Even if the most unforgiving of winter days have passed, the air can still be bitterly cold. With hours of sunlight still limited and weather conditions unpredictable, outdoor running can get pretty chilly. But with the right gear, a good warm-up and a healthy dose of determination, you can go places others won’t.
So what are the benefits of running in the cold?
Running in the cold isn’t easy. The resilience you’ll develop and the mental strength you’ll uncover from pushing through these challenging runs will pay huge dividends. Just imagine how powerful and prepared you’ll feel in those spring races with a head-start on your competitors.
A long winter followed by cold early-spring days means it’s easy to spend weeks on end indoors. And when we’re missing the few hours of sunlight from being busy at our desks, it can have a big impact on our mood, leaving us feeling confined and lethargic. Getting yourself out for a run in early morning light or heading out for a jog on your lunch break helps break the cabin fever, adding a dose of vitamin D and the opportunity to get a caffeine-free energy boost. And when temperatures fall, your body has more to worry about than putting one foot in front of the other. It’s also got to work hard to keep you warm. So you can add a few more calories on top of your usual rate given the extra effort involved in keeping your core at an optimum temperature.
Before you can reap the benefits of cold-weather running, there are a few things you’ll need to consider.
The first step is always the hardest. Peeling yourself away from the comfort of your bed, sofa, or desk can take some serious motivation when the weather is less than inviting. But focusing on just how great you’ll feel afterwards makes it easy to see why it’s worth the effort. If you need an extra kick to get you out the door, try plugging in some energy-boosting music. On athlete, Katie Schide says "... when I need a little motivation before a particularly cold and wet run in the city I’ll crank up some One Direction or Taylor Swift."
Once you’re ready to go, you’ll need the right gear. You know the feeling – that sharp shock of the cold as you take the first step outside. It bites. It’s tempting to wear many layers to keep you extra warm, but you’ll soon resent the additional heat once you get going.
The key to regulating your temperature is to make sure you’re wearing quality fabrics and have the right amount of layers.
As a very general rule, a base layer, long-sleeve breathable tee, lightweight wind-resistant jacket and long tights should keep you protected without overheating. Of course, it depends how quickly you heat up, and your personal preference.
Warming up is an essential part of exercising, but it’s especially important to be well prepared before taking on a cold-weather run. Warming up activates your cardiovascular system to raise your body temperature and increase blood flow to your muscles. A good warm-up will reduce the chance of injury and help to increase agility when running. Just as it’s important to warm-up properly, make sure you reserve time for a cool-down to stretch out your muscles. Check out our guide to warming up and cooling down here.
In cold and wet weather, slipping remains a major concern for runners. Unforeseen ice, wet paths or a powerful gust of wind can throw you off your pace. There are several things you can do to mitigate the risk of falling. First, slow down and take corners long and wide. Increase your cadence; instead of long, arching strides, take shorter steps that give you extra traction on the road, placing your landing pressure on your midfoot rather than your heel. And of course, this all needs to be done in the right running shoes.
Whether you’re an experienced runner who’s already outdoors all year round, or you’re just starting to add cold-weather runs to your regime, the reward remains the same for everyone. And it comes from your courage and determination. You resisted the pull to remain in your comfort zone and chose to say “no excuses” and got out there instead. Enjoy the cool-down stretch, the hot shower and the rush of endorphins because that post-exercise glow feels a little bit sweeter after a run against the elements.