Every year, winter seems to sneak up on me. One minute I’m happily running around in my shorts and vest squeezing every last minute of enjoyment out of the (comparatively) milder weather and lighter evenings, the next the temperatures plummet, the air gets crisp and all running seems to take place in the dark/rain/high winds/all of the above! It would be incredibly tempting to put the running shoes away and curl up in front of Netflix until things improve, but training through those tough winter months makes us stronger and ready to run well through the spring and summer. And with a few tweaks to things like our routes and kit, we can keep on running through most of what Mother Nature throws at us.
So how do we make sure that we can run safely and happily through the winter? Last year I posted my tips for winter running, and having experienced everything from snow and ice to high winds and driving rain this week, now seems as good a time as any to revisit them!
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. I use a Road ID band (which also has a smartphone app) and also have a parkrun barcode band which has emergency contact details on it too. There are various companies which make similar products/apps and the Health Kit app in Apple’s iOS includes 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 (mainly selfies and scenery!), 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. It may not be the most exciting run you ever had, but I’d rather be safe than take a risk.
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 reap the benefits!
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 a couple of years ago I invested in some waterproof socks and gloves to make sure my feet stay dry and 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 whatever the weather this winter, hopefully running outside should remain an option. For me, the
dreadtreadmill is a last resort if it’s just far too slippy to run safely or so windy that I can barely stand upright let alone move in a forward direction. Get out there now, and enjoy running strongly come the spring.
What are your top tips for winter running?
Any winter kit recommendations?