Start out warm
I’ve been running for more than two decades but I still frequently make the classic beginner’s error of overdressing. Two tricks to help you resist the temptation to wear too much: warm your kit (especially your base layer) on the radiator before you put it on, and do some warm-up exercises in the house before you set off.
Layering kit is the tried-and-tested strategy for maintaining and regulating body temperature, but your layers need to be breathable and wicking so they trap heat, not sweat (manmade fabrics like nylon and polypropylene are your best bet, though some natural ones, such as merino wool, work too). But don’t overdo it – you’ll warm up far more running than you will walking or cycling. With blood being shunted to the working muscles, your extremities are particularly vulnerable to the cold, making gloves and a hat winter essentials. If it’s only moderately cold, a top with long arms and thumbholes gives some warmth without committing you to coverage for the whole run.
With no visible evidence that you are sweating, it’s easy to forget about hydration when you’re running on colder days. While sweat rates are obviously lower, I recommend carrying fluid with you on runs of an hour or more.
Keep at it
The oft-repeated advice about arranging to meet someone so you don’t let them down and miss your run still stands in bleak midwinters – but you don’t want to be hanging around for even a few minutes in Baltic conditions, so arrange to knock for them en route, or organise an indoor meeting point (even your car will do). If you don’t already have one, set a spring goal to give you a reason to run through the winter.
See … and be seen
If you are running in darkness, it’s reflective clothing and lights that will ensure you get seen by drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, rather than dayglo colours. Look for garments with reflectivity on the arms and legs, rather than the torso, as moving parts are easier to spot. Or buy cheap and cheerful reflective ankle/wrist bands. There’s a difference between a light to aid visibility and one to help you see where you are going. A blinking light gives better ‘perception distance’ (the point at which a driver spots you) than a solid one, but isn’t much use if you’re trying to light your way. That’s where a head torch comes in, leaving your hands free and lighting the route ahead.
Don’t be wet
Short of donning full waterproofs, top and bottom, it’s nigh-on impossible to stay completely dry on the run. But you can certainly stay dryer. A rain jacket is the essential purchase, but you’ll need to weigh up the relative merits of how waterproof a jacket is and how breathable, as an increase in one tends to be accompanied by a decrease in the other. I usually opt for a lightweight water-resistant jacket which keeps the rain off on all but the longest and wettest of runs.
Have happy feet
There’s nothing more misery-inducing than cold, wet feet and squelching socks. If you want your tootsies to stay dry, you have two options (OK, three if you count staying at home). Firstly, shoes with a hydrophobic or fully waterproof upper (but bear in mind that you’ll still get wet feet if water seeps in over the tops) teamed with some warm, wicking socks.
Bear in mind that surfaces are most likely to be icy in the early morning and evening and, if possible, opt for trail or grass which doesn’t take on icerink-like properties with the first frost. In adverse weather, consider running loops closer to home rather than tackling a long ‘out and back’ run, in case you need to bail out. If it’s seriously windy, run into the wind when you are fresher, at the start of a run, and have it at your back on the way home. If you’re running in the dark, stick to routes that you know well so you are aware of any hazards and don’t risk getting lost.
Seize the day
Yesterday, I did my long run under a grey sheet of rain that occasionally blew horizontal. It was slippery underfoot and, all in all, a hard slog. Today, it’s crisp, cold and still – perfect conditions for a run. The message? Be flexible about your training – if you’ve got a set of mile reps scheduled but it’s gusting 60mph outside, your split times are going to be meaningless so adapt or postpone the session, or hit the treadmill. And if it’s a sunny day, just get out there, whatever the schedule says.
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