Time is a funny old thing. It barely seems like any time at all since I was out pounding the pavements in gale force winds and driving rain whilst training for the Paris marathon, yet here I am once more digging out the winter kit to begin that process all over again. Perhaps it’s because the injury I suffered this year meant that I missed out on all those lovely summer runs in shorts and a vest – you know, the ones that seem like a really good way to enjoy the weather but inevitably result in you over-heating and arriving home a bright red, dripping, sweaty mess? Sadly, my running shorts stayed firmly in the cupboard this year but finally, FINALLY I can run again! If you’ve been following the whole saga then you know how tentatively I’ve returned to donning my running shoes, but at long last I’m running pain-free and feeling strong for a gradual (and sensible) increase in my training. I’m overjoyed to be getting out there again, but not quite so thrilled to find myself tied to heading out on dark, blustery evenings once more.
I’m certainly no fair-weather runner as last winter’s training proves, but often people stop running when the clocks go back, or head inside to the treadmill instead. But darkness doesn’t mean running outside has to stop, it simply means a few sensible adjustments have to be made so you can keep safe and keep running. I’d much rather be outside running than stuck on a treadmill, and I know the changing conditions will make me a stronger runner, so here are my top tips for running safely in the winter months:
Make sure someone knows where you’re going and how long you’ll be
If you’re planning to run alone, then it’s useful to have some back-up. It’s a good idea to let someone know the route you plan to take and how long you expect to be, that way if you’re not back at the expected time they can check you’re ok. I always tell Steve what route I’m planning to run and make sure he knows when I’m heading out. Some running apps even allow others to track where you are. Which brings me to…
Carry ID and a phone
Whenever I head out for a run or cycle I wear an ID band with emergency contact information on it. There are various companies which make such products and the new Health Kit app in Apple’s iOS8 also has the option to store emergency contact information as well as relevant medical history which can be accessed even if you have a passcode on your phone. At any rate, I always take my phone out with me. I rarely use it other than to take photos, but if I feel unsafe or something happens that means I need to be picked up, then I’d rather carry it with me than regret not having it. Keep your phone in an armband or small waist pouch and you’ll not even notice it’s there. If you’re particularly concerned, then carry a personal alarm as well and know how to use it.
Plan a safe route
On dark evenings it’s best to stick to well-populated and lit streets so there will be plenty of other people around. Some of my favourite routes are not lit so I can only use them in the summer or at weekends when I can run in daylight. It does limit my routes a little, but I feel much safer running in populated areas when its dark, and safety is the most important thing. I would also recommend having some variety in your routes and the times that you head out so there is no obvious pattern by which anyone can track your movements.
Even if you’re running on pavements and in well-lit areas, it still pays to be visible to others. In daytime or low light, bright colours are best but in the dark there’s no substitute for high-vis. These days, high-vis kit has evolved beyond the bright yellows and pinks which can be seen from space to also include (often darker) kit with reflective panels which light up brightly when headlights hit them (you can check how effective these are by taking a photo with the camera flash on). There are also many more items with high-vis or reflective strips on them now so it’s not just jackets or tops, but also tights, hats, gloves, bags and even shoes. You could even include a head torch or other running lights which blink or flash and can be attached to various parts of your kit (it’s best if they are on parts of you that will be moving such as arms, legs and feet). You may feel a bit like a mobile Christmas tree, but at least you will be seen, especially if you are running on the road!
Be aware of your surroundings
It’s always a good idea to know what’s happening around you when you’re running, but even more so when it’s dark. Consider leaving the music at home so you can hear properly (I just have my earphones in one ear and keep the volume low) and watch out for cars, bikes and other pedestrians. Some road users may not be as visible as you so it pays to stay alert. Things look different in the dark (remember when the shadows in your bedroom looked like monsters when you were a kid?) so pay attention to the surface you’re running on too in case of potholes or uneven sections. If you’re running on the road, be sure to run facing the oncoming traffic so that not only can drivers see you, but you can see the vehicles coming towards you and move aside if necessary.
Run with others
You may feel happier running with someone else, whether that’s a partner, friend or a group such as a running club. Apart from there being safety in numbers, having a commitment to run with someone else means it’s much more likely that you’ll stick to your plans. It’s all too easy to come home and succumb to the lure of the sofa or the tv, especially when it’s dark/cold/wet/windy, but I promise you’ll feel much better for going out for a run. Even now I often dread going out for an evening run in the winter, but have NEVER regretted heading out the door, even in the worst conditions, so get out there and this could be you:
Wear suitable kit
Crucial to enjoying a run at this time of year is getting your kit right. It’s unlikely that you’ll be heading out in shorts and a vest, but you may not necessarily need to bundle up like you’re heading off on an expedition to the Arctic! Remember that once you’re moving you’ll warm up quickly, so it’s best to layer up. Layers are much more effective at trapping heat on cold days and if you get too warm you can always remove a layer. My staple winter kit is long tights (compression for the super-long runs), a base layer and top layer, all made of wicking fabric to move moisture away from my skin and stop me getting cold. A running jacket can be good too, but make sure it’s right for the conditions – if it’s raining, a waterproof jacket will be your best friend (trust me on this one!) and if it’s blowing a gale (and in Scotland you always seem to be running into the wind regardless of which direction you are headed in!) then something windproof is good. Jackets can also be super-lightweight for days where it’s damp but not cold, or a bit thicker for those colder runs. In addition, I have some favourite accessories such as a fleece headband to keep my ears warm and a hat for much colder days. A cap can be good to keep rain off my face and I never head out in winter without my gloves (I have lightweight ones and thicker ones for the coldest days). Your extremities (hands and feet) are the most important things to keep warm, and after a particularly wet long run last winter, I’ll be investing in some waterproof socks and gloves to make sure I can still use my hands to unlock the front door when I get home! No matter how toasty and warm the rest of you is, if your hands and feet get cold, you’re in for a miserable time so do whatever you can to keep warm and dry.
So with a bit of common sense, you should be able to keep up your running throughout the winter months, after all, “winter miles make summer smiles”. And who knows, if you’re good you might even be rewarded with some lovely new running kit from Santa 🙂
Do you keep running throughout the winter or do your fitness habits change?
Do you have any other tips to share?