how to beat the winter running blues and keep running

The clocks have gone back and the dark nights are with us again all too soon, confining most of us to the roads during the week with country paths having to wait until the weekend.

When the air is bitter, it’s easy to opt out from stepping outside the front door. Motivation during the winter is key, as is finding a training buddy, not just for safety (particularly for women) but to keep the experience enjoyable. And, of course, there are still races to be found to focus on, including the Christmas Pudding race at Cheddleton and the Christmas Cracker fancy dress run over the Roaches to name a few.

For those willing to brave the elements, winter running does bring some special considerations however, but the following should help keep you training and injury free over the winter months.

Kit

  • If keeping your feet warm in winter is key, then it’s worth bearing in mind you may need a trainer that’s a ½ size larger to accommodate thicker socks. Taking care of your feet is essential in order to prevent frostbite and circulatory problems with the feet.
  • Reflective gear is a must in winter, especially when there’s so much road running involved. There’s a wide variety of kit available now, from traditional running vests to reflective bands and flashing lights which can be attached to your usual running jacket. Be safe, be seen, and be aware it’s harder for car drivers to see you until they’re upon you
  • A third of your body heat is lost through your head, so consider wearing a woolly hat rather than lots of layers. It’s easier to take off as you get warm and tuck in a pocket, as are a pair of gloves, and you could choose the luminous variety for night runs or fingerless ones to keep your hands at a more moderate temperature.
  • But take care not to overdress. Although you will be comfortable at the beginning, you will soon start to overheat. An overdressed winter runner can sweat just as profusely and dehydrate just as quickly as the summer runner. And the sweat drenched winter runner has to worry about another danger: hypothermia. If you are out for a long run, get soaked in sweat early on, and then have to slow down because you are dehydrated or have to turn back into a head wind, you can easily get chilled or worse. So monitor your body temperature. If you find you are starting to sweat heavily, stop, take off a layer, and tie it around your waist, or ditch it somewhere you can pick it up on the way back. You can always put it back on if you get cold.

Training

  • Avoid any increases in mileage or adding speed work to the training regime in the winter. Doing speedwork in bone chilling cold places muscles under greater stress and is a quick way to injury, which is why most runners use this season for maintenance runs.
  • Cold and icy conditions can provide an ideal scenario to slipping and injuring a muscle or even breaking a bone. It’s not a bad idea to warm up indoors where possible and obviously be especially vigilant if conditions are icy or wet. Try not to run on icy roads, watch for black ice on pavements and opt for snow, as this surface will provide better traction. It is also advisable to shorten your running stride and run slightly slower. When you run on slippery roads you typically alter your stride and consequently strain your muscles in unfamiliar ways. This can lead to overuse injuries even though you haven’t increased your mileage.
  • Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you should leave your water bottle at home. If you are dehydrated you’ll actually get cold sooner, so it’s crucial to maintain adequate hydration before and after running to ensure your muscles recover.
  • Take it easy in cold weather. Studies have shown that long, intense activity such as running can make you susceptible to colds. Try and drink a high carbohydrate energy drink on the run, it will help maintain your immune system. Eating fresh vegetables and taking vitamin C also help prevent a cold while running in cold conditions.
  • Don’t be alarmed if you notice that when you start running, your hands get cold and may hurt a bit. Your body is diverting blood from your extremities into your internal organs to keep the organs warm. After you’ve gone a mile or two and your organs are warm, your body will put more blood back into your hands and feet, and they will warm up.
  • Hypothermia is a lowering of ones body temperature, frequently caused by damp or wet clothing, wind, and cold air temperatures. Be prepared by knowing the symptoms and treatment for hypothermia. Symptoms include uncontrollable shivering, disorientation and slurred speech.
  • Think about your route. When training on a cold windy day try and set out into the wind and return with it behind you rather than the other way round. If you start with the wind behind you, you will sweat early on, then have to run into the wind which will evaporate the sweat, make you colder, and requires more effort when you’re most tired.

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