So it’s November. The clocks have gone back, the days are much shorter and Xmas has been taking over the shops for weeks now. I don’t know about you, but to me it seems much more appealing to snuggle up on the sofa watching Strictly Come Dancing or X Factor than it is to pound the dark, wet streets in the cold. Yet just because winter is upon us, there’s no reason to hang up our running shoes and hibernate until spring…
There are several reasons why people don’t enjoy running at this time of year: it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s wet and very soon we could have ice and snow on the ground to deal with as well. I can certainly relate to that as I’m not overly fond of being wet & cold, and as for the dark, well nobody really likes that, do they? Fortunately for me (and anyone else who considers hibernating as soon as they find themselves getting up in the dark every morning) most of these problems can be overcome so that we can keep up our training, whatever the winter throws at us.
The winter is when we lay down the foundations for the year ahead. Good winter training could shave valuable seconds or even minutes off our race times come the spring. Anyone with their sights set on a spring marathon will need to get down to some serious training in the months ahead. Or for a bit of fun there are some festive racing opportunities with a growing number of Santa/Reindeer/Turkey-titled events available. Even if you don’t plan to enter any races, simply continuing to exercise will help to fend off the blues and see you through the winter with a spring in your step (or at least help you to justify that extra portion of turkey!)
So how do we deal with all the obstacles mother nature throws in our path over the winter? While there’s not much we can do to stop it being dark, we can adjust our routes to make sure that at least we’ll have the benefits of street lights to light our way. From a safety point of view, this is one of the most sensible things we can do to help protect ourselves. To be doubly sure, a head torch can be a useful investment as well. Ok, so running around the same old urban streets doesn’t have quite the same appeal as hitting the trails or meandering around country roads, but at least it’s still running (and I find it makes those first runs along the summer routes so much more exciting!)
As for the more weather-related problems (cold, wet, icy, snowy) I’ve often been told by smug, more experienced runners that there’s no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong kit! And they’re right. Wearing the right kit means the difference between being warm & dry and arriving home a cold, soggy mess. I like to have a selection of different types of kit that I can layer up in different ways depending on just how cold and/or wet it is. First, a good base layer which wicks sweat away and regulates my body temperature. I can then wear either a short-sleeved or long-sleeved top over it if needed. For extra warmth (or a waterproof top layer) a lightweight, breathable jacket to protect from the elements. I also go for a decent pair of running tights that move with my body and keep my legs warm. For those dark runs (which, let’s face it, is most of them!) it’s also important that the kit includes something hi-viz or reflective to ensure visibility. The one thing that always catches me out is wanting to feel warm before I start to run. Inevitably, this results in me being too hot within a couple of miles. Note to self: remember you’ll warm up quite quickly!
One of the most important parts of my winter running kit is not the base layer, or the hi-viz, but the gloves. I find that no matter how warm the rest of my body is, my hands are freezing cold and just never warm up properly. I ALWAYS have my running gloves on winter runs. If my hands get too warm, gloves are easy to remove and stash in a pocket in case I need them again and that’s definitely better than blue hands! I also like to have either a hat or a headband to keep my poor wee ears warm (this also conveniently keeps the hair out my face!). Remember what your mother told you when you were younger: you lose most of your body heat through your head. A hat is therefore a key piece of kit and, like the gloves, can easily be removed if need be.
Ice and snow, of course, can be much trickier to deal with. Fresh snow is great fun to run on. Last year when the snow first fell, my husband and I had a great jaunt up a local hill in fresh, deep snow and really enjoyed ourselves. Once the snow becomes more tightly packed, however, or there’s ice around, the best thing to do is head inside to the treadmill (not the most appealing, I know, but better than slipping on the ice and spending weeks in plaster!). I know there are various grips and things you can buy to attach to your trainers and run in these slippery conditions, but I’ve not yet invested in anything like this. Another winter like last year though and that could be top of my Christmas list…!
So, just because the winter is upon us, there’s no real excuse not to continue running. With a bit of planning and the right kit, all that’s left (as Martin Yelling always says) is to zip up your man suit and get on with it!