Running through the winter months - embrace it!
Updated: Nov 2, 2021
Everyone has their own unique goals when it comes to running. For some of us, it’s a real struggle to put those trainers on, for others of us, who are in the groove, it’s maintaining fitness and boosting mental health. For others, especially those in the midst of training for an event, the aim is to improve technique in order to increase speed or distance.
One thing though that I think many of us have in common is the running struggle! It is SO hard for the vast majority of the population to maintain a running schedule and STICK to it religiously without wavering. This can be particularly hard as we move into the cooler months when it is dark in the morning and the nights draw in earlier and earlier… And we all know the problem with missing one training session - the slide down the slippery slope can begin. One session becomes two and three and so on.
So, how do we maintain a running schedule so that we can be successful and achieve our goals? Well, here at TSC we have some top tips!
First and foremost, to be successful at running in the winter months and sticking to it, we recommend: routine, preparation and forward planning.
TSC tips for running in winter:
1. Create a schedule/carve out some slots of time, write it down if it helps.
· I find it much easier to run when I have a routine and dedicated time to stick to. Another great way of holding yourself accountable is running with a friend or a group. We are much less likely to cancel if we are accountable for someone else! For personal safety reasons, always try to run with another person and make sure you tell someone the exact route and duration of the run. If you have the flexibility, perhaps schedule your runs for daytime!
2. Dress for winter.
· I have written a detailed kit list in the next section of this blog with our top tips related to appropriate kit and winter running.
3. Warm up.
· This is just as essential as cooling down afterwards. Before your run you should warm the muscles up through dynamic movement. Imagine your muscles like blue tack - if you take it straight out of the packet and try and stretch it, it snaps. If you rub it in your hand for a while and warm it up, it becomes much more stretchy. Apply the same theory to your warm up; leg swings and movement to warm up, whilst your static stretches should be done at the end of the run.
4. Take a torch/headtorch.
· This is always a good idea, whether trail or road running. You can get head torches and chest torches, each with their pros and cons. It ultimately comes down to personal preference. If you are running on roads or country lanes, it can be a good idea to wear reflective clothing as well as a torch on the front and back of the head.
5. Shower and change quickly.
· Hopefully you have taken/worn the right kit with you to ensure you are not too cold. If this is the case it’s always good to get a hot drink and some warm food in you ASAP as well as jumping in the shower or bath. If you have got very cold out running, best to get in and put some really warm clothes on. Also, remember to warm up before getting into a hot shower.
Where should I run?
There are many, many beautiful running routes both on trails and roads in Oxon. The best way to get out and explore on 2 feet is to pre plan your route using one of the following apps/route plotting systems. These days, most sport watches or smartphones are capable of mapping your runs now, most commonly on apps or GPX files. All of the apps have specific filters for running, so you can look for local trail/road routes of specific distances and difficulty quite easily and simply upload them to your watch and/or phone.
Try out these apps:
• OS Maps
• Old school map and compass!!
What should I wear? TSC kit suggestions:
Winter running is all about staying warm and dry and being prepared for the conditions outside. As they say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad preparation!! Let's work from the head down and get into the nitty gritty of winter running kit. As a general rule, on longer runs you will need to stay warmer, shorter interval, tempo or speed work runs you will warm up quite quickly.
On a winter run, I would almost always take a buff or two with me. Buffs are brilliant bits of kit, you can use them as hats, bandanas, neck warmers and wrist warmers should you need them. Failing that a thin beanie type hat will suffice. If it is raining, you may want to consider a peak hat to help keep the rain off your face/eyes.
There are a million and one different jackets out there! For your rain jacket find something lightweight and bright. You may also want a jacket that you can wear without the rain, either an insulated jacket or a windproof jacket. I say bright because whether you are running on a road, trail or mountain, you really want to be seen at all times. Jackets have various different levels of breathability vs waterproofing and really depends on what type of running you do to choose your jacket. Will you be wearing a chest torch or running pack over it? Would you rather it went over your pack? It’s worth noting that it will take a bit of trial and error to find the right combination of jacket, base and/or mid layer that works for you, everyone is different and what may work for one, may not work for another.
Mid and base layers:
These are super important and when you get the combination right can really keep you warm whilst out in the winter months. I tend to use a combination of thermal base layers with additional mid layers depending on the conditions. These come in short and long sleeve options. Many of my mid layers are also hooded and can easily go under a jacket and/or be worn with a base layer if needed.
If you’re running shorter faster runs/events and want to wear a vest or t-shirt, arm warmers are a great shout to keep the arms toastie, without compromising your core temperature.
Shorts and tights:
This really does come down to personal choice! Like jackets, there are so many options to choose from. Consider whether you will need pockets in your shorts/tights and what you will be putting in them (keys/phones/snacks.)… When picking running tights, be careful of seams in the wrong places, particularly on longer runs, no one needs and unnecessary chaffing!
My recommendation for winter running is crew lengths socks, especially if you are running in shorts. Crew length (mid calf) socks prevent ingress of grit, stone and dirt into your shoes. You can get waterproof socks, some people swear by them, but they’re not for me! In the colder months I prefer a merino wool running sock, keeps the footsies toasty warm even when wet! Obviously if you can nail the colour combo from socks to trainers you’re definitely going to run faster…
The million dollar question! The best advice I can give here is to go to a running shop and get a shoe fitting. Then you know whether your feet are wide/narrow etc and you can get dialled into a few options that you know will work for you. Consider what terrain and distance you will be running. Winter running can mean wet slippery mud, rocks, gravel, roads etc and there are shoes that specialise in a specific terrain, or you can go for an all round shoe. Consider the grip that you will require and the type of laces. If you are doing a lot of up and down hill running, then I would not use lock laces as there is too much movement on the descents and your toes will pay the price in the toe box.
You maybe tempted by a goretex shoe; but, remember there is a big hole in the shoe where your foot goes and once water gets in it has very little chance of getting out. If you are a trail runner, or getting into trail running, you may just have to get used to damp feet!
Lots of watches out there and again, really depends on your needs. Do you need a basic watch with basic metrics such as speed, pace and distance? Or do you need a watch that tracks everything you do, from sleep patterns, to blood oxygen levels and even has maps on screen? There are plenty of watches out there, each with merits over it’s competitors, but here are the brands to look at, in no particular order:
• Apple Watch
Packs, torches and extra bits (gloves, first aid kits, torches, maps and compass etc):
I would suggest some sort of a running pack will be useful in winter. Consider whether just a waist belt or a full blown multi day ultra pack (or anything in between!) will be right for you. Bear minimum of things to take on your run would be water/liquids, phone, keys, torch and first aid kit. Some events require you to carry certain bits of kit, like seamed waterproofs, survival bags etc, so if you are going long and wild, make sure you pack accordingly! A good, waterproof phone holder is a great investment too!
Head torches are great, as are chest torches and its personal preference as to which you choose. Always make sure your torch is charged and/or you have spare batteries.
First aid kit is vital if you are going on the trails/off the beaten track. I would always have my watch and phone as a minimum if going somewhere I have never been before. If I am going into the mountains or similar, I would always take a map, compass, extra clothes, food, gloves, whistle and survival bag/shelter. You’d be surprised what you can fit into a small running backpack!
If you are unsure of any of this, you can speak to an experienced runner, or even join a group/club who can help you get the right thing for you. Just remember that what may work for someone, may not work for you. A good local independent running shop should be a great place to start getting kitted out for the winter.
I hope that helps! Ali :)