Top Tips For Run­ning In The Cold

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.

18 Octo­ber 2020

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Read­ing Time: 4 minutes

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.

Cloth­ing

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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