If you're a runner of any level, at some point on your journey you've probably asked the question: "How do runners stay fit during winter?" or even, "Is winter running even possible?"
The short answers to both of these questions are: "With good preparation and realistic expectations," and, "Yes. Obviously." Though unpredictable weather, standing water, and a depressing lack of daylight make it slightly more complicated than just throwing on your running shoes and putting one foot in front of the other, we still live in Britain, not the Arctic Circle.
Too many athletes resign themselves to being fair weather runners, and many more condemn themselves to a grin-and-bear it approach to what can and should be a fun injection of variety into their routines.
So whether you're trying to keep your momentum snowballing into big summer miles and bigger race results, or you're new to running and you don't want to lose your new found fitness, read our 10 top tips to help you make the most of your running this winter. It really doesn't have to be miserable.
1. Start with your mindset, preparation is the key to success
It's very easy to hit snooze when it's still dark, and if heading to the bathroom seems like a barely tolerable foray into colder climes, how are you going to co-ordinate an appropriate outfit to brave those winter morning miles?
Prepare your kit for the morning run the night before. Prepare your kit for your afternoon run in the morning. Lay it all out ready to go. Make sure your watch is charged. Make sure you know where your keys are.
There are enough excuses to not get out the door. The more of them the motivated-you can remove, the less likely the lazy-you can use one to justify slacking off.
2. Adjust your expectations
Winter running is going to be different from summer running from a performance standpoint. You won't hit the same interval times when it's windy or icy, or you'll hit your times at a much higher intensity than the sessions call for. This means you won't be making the training adaptations you'll be targeting, and this could undermine your whole plan.
By the same token, you can expect to see your average pace for easy runs drop too. Against a strong headwind you could easily find yourself going into the red zone just to hold your summer easy pace.
The winter is a great opportunity to let the ego take a rest and get used to focusing on your input rather than your output. If you know you've been running those zone 2 sessions a little too hard, rethink how to make your easy runs easy.
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3. A technical cold weather running wardrobe solves most problems
This may seem obvious, but you do still spot the occasional maniac tearing up the pavements in what is essentially a Rocky Balboa costume. Thick, heavy cotton jumpers and their baggy bottom counterparts will absorb moisture like it's going out of style. This is going to feel incredibly cold if you slow down or have to stop moving.
Your essentials to prepare you for most eventualities are a technical long sleeve base layer or half-zip top, and a light water-resistant layer for some extra protection.
Great examples include the Ronhill Life Practice 1/2 Zip and the Core Gilet. The Life Practice top uses a soft, luxurious fabric for warmth, but is also moisture-wicking, so moves sweat away from the skin to stop the wearer getting too cold deeper into the run. The gilet is highly lightweight, and will protect the torso from rain and wind.
4. Hats and gloves
It's also quite common for people's hands to go numb as the temperature drops. As a runner who suffers from Raynaud's, I generally find that gloves are the first, non-negotiable piece of winter kit that sees early action in the winter months.
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5. Tights and twin shorts are about more than just feeling warm
While people tend to feel the cold more in their upper bodies and extremities, you legs are quite literally carrying the lion's share of a runner's workload. Cold muscles are far more susceptible to injury, so keep those quads and calves covered.
Once something is sore, strained or torn, it's sore, strained or torn. You'll then have to spend time resting or rehabbing an avoidable injury.
6. Waterproof running jackets are designed to work with a long sleeve top
Have you ever gone out in a highly touted brand's waterproof offering and wondered why you've come back soaked to the skin? If you were only wearing a vest or a short sleeve tee underneath, that's probably why.
Even though running-specific waterproof jackets are designed to be breathable to some degree, their main function is to stop water. That works on water trying to come in, and water trying to go out.
When you run, you're going to sweat. Without a moisture wicking long sleeve underneath your jacket, you'll feel that sweat against your arms and it will give the sensation of feeling wet as it has nowhere to go. This can be uncomfortable and chilling, rendering your winter running a misery.
The takeaway here is that a waterproof jacket is part of a system. The jacket deals with water from outside while a technical long sleeve manages moisture within.
7. Shoe choice can make or break winter running
Some brands offer winter-specific models of shoe. They have more water-resistant uppers and grippier compounds on the outsoles for dealing with wet, slippy surfaces.
It must be said, most shoes will be fine for winter running, but if you've got a rotation of a few pairs of shoes, it makes sense to match the shoes to the conditions rather than the intensity you might be aiming to run at.
For example, if it's a little bit slippy outside, shoes with a lower stack height will put you at less risk of an ankle roll if you have to pull some evasive manoeuvres. Also, shoes such as the Adidas Solar Glide 5 and Solar Control use premium Continental rubber. In my personal experience, this offers significantly better grip than traditional blown rubber in icy conditions.
It may also, if it's snowy underfoot, be prudent to bring out a trail shoe on what in normal conditions would be considered a road run. The white stuff tends to make all surfaces equally uneven and trail-like.
8. Look after your kit
It's one thing going out and having a blast splashing through puddles on Monday, but if you've only got one pair of shoes, how're you going to run on Tuesday?
If your kit is drenched, hang it up as soon as you get in.
If you have an airing cupboard, throw everything in there.
If your shoes are soaked, stuff them with newspaper overnight - it'll help dry them out far faster.
9. Make yourself visible if running during darkness
This point is so important, we wrote a whole article dedicated to being safe and seen while night running.
10. Consider joining a running club
A problem shared is a problem halved. Bond in adversity, etc. etc.
Running solo can be a lonely place when winter is in full effect. Adding a social element, perhaps through your local running club, can make the whole winter running thing far more appealing.
If you're live nearby to one of our Run4It shops, consider checking out their Run Clubs.
And one more thing...
Keep your eyes open and embrace the opportunity
Even with all the technical layering, the winterised shoes, the reflectivity, the organisational and mental infrastructure to get the most out of your running in winter, it only takes one lapse in concentration to slip and hurt yourself and ruin what can really be a magical season. Winter running is full of challenges, and you need to keep your eyes out front to be wise to them.
Running through the colder months is, when done right, an adventure. It's a change in pace and a change in scenery. It also doesn't hurt to have less pedestrians and cyclists to dodge, and generally quieter streets to enjoy. Follow these tips, make yourself comfortable, and make the most of your running this winter.