“The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful,” sang Mr Dean Martin, back in the day. It’s a sentiment that any runner who’s ever struggled to motivate themselves out of the house and into an arctic, sleet-lashed night can identify with.
But if you give up on running between the end of autumn and the start of spring, then winter has won – and winter will laugh at you, like you’re a massive sobbing wuss.
Can you hear it? Can you hear winter’s rasping cackle?
Well sod that. Here are 10 winter running tips to help you kick winter square in the nuts and keep on runnin’.
1. Dress Strategically, Like A Ninja
Go for layers of clothing that can be whipped off easily as conditions change. It’s no good tackling a drizzly run in a cotton hoody and shorts: the hoody will quickly become sodden and heavy, while your exposed legs will be subject to icy wind-and-rain blasts. Argh.
Instead, wear a lightweight base layer that’ll sucks moisture away from the skin while offering some insulation. Add a technical vest and/or a long-sleeve running top for extra warmth.
It’s also worth heading to a specialist running shop to invest in a lightweight waterproof jacket that can be tied around your waist if the rain lets up and you start feeling overheated.
2. Protect Those Extremities
There’s no need to step outside like you’re off to hunt the Yeti, but you’ll at least need to keep your ears warm, because if they start to ice up it’ll feel like someone’s jabbing knitting needles into the sides of your noggin. You can pick up a fleece ear-band on eBay for a couple of quid – just make sure you’ve got somewhere to shove it if you need to whip it off.
A pair of lightweight gloves are also a must, as are a pair of specialist running socks. If the latter are decent quality they’ll be thin, breathable and won’t squelch like mad if they get wet.
3. Do A Big-Ass Warm-Up
Before venturing out into the icy tundra, spend a little more time than usual on your pre-run warm-up to ensure all your joints and major muscle groups are suitably toasty before venturing out.
Do your warm-up indoors, if possible, and work on dynamic stretches rather than static holds – leg-swings, lunges and on-the-spot boxer shuffles that’ll simultaneously help to stretch and warm muscles.
Garry Kerr, Head of Operations and Training at British Military Fitness, told me, “It’s essential that you stay as warm as possible during your sessions, so an energetic warm-up will raise the heart rate and body temperature, and give your body the right preparation for your run.”
4. Don’t Be Invisible/Get Squashed
Think about your route before venturing out, taking into account any areas likely to be icy, extremely muddy or even flooded during the winter months. It’s also advisable to stick to well-lit areas, and to wear hi-viz or reflective clothing to avoid being flattened by a number 38.
Taking things off-road onto a known, traffic-free trail-running route can be just the ticket, however – even in the depths of winter. As George Anderson, official trainer for the 2015 Vitality Reading Half Marathon, told me, “Winter’s a great time to get refreshingly dirty with some cross-country trails. They can build ankle and core stability and help you reconnect with your running, especially if you usually tend to run on roads.”
5. Stay Wet (On The Inside)
Freezing temperatures disguise how much your body is actually sweating, and cold air can make you ‘feel’ less thirsty than you actually are, so it’s important to be extra vigilant when it comes to staying topped-up with haych-two-oh.
It might sound a little “ew” but the official guidelines from the National Hydration Council (yes, that’s a real thing) advise that the best way to monitor your hydration is by checking your pee. “It should be pale-straw colour – anything darker and more fluid is needed.”
6. Dangle Yourself A Carrot
It’s a lot easier to motivate yourself to run in the icy-cold if you have an event to train for – so head to Unbound’s Pick A Challenge area and scope out something happening in your area sometime in the spring. There are plenty of no-stress ‘warm-up’ events – 5k runs and so on – to ease you back into running following a winter hibernation period.
Better still, get some mates to sign up too. That way, you can rely on each other for training motivation when it’s looking proper grim outside. Strength in numbers and all that.
7. No Fun = Don’t Run
If the weather is looking truly biblical outside, sack off the running and try out some other forms of exercise from the comfort of your warm, dry living-room.
Your running technique and ability can be improved with a few simple exercises that don’t rely on actual running. Professional marathon trainer George Anderson says, “If the weather puts the kibosh on your running, spend a few weeks getting strong indoors, using a bodyweight strength routine. This can help with your running by improving your strength and reducing your chance of injury”.
YouTube is awash with high-quality, newbie-friendly workout videos – take a look at our guide to the best of YouTube’s fitness channels to see which is right for you.
8. Get The Wind In A Headlock
Believe it or not, the wind can have a huge effect on your running ability; not only does it slow you down and knacker you out when you’re running headlong into an icy gale, but cold wind on a sweaty body will chill your core very swiftly, making you feel properly uncomfortable.
If possible, plan your route so that you’re running against strong winds on your way out – so you get the nasty stuff out of the way first – then return home with the wind behind you, speeding up this latter section to get yourself back indoors quicker.
9. Running In The Rain
Running in the wet can be a faintly gruelling experience, but it shouldn’t ‘dampen’ (do you see?) your training dreams.
An advanced technical jacket that keeps water out but lets your skin breathe will make the experience much more enjoyable, while many runners recommend slipping plastic freezer-bags over socks before donning trainers as a cheap-but-effective way to keep feet dry.
10. Quick – Get Naked!
As soon as you’ve finished your run, your heart rate will rapidly decrease and your core temperature will begin to plummet. So it’s a good idea to get out of damp clothes quickly and change into something warm, to ensure your core stays toasty.
Once you’ve taken on a decent amount of water, maybe brew yourself a steaming mug of tea – works wonders for warming through freezing fingers, feet and cheeks (both face- and bum-).
And finally, here’s how not to do it…