How to stay running throughout winter

Do warm-ups indoors beforehand to avoid discomfort and injury

Running consistently and getting out there will bring the bulk of the feel-good benefits.

Running consistently and getting out there will bring the bulk of the feel-good benefits.

 

The gloves are out. After running light and free for so long, it’s time to accept the change in season and dig out the winter running gear. First the shorts were replaced by long pants last month. And now as we adapt to the cooler days and darker evenings, we reach for that extra top layer, the cosy hat and those shiny bright hi-vis vests and lights to keep us bright as well as toasty. But gearing up for the winter of running is not just about looking the part. Being winter ready starts first with deciding what you want to get out of your running before we bring this year to a close.

Don’t hibernate just yet

I do recognise there is a big temptation to wish away the next month of lockdown and look longingly to December and the new year beyond. Motivation is harder to find and it is definitely more difficult to stay on track these days without the support of club meet-ups and races to work towards. But if we don’t have a plan for ourselves over the next few months, we can very easily talk ourselves out of going out, even though we know we would feel so much more energised, fresh and alert when we did go.

What will you get from it?

Ask yourself how running can help you through these next few months. How do you want running to make you feel? For most of us, running consistently and getting out there will bring the bulk of the feel-good benefits. Running helps us all feel better in different ways, but it’s up to each one of us to decide how to fit these boosts of energy and freedom into our week. A running goal doesn’t always have to be a personal best or a big distance challenge and now is not the time to add more stress to our lives, so find something doable rather than aspirational for your winter goal. How do you want to feel about your running by the time we close off this year and head in to a new one? That’s always a good place to start and work backwards.

My winter plan

I want running to maintain structure to my week, offer me quality me-time and allow me the opportunity to keep noticing the changing seasons on the local routes that have become very familiar over the last eight months. Without running I know I will be less calm and more restless. I don’t have any physical fitness goals for this winter, just coming out the other side of 2020 fresh for a new challenge would be success to me. If I can enjoy a run consistently three times per week I will be delighted. That will bring me memories of sunrises, brief encounters with neighbours and a few post-run snacks at my local bakery on the way home as well as all the feel-good benefits from running.

New opportunities

Without dwelling too much on what we are missing out on right now, maybe you can seize an opportunity this month by creating new winter running habits that might not have been an option for you before. If you have a little more control over your working schedule by working from home and not commuting, I would highly recommend running in daylight if you can avoid the dark evenings. You don’t have to spend all day thinking up excuses, checking the weather or putting it off. A morning or a lunchtime running boost will lift your spirits and energy for the afternoon. Let’s leave the space on the roads and paths in the evenings for those who don’t have the opportunity to go earlier in the day. Safety for ourselves and others remains paramount these days and the space and light that daytime running brings is one barrier fewer to getting out there these days.

Warm-up before you go

Many runners actually do enjoy running in the cold weather, once they get started. It is just the thought of getting out the door that puts them off. If this sounds like you, why not try and do a warm-up indoors in your gear before you go out the door and that will leave you toasty and ready to run as soon as you get outside. Being warm before we start to run faster is essential for avoiding discomfort and risk of injury. Make it easy on yourself and do that bit indoors if you feel it will help motivate you to get out the door.

Tips to make it better

There can be a temptation to overdress. You will never be colder on the run than when you leave the front door, so light layers are your best bet. Make sure your outer layer is so light it can be tied around your waist and your hat and gloves can easily be tucked in your running pants as you warm up. Most of our winter runs will be short, so accept you might get wet rather than wear full waterproof gear. It may be too warm. Don’t have your body waste valuable energy working to cool you down. Don’t forget to protect your skin as well. The winter weather can be as wearing on our skin as the summer sun, so good barriers such as cream on face, lips and hands will act as protection.

Do what we can now

The old running routines and pressures to be better will return in the future, but for the winter we have this year, let’s make our new routines, adapt to the conditions, do what we can, enjoy what is out there locally and appreciate that we are lucky enough to have this magic bullet that makes us feel less lethargic and less overwhelmed. This can only be a good thing in these uncertain times. Let’s be honest, the weather is normally much better outside than it looks from inside the window. If we keep a base over this winter, we emerge on the other side more ready, able and enthusiastic about new year running plans and everything else around us.

Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Her book Get Running published by Gill Books is out now. 

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!). 
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!

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