I’ll let you into a little secret… I absolutely love summer! I love the long light evenings, days spent on the beach and in pub gardens drinking a cool crisp cider. Alas, summer doesn’t last forever. I’ll let you into another little secret, even though I’m a summer-lovin’ type of person I absolutely adore running in the winter months. I’m not like Elsa, the cold does bother me, but I know that being a winter runner is so much more productive and for that reason I love it.
“The cold never bothered me anyway” – Elsa
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I can recall one late winter day while I was out for a run. It was pretty cold when I stepped foot outside the door but the sun was shining and there was a beautiful blue sky as far as your eye could see. ‘This is perfect running weather’ I told myself with that inner smug satisfaction you get when you’re about to hit the ‘sweet spot’ of perfect running conditions (don’t lie, you know exactly what I’m talking about).
My smugness was short lived though, because in no time I was absolutely roasting hot and cursing out loud to the atmosphere that it ‘should be colder than this, it’s winter’. Now, this is why I prefer winter running. 99% of my life, I’m cold or chilly or something on the opposite side of warm but when I’m running or doing a workout, I’m a molten lava filled furnace who might just spontaneously combust – I’m dramatic, I know.
“Great things come out of being hungry and cold. Once you’re pampered, you get lazy” – Rob Zombie
When the temperatures are lower, I can run so much further with so much more effort and I feel like I’m getting twice the amount of benefits when I’m running in the cold than I can in the summer. While it’s a little shock to the system the moment you step outdoors, I know that I’ll be cozy toasty warm in minutes. So here are my top tips for running in the winter and also some motivational nudges that should help you get out of the door so you can experience the winter running nirvana that I do!
Be safe out there running alone
As a female, running alone in the cold, dark winter months, it can sometimes feel a little less safe than it does in the summer. Here are some safety measures that I put into place when I’m running at night:
- Before you set out on your run, make sure you’ve told someone exactly where you’re going, what time you expect to be back and the route you’re going to take. Make sure you’re taking a mobile phone with you so you can call someone in an emergency or take some spare cash with you for phone boxes (if you still have any in the area that you live).
- Set up your GPS tracker to automatically alert your friends, family, the dog of your whereabouts. While it’s all well and good to tell someone where you’re going and what route you’re taking, it’s even better if they can see it in real time (it’s also useful during races so anyone who accompanies me knows how far I am from the finish line). I have a Garmin Fenix 5 running watch and it has a feature called Live Track. I have this set up to auto start so as soon as I press the start button and it’s linked with GPS it will send an email to the address I’ve set up and they can watch the route that I’m taking, what pace I’m going at and least of all, exactly where I am at that moment in time.
- Stick to the main roads and pathways, running in the darker months isn’t the ideal time for you to try out that new trail run route or to take shortcuts through housing estates that you may not be familiar with.
- Find a running buddy or a running club so you don’t have to go it alone. You’ll feel much safer and have a greater reassurance of your safety rather than pounding those pavements solo.
- I’d highly recommend that if you’re running in the dark not to impair your hearing by listening to an MP3 player while you’re out. You’re less likely to be able to hear traffic, other people using pathways and keep you on high alert to your surroundings.
Dress appropriately for the weather
In the South West of the UK, while we do get cold weather, we seldom experience snow. That’s not to say that we don’t suffer from icy roads and pathways when it does get cold, but average temperatures are not usually below zero. Therefore, dressing appropriately for the weather is more likely going to be ‘how do I not get soaked right through’ rather than, ‘how many layers of gloves should I wear today’ (it sure rains here a lot in the UK).
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” –
While I can’t really advise you on those sub-zero temperature appropriate clothing that you may have to wear if you’re in a much colder clime (I know that a ski jacket is not suitable), I can give you a guide on what I wear when it’s much chiller outside.
- You must have heard this before, the key is layers. When I step outside the door first of all, I’ll be wearing a base layer which will be something that will keep me warm but that isn’t cotton. Cotton will hold onto any moisture from rain and sweat and will make you feel much colder (which will mean you’ll end up with ‘cold bones’ and have to take a bath for 2 hours to warm up… just me?). Look for the dri-fit fabric when you’re purchasing your base layer and you can’t go wrong.
- Follow up your base layer with an appropriate outer layer which you should tailor to the conditions you’re going to be running in, whether that’s rain, wind or just lower temperatures. There are some great running jackets which are made for each condition that you might encounter so do a little bit of shopping around and purchase the one that suits your needs best.
- If it’s really cold but not raining, I’ll wear a lightweight hat or ear cover to keep as much of the heat in as I can. I also suffer with my sinuses in the colder weather so covering my ears with something is an absolute must.
- I’ve never been one for running in gloves, I find them all too uncomfortable and restrictive and I’ll usually tear them off in anger 5 minutes after I’m out of the door (and then I’m stuck trying to find somewhere to put them until I’m home). What I do enjoy is a jacket or jumper that has thumbs cut out at the end of the sleeves. That way, I can pop my hands through and keep my hands somewhat warm initially but when I’ve warmed up a bit I can just free my hands and thumbs much easier.
- Another cold weather item which has become popular is the buff. This can be used in multiple ways across your head, neck and face to keep the wind from battering your neck upwards. I haven’t mastered them as I find them fussy but I know lots of runners that swear by them and use them on nearly every run.
- If you’re going to be battling with a snowy ground or more uneven surfaces, I’d recommend running in trail shoes if you have them as they’ll have a much more aggressive grip on the ground than your usual running shoes. If you’re really determined to run in icy weather, take a look at the Yaktrax, “named after the Tibetan yak, are light-weight ice grips worn over your regular walking shoes, winter boots, jogging or running shoes when walking on packed snow and ice in winter” which are designed to reduce the risk of slipping on ice. Find them here https://www.yaktrax.co.uk/
Be safe, be seen
There are some great pieces of equipment out there which will not only help you run better and safer in the dark, winter months but that will make you more visible to other people either on the roads or pathways so they can look out for you too.
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer” – Albert Camus
You’ll find on most running-specific clothing such as jackets and leggings there are built in high visibility sections in areas such as the back, ankles and sleeves. Anything that shows you’re a moving person is going to help the onlooker to determine you as such instead of a shiny stationary object. Check out the Pro Viz Sports jackets which are the only 100% reflective jackets on the market https://www.provizsports.com/en-gb/
If you’re looking for something more to help you be seen there are many inventions like <a href=”http://“>LED belts , <a href=”http://“>reflective safety sashes and <a href=”http://“>reflective armbands. To help you see better, you can also purchase <a href=”http://“>head torches which will help you navigate any uneven terrain and avoid trips.
What’s for all of the above information if you’ve got no motivation to get out of the door in the first place, right! Here are some tips to get you lacing up those shoes and bouncing out of the door like Bambi (hopefully not on ice).
- Warm up before you leave the house. That way you’ll have nice warm muscles to work with so you can get straight into your run instead of getting warm and doing a warm-up all at the same time. I’ll usually listen to a few tracks on Spotify that I find motivational and do some dynamic stretches and aerobics style movements to get the blood pumping. (Ok you caught me, I dance around my living room in somewhat of a haphazard way doing half aerobics half street dancing).
- Go to bed wearing your running clothes. Perhaps not all of them, running shoes likely aren’t the most conducive to a good night sleep or mud-free bedsheets, but if you’re comfortable enough at night sleeping in them put on your running top or leggings if you’re planning to head out for a morning run. That way you’re practically ready anyway so you may as well go out for your run!
- Get new workout clothes or running gadgets. This is a sure-fire way to get you motivated to go for a run. Once you purchase a new piece of running gear it would be rude of you not to take it out for an outing now, wouldn’t it? In the words of Ross Gellar to Phoebe when she was given a new bike that she never rode ‘if you don’t ride it, it will die’. True story, look after your bikes kids.
- Because you’ll be able to run without overheating, you’ll be able to run a lot longer and a lot more effectively along with improving your mental determination. This means you’ll be burning more calories (say hello to more cake) and you’ll be reaping the benefits for your summer races by training in the winter months.
- If you’re relatively new to running and you’re feeling a little self-conscious running in the great outdoors, you’ll be able to work on your confidence in running while it’s still dark outside so come summer time, you’ll be sashaying around the pavements feeling like a pro.
- Sign up for a virtual race to keep your motivation high if you’re not keen on entering a race or you’re not feeling up to it just yet. There are tons of virtual races out there so pick one that appeals to you with distances from 5k up to 100 miles to month. Sign up to the race that you’re interested in, send proof of your distances before the deadline and get your medal. Check out one of my favourite virtual running sites at https://www.virtualrunneruk.com/
- Have a kick ass playlist that you can’t wait to go outside and listen to! One of the main reasons I love running is that I can put on my favourite music, drown out the rest of the world and sing and fool around as much as I like. I personally find music very motivational so I’m always on the looking for new tracks to get me in the mood to go running. (I’ll never listen to music though if it’s very dark out for safety reasons).
Final winter running tips
Even though it’s cold outside, and you may not feel like you need it, make sure that you’re staying hydrated when you’re going out for your runs. Some runners swear by taking a little room temperature water along with them on their runs to stop them getting such a dry mouth from breathing in the icy atmosphere.
If you really can’t bear to go running outdoors or the conditions are highly unsuitable, I’d suggest having an at-home alternative so you’ve got no excuses. Cross training is going to be your best friend if you want to continue with your training regime in the winter months. I have many cross-training options at home, one of them is my spin bike which I just adore! One reason I decided to invest in it was that the spin classes I was attending were becoming very expensive and it was more cost effective for me to purchase one for at home that I could use at any time. It also helped me when I was suffering from running-related injuries. I have been going to spin class for many years so I was familiar with the process of what I should be doing, but if you’re not, there are tons of videos on YouTube which will take you through a spin class for free!
As a running tip, if you’re running on more slippery terrain, take smaller strides and be lighter on your feet. This will help you to gather a more stable footing and make falling over less likely.
So, you’ve headed out the door, you’re wearing all of your new running gear and you’ve got a motivational playlist in your ears but it’s just too icy and you’re not sure whether you’re going to be able to cover the distance you had planned safely. Try and keep to routes that you can shorten so if you have to turn back home for whatever reason (you’re too cold, you’re too wet etc) you’re not too far from the finish line.
I’ll leave you with my favourite cold weather quote:
“To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake it is necessary to stand out in the cold” – Aristotle
I hope you’ve found some of these winter running tips useful and wish you a fun-filled season of safe, winter running.