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Running in Winter

Updated: May 4, 2023

Have you started up running as a New Years resolution? Or continuing throughout the year? Getting out and about in all weathers has fantastic benefits for your physical and mental health.

Woman running in winter

However, running in the cold and wet poses unique challenges (in addition to gathering the enthusiasm to pop on your trainers and leave the door).

Staying warm, staying dry and reducing the risk of injury are key to keeping yourself going throughout the darker months of the year.

Keep and stay warm

Staying warm throughout your run, helps your muscles and joints function at their best. By improving blood flow from the start of your run, you reduce the likelihood or sprains and strains. When your body temperature drops, it prioritises your core, so looking after your extremities is important. A significant amount of heat is lost from your head; wearing a hat, cap or headband can not only keep your head warm, but can also keep it dry and your hair out of the way! Put on trainers that have spent 15 minutes on the radiator (even better, pop some thicker socks on the radiator too, for really toastie feet). It is easier to keep something warm during your run than trying to defrost them as you go. Foot wear may change for the colder months to trail shoes or gore-tex trainers however, if on a budget, simply investing on a decent pair of warmer, robust socks can make a huge difference.

If you find your hands get cold, wearing a pair of gloves is a sensible move and they can be shoved under your woolley hat when not needed, for pocket-free storage and extra warmth on your head!

Warm up gently as you move. Starting off your run with a gentle jog is good practise whatever the weather, especially if running in the morning when your muscles and joints are yet to get going. You may not want to stop and stretch as your body temperature can chill off quickly, but spending 5 to 10 minutes at a gentle pace is a good compromise before picking up the pace for the main body of your run.

Wearing layers that can be easily removed, in materials that wick-away moisture, such as a merino wool base layers, helps keep your body dry and the trapped air between layers acts as an insulating buffer.

Staying Dry

Getting caught-short half way through your run warrants a back up plan in the form of a waterproof/water-resistant jacket, unless you want to dash back home asap. It doesn't have to be running specific, but one that is longer at the back, has elasticated sleeves and can be packed away small or tied easily around your waist, is a bonus. Breathability is another feature that is favourable and there are models that have zips under the arms for extra airflow and can be used in warmer weather too. Running in a baseball cap can help keep rain out of your eyes and doubles up as a way of preventing heat loss from your head.

Staying safe and supported

Running in the winter months often means running in the dark, with slippery surfaces underfoot. Rain, wet leaves, frost and ice pose an extra risk of falls, so shoes with a decent grip and taking extra care by shortening your stride and pace, can help prevent falls on trickier terrain. Making sure you are well lit up with reflective, high-vis clothing and wearing a running light, increases your visibility to other pavement and road users. Running as part of a group is not only great for motivation and morale, it provides you with an extra level of safety and visibility during dark mornings or evenings. Always let someone know where you are going and roughly how long your run will take as an extra precaution.

If you feel an area of discomfort or pain, do not ignore it and run through it. Injuries often start off as little niggles that are brushed off. Prevention is better than cure and seeking the advice from a professional and looking after your body, will pay off in the long run. Listening to your body and resting or taking it easy for a day or so may be all that is needed for your body to recover and repair. However, repetitive injuries or the recurrence of old injuries are worth addressing as you pick up your activity levels. Rehabilitation and strengthening exercises, targeted stretching and soft-tissue work can help rebalance the body and protect it from injury. This is especially important if you have gone through pregnancy, however long ago, as core stabilisers and the pelvic floor are essential at keeping you upright whilst moving through your stride.

Cool down

Finally, once you return to the cosiness of your own home, or the shelter of your car, take 5 to 10 minutes to gently stretch your muscles whilst they are still warm. Prevent cooling off too quickly by popping on extra layers. Keep gently moving to reduce your heart rate back to normal and resist the temptation to ditch the hat and gloves until you are back inside. Removing any wet clothing and replacing it with dry, helps prevent rapid heat loss too. Treat yourself to a nice warm cup of tea and congratulate yourself on another successful trip in the chilly, crisp outdoors! Happy winter running!

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