focusing on PRs isn’t the way to go for me on longer races either. Obviously I’d like to improve from race to race, but I think you’re spot on in trying to find deeper meaning in your runs. If running marathons – or beyond – makes you happy, keep running!

  5. Boom! Well said! There are lots of obstacles to overcome when training for a marathon, whether they be friends or that little voice inside. Keeping the necessary focus during training will pay off in spades on race day and long after.

Speak Your Mind