Maybe this is your first time running during winter, or maybe you’ve always found it a struggle. In either case, we at Wiggle have amassed a few tips and tricks from experienced runners to ensure you stay safe and make solid progress in the face of plunging temperatures.
Not everyone runs, and even fewer choose to do it in tough conditions. Those with the determination to pull on their running shoes while the sun takes its annual leave are automatically part of an elite group, and possess mental and physical toughness beyond the average person.
But the decision to keep running is just the beginning: you still need to maintain the focus to keep your training regularly throughout the season, avoid injury, and make your runs count.
To help make this winter a winning season for your training goals, the team at Wiggle have put together a compendium of top tips, advice, and expert approaches helping you extract the maximum benefit from your off-season dedication.
Choose your route carefully
Your winter route may have to change considerably from your normal circuit. The shorter days and longer nights could rule out your favoured roads or trails, so it’s important to give your hibernal heading some thought.
It might be a good idea to drive to a safer running spot than risk it on exposed roads, especially when its dark and icy. It’s also worth noting that with fewer runners on the roads, the prime paths that are usually swarming with joggers are now much quieter, so there’s no better time to check out the premier running routes in your area.
Another option is to change the times of your regular run. If you run in the mornings, your usual route might be a very different environment in the pitch black of an early winter AM, so try switching to a lunchtime or early evening gallop instead. Alternatively, check online to see if there are any indoor tracks near you so you can stick to your preferred time.
If running an unfamiliar route is off-putting, a GPS watch could sooth your concerns and is also valuable for tracking your performance and progress.
Use the right gear
Just by wearing the right clothing, you can turn what could be a misery-inducing nightmare into an enjoyable and fulfilling run, leaving you with a feeling of accomplishment and on a high.
Chucking on layer upon layer of heavy cottons will leave you sweaty, chaffed, soaked through in the rain, and less motivated to tackle the same route tomorrow.
A good jacket, hat, gloves, and breathable leggings, tights, or trousers will transform your experience, helping you get the most from your considerable efforts. You’ve already done the hard part – getting out on the road in the winter – don’t make it any harder than it needs to be.
Start by investing in a quality winter jacket. If you’re running on dark roads, it’s a good idea to look for something in high-vis colours, or with reflective panels if you’re running near traffic.
Look for a combination of light, breathable materials such as Gore-Tex, and other technologies like Shake-Dry fabrics and windproof panels for a sturdy outer layer.
Base layers and thermals are another effective method of keeping out the cold without harming your performance or enjoyment. The close-fitting garments wick moisture away from your body by absorbing sweat, keeping you dry and chill free. Base layers also keep you warm by trapping warm air around the skin.
Gloves are a must-have on the winter run as your hands will soon freeze as they punch through the icy-air.
If your run takes you through parkland, or areas with a lot of standing water, it may be worth considering a fresh pair of running shoes with waterproof or water-resistant qualities.
But while layering-up is a great way of fending off the worst of the weather, it’s important not to overdo it. You will, of course, naturally heat up as the run goes on, so keep that in mind as you prepare to head out, and expect to feel cold at least during the outset. You don’t want to arrive home or at your destination carrying a jacket and three T-shirts.
It should go without saying, but warming up is incredibly important in the winter months. Cold muscles are much more susceptible to injury, while loosened limbs will be more resilient should you take a tumble on an icy patch.
The best approach to your actual warm up is using what are termed neuromuscular drills or dynamic stretching, which simulate the exercise about to be undertaken and wake up the mind as well as the body for a sharper and more responsive performance. Keep any traditional stretching until after your run.
It can be tempting to forgo salads and fruit during the winter months when the body is crying out for fats and carbohydrates. While it’s true that the body will be burning more calories trying to keep your core temperature up, it still needs the vitamins and minerals provided by a balanced diet.
Root vegetables and winter salad stuffs should find their way onto your plate regularly. Oranges, pomegranates, pears, and apples will also provide an extra vitamin boost to help resist seasonal colds. If you’re really pushing yourself this off-season, consider some nutrition supplements to fill in the gaps your changed diet might create.
A common mistake to note is not consuming as much liquid due to the colder temperatures, so pay close attention to how much you’re drinking and ensure to staying hydrated.
Having the right frame of mind will be a powerful partner for your winter training. Not only will it get you over the main hurdle of getting out the door, but also pushing yourself to improve while you’re out there.
But it doesn’t have to be a mental wrestling match every time you’re about to get out there – winter running can be fun.
Running in light crunchy snow when it's dark and tranquil is an exhilarating experience, especially under the gaze of an evening or early morning moon.
Chilly early January mornings can be refreshing and even formative, the crisp air and deserted streets a perfect arena for your run.
And many runners find the experience of being bundled in layers, returning home from blasting winds to a hot shower and steaming coffee to be a moment of sheer joy.
If these heart-warming images of winter training are not motivating enough, another tried and tested method is signing up for a spring race. Nothing will carry you over the early morning threshold quicker than the butterflies of an impending competition.
Alternatively, there are a number of smart phone apps designed to boost motivation, which may come in handy during the winter. Zombies Run, for example, simulates the experience of being chased by the undead to make you push harder and beat your PBs, introducing a competitive element to your solo runs.
If you’re running near traffic, however, winter isn’t a great time to wear headphones, so make sure you stay aware of your surroundings while on the road.
It’s also worth remembering that winter training pushes the body harder than more temperate temperatures, so you’re getting more out of it, so keep in mind that if you make it through the winter, those summer runs are going to feel like child’s play.