Written By Jasper Johnson
Jasper is a new member of the Ultra X team. A keen middle distance runner who is looking to up the distance to an ultra marathon, Jasper enjoys writing about all things running.
We often find that October is the month when you first start to really feel the cold. Summer is definitely over, and winter is waiting just around the corner, ready to hit you in the face. A season of long hard training lies in between you and your next ultramarathon.
But that’s what you signed up for, right? Surely nothing will stop you now?!
Well, perhaps the cold will.
The psychological effect
We’ve all been in that situation where you’ve woken up before work only to look out of the window and see an icy cold pavement waiting to greet you. Suddenly all of that motivation you had last night to go for a run has deserted you in favour of going back to bed.
Running in the cold is by no means the most appealing thing to do, but it does have a certain romantic element to it when you’re out in the open country.
Training alone will always test your motivation more than if you train together. Joining an athletics club or finding a group of runners can make a huge difference in your enjoyment of training and love of the sport. Adding a social context to your training is a huge bonus and will likely be what keeps you on track.
Music is also a powerful tool at your disposal and has been shown to increase motivation in physical activity. Putting together a playlist of your favourite tunes for your morning run can help you push through the pain barrier and keep you moving in the winter months.
The physiology of running in the cold
Running in the cold has a physiological effect on your body the same way running in extreme heat does. When exposed to cold temperatures the body reduces blood flow to the arms and legs due to vasoconstriction, during which the blood vessels become smaller, redirecting blood to the vital organs. This becomes a bit of a problem when you’re trying to use your legs to run as fast as possible.
Consequently, the effectiveness of your warm-up will have a vital impact on the efficiency of your winter training. By warming up, you will prepare your body for exercise by increasing the internal temperature of your muscles to an optimal level. A lack of an appropriate warm-up not only reduces performance but increases the likelihood of injury.
The good news is: the more you train in cold weather, the better your body adapts to lower temperatures and gets better at running in it. However, it can take up to six weeks of cold weather training for your body to adapt. So, keep that in mind if you are planning on racing in especially cold temperatures.
It’s also worth remembering that 10°C is widely regarded as the best air temperature to run in. Considering that the average UK winter temperature is 6–8°C, it doesn’t sound quite so bad after all.
Having the right equipment is vital when preparing to run in the cold. Wearing the right clothes will allow you to take on your winter training block without freezing your nipples off!
To make sure you’re keeping warm we recommend a few must-have items for your runners’ wardrobe. Long sleeve tops are essential for keeping warm without adding too much weight, making them a mainstay throughout winter. Thermal base layers are even better, as they not only keep you warm but also add a layer of compression, which helps to keep blood moving through the blood vessels while aiding muscular contraction.
Lastly, a lightweight windproof jacket is the all-in-one item you need for training. It will reduce the effect of wind chill without burdening you with added weight. Sometimes just a t‑shirt and windproof jacket will be all you need in mild conditions to keep you moving.
Having a race to train for
Ultimately, there has to be a reason for you to get out of bed in the first place. Setting a clear goal, such as to complete a race or set a new PB, is often the stimulus you need to maintain your motivation when you start to question what you are doing. Whatever your goal is, make sure it matters to you and is something achievable.
To conclude, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it), when it comes to racing, you will only get out what you put in. Instead of fearing winter, see it as an opportunity to get ahead of the competition — you’ll only value the summer that much more when it comes around again.
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