No matter how dedicated you are to your winter running routine, waking up day after day to dark, gloomy, chilly weather can be the place you become unstuck. Because, in spite of your winter running leggings and other cold-weather gear, snuggling up under the covers seems far more appealing.
But stick with it. A Northern Arizona University study discovered that the big freeze can increase your speed by 29 per cent, and that’s just one of the benefits of running in the cold.
That said, tackling these pesky conditions requires more thought than running on balmy spring and summer days. So, with the help of Olympic Heptathlete Dame Jessica Ennis Hill, and Steve Vernon, former GB International athlete and Coach for Team New Balance, we’re going to help you guard against seven common winter running mistakes.
1. Not putting your safety first
For most of us, the daily grind means running in the dark (unless you squeeze it in on your lunch break, of course). It might sound simple but hi-vis clothing will help to keep you safe and give you extra incentive to get out there before the sun comes up.
2. Not making your goals tangible enough
If you’re losing motivation to work out, keeping accountable with a virtual running group or similar-minded buddy is a great way to stick to your schedule.
If you prefer solo sessions, try Ennis Hill’s technique and find something to keep you going that isn’t centred around weight or fat loss. “I think it has to be having a hot shower and a warm cup of tea afterwards and feeling that sense of real satisfaction that you have done the hard work, despite the cold,” she says.
3. Expecting to beat your PB
If you’re working on how to run faster, try not to compare your times or distances too closely with what you’re capable of in the milder months.
“If it’s windy, raining, icy etc. then your times are bound to be a bit slower, but the winter is a great time to work on weaknesses and build strength in other ways,” explains Vernon. Focus on strength-training workouts for runners, as well as mobility and stretching routines, too.
4. Sticking to extreme distances
If you’re used to long distances but right now can’t get on board with spending two hours being pounded by the elements, it may be time to mix up your routine.
If you’re short for time or have limited places to run why not find a hill near your house to run up for 30 to 60 seconds. You can walk or jog back down as a recovery and do as many of these as you want to, based on your fitness and ability. Between 4 to 8 would be a good starting point but make sure to do a jogging warm-up and cool down.
Hills are great for strength and speed, and although you might not be able to get the distance in, you’ll still work hard.
5. Wearing the wrong kit
If there’s ever a time when the right kit matters, it’s in colder temperatures. Damp clothing becomes cold very quickly and you can’t be going out in just shorts and a vest in the snow.
And, while you might assume running in the cold means you need to reach for the thermals, in actual fact, you’re still going to work up a sweat. “Instead, wear layers, you can remove once you’ve warmed up,” advises endurance coach Jackie Newton. “Make sure your base layer is made of lightweight sweat-wicking fabric like Gore-tex and avoid cotton as it holds on to sweat and stays wet.”
6. Not warming up or down
It can be quite a shock to the system to go from being warm and cosy inside to chilly cold outside. Vernon suggests wearing your kit for a little while before setting off.
“If it is freezing outside then make sure you’re wearing enough clothing to keep you warm. A warm-up is often a good idea but not always practical at home; if you get up and do a few household chores beforehand in your full running kit you’re bound to be warm by the time you leave the house.”
There’s no reason you should get injured more easily in winter, provided you still warm-up and down properly. Just resist the temptation to get in after a run and curl up on the sofa without so much as a thought to stretching.
7. Forgetting the importance of hydration
Stay hydrated. Just because it’s cold it doesn’t mean you aren’t losing fluids. You’ll still be sweating under all that kit.
Dehydration is a key cause of injury and, even if that doesn’t happen, you’re more likely to get some killer DOMS over the following few days.
Is running in the cold bad for your chest?
It’s a common misconception that breathing in cold air will damage your lungs but the side effects of running outside are fine – to an extent.
“Your body humidifies the air you inhale and brings it to body temperature by the time it hits your lung tissue,” says sports medicine specialist, Dr William Roberts. “This is made possible by the high blood flow through the lung tissue that constantly rewarms and hydrates the tissues.”
So, no, it’s not bad for your chest. Just make sure to work at your own pace and stop when you need.