Tuesday 15 October 2013

Winter Running Basics

Hi guys, Charlie Sharpe here, resident expert at RunGeek.

Today, I’m going to talk to you about winter running – things you’ll need to consider, the things you might need, the conditions you might experience, and also the training options you’ve got available.

I am aiming this at everyday training runs mostly on the roads and perhaps a little bit of off-road too rather than big trips off into the mountains. So, if you’re expecting to head off for multi day runs in the mountains you’re going to need more kit than I am going to talk about today.

The first thing to consider is that it’s going to get colder, we might get some snow and ice, and it’s going to get dark in the evenings.
One of the first things I’d recommend is a good head torch. You might not need one if you’re running on the roads in well-lit areas. But if, like me, you like running off the roads on canal paths, trails, tracks and even heading off into the hills, you’re going to need something to help you see – simple as that.

Generally, the brighter your torch, the easier it’s going to be running in the dark. If you’re going to be running on uneven, rocky ground you’re going to benefit from  a brighter torch.  A small torch on its own isn’t going to be much use on rough terrain.

I run with two torches, a smaller one that I wear on my head so I can see around me and look at signs  for example. I’ve also got a larger one that I wear round my waist; it’s nearer the ground so it throws more light on where I am putting my feet. My waist torch is also a little bit heavier but it gives out substantially more light which means I can move quicker and more confidently and see exactly where I’m going.

If you’re running near roads wear something reflective, people see you easier and you’re less likely to get run over! Obviously, keeping safe is incredibly important so look out for jackets and anything else that has reflective striping, some night races this is also compulsory.

Let’s take a look at kit now and consider what you’ll need, starting with shoes. If you’re going to do most of your running on the pavement, road shoes are your best option but if you’re going to be venturing off road, you’ll need something grippy with an aggressive outsole. You can also get Goretex shoes that have a membrane inside which makes them fairly waterproof in wet grass, deep mud and puddles or snow.

Now, just because it’s cold, or it’s snowing, it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed out. If the snow’s soft, you’ll get good grip with trail shoes and you may find it’s not even that bad. If it’s icy, it might be best to avoid the ice as much as possible. If you do end up on an icy patch, it’s best that you do no crazy intervals and no sprinting and be delicate on your feet. It’s similar to driving a car - be gentle on turns, acceleration and braking.

You can also get snow chains that wrap around your shoes, forming a metal grip on the bottom, that are made for running on the ice. Yaktrax are the brand I’ve seen if you want some of those and you should find them with a quick search online.
What else do you need to consider? You’ll need to keep warm but not too hot. Once you start running, you’ll heat up and if you sweat you’ll get wet and then start to cool down, which can leave you really cold.

Consider a waterproof jacket, such as Goretex, it keeps the rain out, the wind off and keeps you drier inside because it allows your body to breathe as well. A good jacket’s not like wearing one of those mac in a pack things that feels like you’re wearing a plastic bag and where you end up sweaty inside. Because Goretex allows your skin to breathe more naturally, you stay drier and more comfortable.

Another thing to think about when it’s cold is layers. With thinner layers, you can manage your temperature better. A lot of people look out the door and it’s cold so they put on a big jacket and a thick jumper and as soon as they start running they’re boiling hot. Remember, you are going to warm up as soon as you start running so I’d recommend a thinner jacket with some sort of base layer and another one in between if it’s really  cold. You can also take another thin layer with you it depends on the type of run you’re going to do. If you’re just going round the block for 30 minutes, it’s unlikely you’re going to die in that time but consider taking a spare layer perhaps! If you are going to do a day run, or multi day runs in hills, you’ll need to take your kit more seriously and you’ll need additional kit from what I’m recommending today.

Next, gloves to keep your hands warm. I like to have a thin layer over everything rather than big thick gloves and a big thick jacket and jumper. Even when it’s very cold and icy, or even if it’s actually snowing, I like to keep to thinner layers. You can manage them better than if you have thick layers

You could also think about a buff. It’s a kind of scarf in thin material that you can actually breathe through. You can put it over your head to cover your neck and face and up to your eyes for protection in very cold conditions. Again, if you are only going out for a short run you might not need one but if you’re going to go for longer you might want to consider it then.

Finally tights – some people have full length tights and if it gets really cold you might need them. Personally, I like to stick to shorts as much as I possibly can unless it gets really cold. If it gets really wet then wearing tights can soak water up and you get cold whereas with shorts your legs dry off quicker and you don’t get as cold, at least that’s my theory.

That’s all the gear I’d consider for usual training runs during the winter near home.

Conditions -wise, generally in this country it’s mainly about the cold and wet rather than lots of snow. But if we do get snow and its soft snow, as I say, grippy trail shoes will be good for those conditions. If you are going to be doing a lot of running on ice, then you’ll need the snow chains I mentioned. As I said, Yaktrax are the brand I’ve seen, they’re quite popular and grip well on ice.

Take care, if you’ve planned intervals or a speed session and it’s icy. You might want to reconsider and do something a bit steadier so you’re not putting yourself at risk – it doesn’t matter how fit you are when you are injured!

Next some options for winter running. If you’re not too keen running on the roads through winter, alot of people like to do cross country running. Basically, it gets pretty muddy and you are going to need some grippy shoes. It involves hurtling round a muddy park, or field or area as fast as you can, for a short period. It’s lots of fun, very demanding and very good for building strength in the legs and  helps develop endurance and fitness. It also requires skills such as good balance and agility.

Perhaps more tame than cross country are trail races. They come in  varying distances and involve running off road, where you’re not going to get as much black ice but you could find yourself running in snow which can be fun - just be aware of what’s in the snow. In off road areas and uneven land there could be holes, dips and roots. If you are going into hills watch out for the drifts. If you’re definitely not up for being outside in the crisp winter air a treadmill might keep you out of mischief over the winter, provided your session has a specific purpose then you should be able to focus and keep on track rather than simply moan that treadmills are ‘boring’. Think about your goals and why you are doing it, each session should be improving your running ability in one form or another.
Personally I love winter running and a bit of snow to me feels no different to running on muddy terrain, it’s all relative to what you are used to.

Make the most of what you have, when you can, whether that means running a little longer on a nice day as you couldn’t dig yourself out of the house - the snow was so deep the previous day.
If you need to get to a gym for a treadmill because you know you simply wont go out during the dark evenings fair enough, do what you need to do and enjoy it.

We’ll have time for questions and answers at the end, if you have a great question but can’t attend simply email charlie-sharpe@live.co.uk with the subject WINTER RUNNING QUESTION and I’ll be sure to answer it.
Thanks for reading, it seems slightly odd writing this while I’m looking forwards to flying off to Spain this weekend for a 100 mile race where temperatures are in the twenties. I also post an article each week similar to this one, on my eNewsletter which you can access by going to the home page and using the box on the right hand side.

See you Thursday 17th at 7pm at the RunGeek store.

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