Run | Winter
Winter. Bright crispy days gently bobbing past spindly trees whilst performing your best impression of an elegant steam locomotive, eventually pulling in to a welcoming open fireside as the warmth hits you and forces a wide smile.
Or we could get real.
Sure, there are a few moments when nature provides you with an oil painting experience, but much of the time you’ll be fighting the window demon and the 30 second growl as you first step outside.
Fight the demon
Typically, the very first hurdle is to evaluate what you see through a window in a different way. This will likely dictate whether you don any sports clothing in the first place – we’ve been programmed to see wet | dark | cold and rely on clothing or cars to ‘protect’ us with instant effect. However, it will take initial bravery and faith to build up enough experience to know just how well and how quickly your body will adapt to conditions, so until then, remind yourself of how good you feel afterwards.
Morning Tip | As soon as getting out of bed, dress in your running gear (possibly prepared previously) before opening the curtains. This obviously sends you in the right direction of having made a decision but also allows your body to begin to adapt to air contact rather than the lethargic warmth of a dressing gown.
Does my bum look big
All blogs will tell you to layer up and it does help cut down draughts, but most clothing is pretty common sense; gloves, a couple of tops, jogging tights/tracksuit, hat/cap and jacket. However, there are a few tips to consider around those, which are influenced by my cycling groundings.
Base top | I use a cycling jersey under a running top as this is tight fitting and tucks inside of shorts to stop draughts. Additionally, if not wearing a jacket, use the jersey’s rear pockets to hold mobile phone which in turn is kept in situ by shorts waistband.
Jacket | Once again I go for cycling jackets because of the pockets and close fitting which reduces bounce of held items. I also find cycling jackets usually have side zips to adjust airflow – so start with them zipped then open up after a mile or so.
Waterproof? meh | Even with treatment, waterproofs don’t hold long and increase cost, so I believe that it’s better to have fast drying clothing. Waterproof shoes or socks can help for a short while, especially if like me you get cold extremities, but once wet waterproof shoes take much longer to dry – trainers, especially trail, are designed to squeeze out moisture with each step.
In the buff | Yep, a ‘buff’ or ‘snood’ (lightweight scarf) is great for the initial period until warmed up – either around the neck or on the head. However, they become sweaty so often best to swizz around wrist and use as a sweat/nose wipe after a while (everything gets thrown in the wash!).
Trail shoes | If you do venture out in trail shoes, do watch out for wet cobbles as some shoes are treacherous on that type of surface (main brands). Other than that, it’s not clear-cut whether trail shoes are better than road shoes in winter. From my experience, mud/slush patches are improved with trail shoes and road running is fine but the treads wear very quickly. Like car tyres, I picture softer rubber compounds retain their grip better on pavements once we hit freezing temperatures and below.
Active commute | As someone who either ran or cycled the 10k to/from work every day, during wetter stints I would hate changing for the return in clothes wet from the morning. Therefore would plan in extra return clothing to give the wet gear an extra 24hrs to dry off. It can become a logistical nightmare, especially if multi-modal, but perfectly workable once pre-empted.
Penny tip | Use food bags to hold phone, monies and key fobs safe from moisture. You’ll get several usages before replacing and much cheaper/more reliable than expensive options.
Visibility is often mooted and is down to personal experience to be honest (unless you’re a leader and need to be constantly seen). The obvious option is reflective strips on clothing or bands, but you can get running arm-band lights which do work well. Head torches are less about being seen, but really for seeing the ground and are clearly necessary for trails but you can frequently be caught in dark street patches especially during autumn when the leaves are still on the trees – watch leaf piles too for uneven surfaces and ‘surprise parcels’ too.
Personal safety is the key need and as such by far the best approach is to join a running club/group at least during winter. If this isn’t an option, then do take whatever safety precautions you can, such as pre-planning routes and telling someone, live position sharing through your favourite tracker (free livetrack on Garmin, premium on Strava) and emergency contacts.
Tech tip | Some tracker watches have the ability to discreetly message an emergency contact. Worth checking out your features plus livetrack ability – especially when looking for Christmas presents!
Moving on to the physiological effects and remember we’re running through winter so that when spring arrives, we’re in a super-strong position. In fairness, advance-booking the odd running event to give yourself a reason to run through winter will add another motivational notch.
Let’s stress the importance of warmups and expect them to take longer plus ease into running a little more gently, possibly by walking first. I always visualise muscles/tendons as plasticine; if stretched when cold, visible tears appear immediately but if you warm and work it first, it can be stretched without tearing. Additionally, be aware that the body protects the core, therefore limbs may be de-prioritised for blood/water flow and take longer to warm up, plus may increase urine production.
Safety Tip | If you ever use a foil emergency blanket, ensure the occupant is wearing dry clothing. Wet clothing transfers body heat rapidly away and through the foil blanket, leading to hypothermia. I know of an occurrence where race marshals handed them out on a cold drizzly day and resulted in an ambulance journey.
There are statistics regarding non linear performance drop / effort required as temperatures approach and pass 0C, so just be easy on yourself if checking performance/distance. The change in overall hydration and calorie burn due to the effects of cold are quite complex and individualised, so just be aware that things may be different and gain the experience from your own body’s behaviour.
Post run stretching is still an important facet, be mindful of how much quicker you will cool outdoors and the plasticine visualisation. Ideally head indoors to continue stretching and potentially during a shower.
Cough, splutter, wheeze
Wintercise and a balanced diet is brilliant for keeping yourself strong, but at times your body will need to fight off bugs (maybe from those who are not exercising!).
NHS | The advice is essentially “If your symptoms are not severe and you generally feel OK, then you can exercise. If you feel absolutely rotten, then it’s best not to go”. Additionally, a fever may indicate a virus which could affect your heart. See NHS “Exercising in winter”.
I won’t offer medical advice, but I do like to experiment on myself to discover my body’s behaviour. In fact, I’m probably a poor mainstream example as I have only visited a doctor once in the last 35 years (after a bike accident) and rarely take pain relief, but in reality I recover very quickly, to the annoyance of my family.
As someone who avoided all exercise until 40 years old primarily due to being told I had asthma, I did begin to investigate the effects of essential oils and natural anti-inflammatory foods such as apples and inflammation inducing dairy products. If trying essential oils at the first sign of a cold, please chat with a specialist (there is a supplier in Leeds city centre) as I know I’ve seen negatives due to dosage strength as well as positives.
I hope I’ve covered off a few practicalities which may encourage you to persist with the strong, natural and healthy community that is now massive in the UK. The next step is to encourage those around you to join to create a truly world class workforce together.