Wintertime Running

November 12, 2012

Wintertime Running

Winter is the time when we all stay at home in the warm trying to avoid the cold dark nights and hoping for an early change in the seasons. It’s also the time when we feel least like doing exercise. But keeping ourselves active helps to keep us fit and healthy and exercising in the cold isn’t any different to any other time as long as you take sensible precautions.

The following tips will help you get your running shoes on and prepare you for those cold times when we must exercise and the motivation just doesn’t seem strong enough.

Be Prepared

The secret to exercising in the cold is to wear layers of clothing with a little bit of thought to which material should be next to the skin. Jackie Newton is an endurance coach and ex-international marathon runner who is now the online editor of ‘runbritain’, which combines giving information on road running whilst collecting for charity. He says, “The most important thing is to dress sensibly by wearing layers – a bit like an onion.”

He asserts that you should avoid having cotton as the layer next to your skin as it will become wet from your sweat. It’s much better to have a top made from technical running fabric which is designed to draw the moisture away from the body. This will keep you dry and Jackie says that these tops can be bought for less than fifteen pounds.

On top of this comes the fleece, if the weather is dry and cold, or lightweight waterproof top if it is windy or rainy. By having the layers whenever you get too hot you just peel away a layer.

Shorts are good for milder days but full or three quarter length leggings or running tights will help your legs stay warm. Because the head is the part of the body where we lose most of our body heat a hat and scarf can be a good idea. Gloves are also good at keeping you feeling comfortable whilst running.

Jackie explains why lightweight clothing is so good by saying, “It’s important to wear clothes that aren’t too heavy. If your clothes weigh you down, running will be much harder. You’ll get out of breath quicker, and that can be really off-putting for a beginner”.

Safety First

Because winter is full of dark and misty afternoons and evenings as well as very dark nights we must take care to ensure that we are as visible as possible when running. Always wear ‘hi- viz’, reflective clothing with bright colours. White, fluorescent orange or yellow or any reflective material is good. Most of the sportswear manufacturers are aware of the issues with darkness and have fluorescent or reflective areas on their sportswear.

Avoid dark colours, this just makes it harder for any motorists to see you.

As well as making your clothes bright, you could also wear a fluorescent top or bib over your clothes whenever you are out running in the dark. Compared to the other clothing used when running fluorescent tops are very cheap, and can be a lifesaver.

Even though you have all this high visibility gear it best not to go on any roads which are unlit. If you feel that a certain place is too dark or you don’t feel comfortable then don’t go. Stay on roads that are well lit.

When the weather does take a turn for the worse and conditions are really bad then don’t go running. Icy pavements can be dangerous even if someone is walking, they are treacherous if you are running. Or if visibility is zero because of fog or heavy rain then stay at home and find something else to do. Jackie says, “Even the best runners don’t go out if the conditions are too bad. If you have access to a gym, you could run on the treadmill or do another activity, such as swimming or a session on an exercise bike”.

Warming up is Crucial

In the winter your body will be colder, and so will the muscles. Take extra care to warm up properly, this normally means a longer warm up session. Take your time and never start too quickly.

This can mean that you walk briskly for 10 minutes until you are almost at your running speed before you start your run. Once you are warmed up and running don’t stop, your body will cool down very quickly because of the cold.

Jackie gives some helpful tips when he says, “Don’t stop after your warm-up to stretch. Your body will cool down again and you’ll have wasted the time you spent warming it up. If you want to stretch before you start running, you could do some walking lunges or high knee skips”.

After your run it is just as important to cool down slowly too. Just slow your pace for the last five or ten minutes. This allows the body relax without becoming too cold. If you do want to do some stretches after your run then do them indoors where it is a bit warmer. If stretches are done outside then your body could cool down too much and muscle damage could occur.

Colds and Fevers

If you have a cold, that in itself is not reason enough to stop running. However it is very important to listen to your body. If your cold is really laying you low then forget about the run. However, if you feel fine but are just a bit sniffly then go for your run. Use common sense and don’t overdo things.

Dr Keith Hopcroft is a GP from Basildon in Essex and he explains that colds are common in the winter and you are in charge of your own body. He says, “If your symptoms are not severe and you generally feel OK, then you can go running. If you feel absolutely rotten, then it’s best not to go”.

However he says that you should never go running with a fever. He defines a fever as when your temperature is 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above. He explains that if you run with a fever then you will feel worse and it is dangerous because it can sometimes lead to a virus which will affect the heart .”

Asthma sufferers should always keep their inhalers with them when running and in some cases the cold air can be a trigger for an asthma attack. Doctor Hopcroft recommends using your inhaler before going on a run.

Motivation is the Name of the Game

Motivation is very important when the weather is cold and the nights are dark. Many experts and enthusiasts have different ideas about motivation. Jackie believes that to stay motivated in the dark evenings and nights requires a running partner. “This is the best way to make sure you get out there as you won’t want to let them down,” says Jackie.

Other enthusiasts advocate joining local running clubs or groups.

Some runners bore of the same route and this demotivates them. The easy answer is to vary your route. You can add variety just by running your favourite route in the opposite direction but with a bit of thought new routes can easily be planned.

Another great demotivator is having unrealistic goals to begin with. Always be realistic. If you could not run for 5 km yesterday, then today will be no different. However with a carefully planned schedule that 5 km could easily be run in twelve weeks.

Jackie acknowledges that in the winter we all prefer to stay indoors and getting outside to start the run is the difficult part, but then goes on to say, “Once you start running, it’s much easier. And just think about how much satisfaction you’ll get when you finish your run”.

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