Running in the winter can be totally different from running in the spring/ summer – it’s colder, wetter and darker and often not as enticing as heading out in the warm sunshine. If you are new to running, perhaps one of the many people who took up running during lockdown, then you will be getting ready for your first winter of running.
Even though the weather is colder, winter running can still be very enjoyable provided you are adequately prepared (I actually love a good cold, wet and muddy trail race in the middle of winter!).
As someone who has run for about 12 years throughout all seasons, and also as someone who has a circulatory disorder which makes me feel the cold even more, I know a thing or two about how to prepare for running in the winter and have come to enjoy it just as much as summer running.
Here are 5 things to think about when preparing for winter runinng.
One of the main differences between summer and winter running is the amount of clothes and layers you need to wear (no huge surprises there!). In the summer you can get away with shorts and a t-shirt and while some people do continue like this year round, I would suggest investing in some more layers.
For starters you’ll want some long leggings (possibly thermal running leggings for those extra cold days), and some long sleeved tops. You’ll probably also want some sort of jacket or other layer you can wear at the start of your run and then take off when you warm up. I find half-zip sports tops work well for this, and I have a running ‘waterproof’ (it’s actually only showerproof but never mind…) which works well for blocking the wind on stormy days. For extra cold days (generally sub-zero or near zero degree) I have a thermal running top which can be worn over other layers which is really good for keeping me warm.
The key with winter running is to make sure you have enough layers that you start off warm/ warm-ish but that you also have the ability to remove layers if/ when you warm up. You can either tie layers around your waist or carry them in a small running backpack.
And of course gloves and a hat are helpful as well. I have some brilliant running gloves from Decathlon which have a flap that goes over the fingers so they have two ‘levels’ of warmth, but really any lightweight sports gloves will be a good place to start. Hats are also good for keeping you cosy. I like Buffs/ multiuse things which are pretending to be Buffs as you can use them as headbands or hats and if you get too warm you can just take it off and wrap it around your wrist. They also come in a whole range of colours and designs which I personally find quite exciting…
Make sure you can be seen
This is important all year round but especially in the winter when it is darker, more wet, potentially foggy and the visibility is just generally a whole lot worse. And this is even more important if you run in the dark. No run is worth risking your life for by not dressing so that you can be seen by traffic.
There are many things you can do to make sure you can be seen. You could wear clothing with large reflective parts, get a separate reflective bib/ strappy-vest-thing or wear a head torch/ arm band style light. I also have some little red lights which clip onto the back of my trainers which work quite well once you get used to the pressure of them on your heels (it isn’t too bad, it just feels odd to start with). They obviously need to be paired with something higher up your body but they definitely help to improve your visibility.
After dark is also not really the time to be running in places where you are forced to run in the road as there is no pavement. Even if it means changing your routes a bit it is important to make sure that you aren’t running in the road after dark.
Have a shower as soon as you get back
As soon as you are back and have done cool down stretches (these are super important so don’t skip them), make sure that you have a warm shower/ bath. I always find that if I stay in sweaty and potentially wet running kit in the winter for too long after a run I get really cold (that might just be my circulation disorder but I’m sure that applies to other people too!) so I always have a shower as soon after a run as I can.
If that isn’t possible for some reason, for example if you’ve done a race and need to travel back, make sure you put on some warm layers over your running clothes. Or better still, if there is somewhere you can change, get dressed out of your running stuff and put on something warm like a tracksuit to travel back in. This especially applies if you’ve done a race in the rain or a trail race where you are likely to be in wet clothes.
Take extra time to warm up
Warm ups are always important but even more so in the winter when your muscles are likely to be colder to start with.
Take a bit more time doing some mobility drills and then do a brisk walk/ gentle jog until you get into the main bulk of your session to make sure that your muscles are properly warmed up first.
Be sensible with your approach to bad weather
While most winter weather is fine to go running in with a few extra layers, some weather, such as ice isn’t so sensible.
I know lots of people will disagree with me here and everyone’s entitled to their own opinions but my feeling has always been that one missed run because of ice, especially black ice, is better than months off running due to a broken leg/ ankle from slipping on some ice while running. I know that’s a worse case scenario and you could encounter black ice and be fine but I’m never willing to task that risk. I think this is especially the case after an incident with black ice on my bike a few years ago that left me with a badly cut face and a tooth knocked in which the dentist still doesn’t know if I’ve caused long term damage to 🙁 .
Even if you have to go running later in the day which the ice has melted or skip a run, that might be the best option. You can always do something else at home such as a strength workout, physio exercises or take some time for a proper stretching and foam rolling session. This is something many people (including myself) don’t do enough of so giving recovery some dedicated time could pay off in the long run in terms of injury prevention.
I hope this has given you some tips for winter running – it really doesn’t need to be complicated, just change a few things from your summer runs, be sensible and you will be fine.
Leave a comment below to tell me if you prefer summer or winter running 🙂