One of the most beautiful times to head out for a run is on one of those cold still wintery mornings, when the sun is just out and the vast sky is a pale washed-out blue. The grass is covered in a light, white dusting of frost that crunches wonderfully as you run, the leaves on the trees twinkling as you gently pass by. Clearly my reality couldn’t be further from this romantic notion! It tends to include wheezing, slipping in an undignified fashion (always while someone is watching), being too cold, or too hot and just generally making some bad outfit choices (bobble hats included). The year I trained for the London Marathon was chilly, windy and snowy and taught me a little about how to survive running when it’s cold outside. Here’s my 3 minute guide to surviving winter running.
Warm up before you go out
If you’re already warm before you leave the house, you’re going to have a much better chance of staying that way for the rest of the run. Jogging up and down the stairs, wrestle with the kids, lunges, star jumps, extreme hoovering. Anything that gets your blood pumping and your heart rate up is a winner!
Run in the warmest part of the day
I’m using the word ‘warm’ loosely here as there’s a good chance it might not get above 1 degree all day. Aim to run when it’s mid-day if possible. This can be tricky when you’re working, though you can always try popping out at lunch time. Another benefit of heading out at this time is that it’s light, so you can see better and be seen! Which leads us to…
The dark days are (NOT) over …
When there’s only 8 hours of daylight you often have to head out for runs in the dark. This is not a time for camouflage. Wear bright reflective colours so that you can be easily seen by cars and pedestrians alike. Those late night dog walkers have some great ninja moves when they’re surprised by stealth runners. Where possible, run on the pavement, however if you have to run on the roads, reflective gear and even a head torch will help keep you visible and safe on those dark nights.
Don’t go it alone
You’re more likely to run if you’re committed to meeting an equally brave/foolish friend who’s intent on keeping up their running regime. Or, join a running club so you’re heading out with others at night on a pre-planned route. Groups of runners are always easier to spot and there’ll be lots of great embarrassing Christmas party stories being shared around to distract you from the cold.
There is some contrary advice on clothing, including how much you should wear. I think go for layers where possible, but only those that can be easily removed and wrapped around your waist or shoved into a pocket. Also aim to wear the right amount of clothes for when you are 10 minutes into your run, you might be a little cold at first, however you’ll not then have to faff around removing/carrying stuff when you get too hot!
Yes, I have worn a bobble hat when running before and yes, it was a mistake. One it was definitely too warm and two, the bobbling was very annoying. That said, a lightweight running hat will keep you perfectly cosy when running, preventing all your hard earned body heat from leaving through your head. Another added benefit is that you can easily pop it in your pocket if you get too warm.
- Wicking is wicked
Bra, vest, socks, anything that you can buy that wicks away sweat is brilliant. Otherwise the sweat basically cools as dampness and makes you cold.
- Keep those feet dry
Get yourself a pair of water resistent trainers or at least wear those that have very little mesh. The key to not having cold feet, is definitely having dry ones and it can be hard to think of anything else if you’re squelching through the streets. Only dogs like soggy shoes…. Good grips are also vital for those icy days, with trail shoes being an excellent option to help keep you upright.
Gloves or liners are a must for keeping your hands warms. Leave the ski-mitts at home and opt for a light-weight, easy to store option.
A buff (just like those fabulous ones at Run Reigate 2017) are great for keeping your neck cosy whilst you’re out, especially if it’s blowing a bit of a gale! If it’s bitterly cold you can always sport a full on balaclava to keep your head, mouth, ears and lungs warm. Perhaps good to pick a bright colour so you’re not chased by the police.
Protecting your lungs
As someone with asthma, the chilly weather can sometimes set me off, the cold air leaving me with an attractive wheeze. It can be harder to breathe when it’s cold as it causes airways to constrict. Build up your resilience with shorter, slower and flatter runs. I will also often pull a buff over my mouth to protect my lungs from the really cold air. Another option if it’s really too cold is to move your running indoors to a treadmill. I know this is a less attractive option, but if it helps keeps you on track with your weekly miles, it’s absolutely worth doing. Plus you don’t need to buy a balaclava.
It’s never too cold for shades
Sunglasses, suntan lotion and lip balm. I promise I’m not mocking you. That winter sun can be bright, especially when it’s a 45 degree angle blinding you for half your training route. Add in some snow and your eyes definitely need some protection, as does your skin and lips. It’s important to think about our lip health right before Christmas.
And finally – warming down
Rather than doing the all important post run stretching in the street when you get home, head straight to a hot shower and do them there. That way you’ll not have a chance to get cold and it saves you an extra 10 minutes!
Hopefully these tips will help see you through the winter running season in one shape. Just think how much more you’ll enjoy the warm mince pie you get as a reward when you get home!