Sportshoes & inov8-ambassador, Calder Valley & GB fell runner, Ben Mounsey, & one of CVFR’s press officers, Catherine Jones, have teamed up to write some advice on embracing the cold & keeping active in the cold & dark Winter months:
It is easy to find a million & one reasons not to get out – but our most important tip – Tip #1 – is to avoid making excuses! Even the serious runners among us find the hardest part is getting out the front door! It’s dark by the time your working day is over or when you’ve finished home schooling the kids, it’s icy or snowy or raining, you’re tired and fed up … There are so many reasons not to exercise … but getting out is a great way to clear your head and stay mentally & physically fit.
Avoid making your living room sofa too inviting, don’t say ‘I’ll just have a cup of tea first’; instead, be strict with yourself: Set a time limit or give yourself a small window of time to get out the front door. It can help to have all your clothes ready to go, & to start stretching whilst drinking that cuppa. Whatever you do, DO NOT sit down on the sofa! If you live with other people, tell them you are going to go out & ask them to hold you to it & nag you until you do!
Obviously, it is very dark out, so our Tip #2: it is vital to see clearly & be seen! Make sure you avoid only dark clothes! Lots of running shoes, leggings, socks and jackets have reflective strips, but you can also buy cheap USB rechargeable illuminated running strips, like these from Lightbox for £16.49 which you tie round your arms, legs, etc. Catherine’s found hers invaluable for running on country lanes at dusk & after dark. In addition, wherever you run, it’s also worth investing in a decent head torch. We recommend the UK’s Fellrunner Guide’s great article on choosing a good head torch.
Tip #3 is to find other people to keep you motivated. This can be hard during lockdown, although at present we are allowed to walk or run with one other person. Some local groups, like Hebden Bridge St Pol’s Striders, are offering a running buddying system for women. However, even if there’s no-one for you to physically run with right now, find motivation by joining virtual running groups. Do a virtual couch to 5K, like this one with the NHS, &/or join a supportive community on Facebook (e.g. Transform Your Running), or Instagram, download a running app on your phone, like Strava, which has a free basic version (runs can be recorded on a phone as well as the more expensive running watches). We’ve both met so many great people this way, & you’ll find likeminded people from serious athletes to those who are just starting out (& everyone in between).
Linked to this, Tip #4 set yourself a challenge! This can be a personal daily, weekly or monthly goal – a specific distance or climb or speed – it doesn’t matter what your current level is – you can improve! But remember, only ever increase in small increments (10-15% maximum) to avoid injury. Some running apps, like Strava, have these built in & you can win badges & check your progress against your targets, which can be great for keeping you on track. There are also lots of websites with ideas, such as the aptly named, Running for Sweets!
Many runners find virtual races a great motivator. These let you to challenge yourself to keep going over a period of time & some allow you to ‘race’ virtually to raise money for charity. Joining an online running community or making friends on apps such as Strava can add to this – you keep each other motivated through giving & getting kudos or joining a virtual running streak group (a challenge to run every day). Although do also allow yourself regular rest days, as recuperation is important.
As well as weekly or monthly challenges, our Tip #5 (although maybe it should be 4b!) be a great help to set yourself a future adventure or challenge you want to undertake. A friend of Catherine’s is getting active so she can walk the Calderdale Way this summer, & another spent time last summer running hills so she could run up a French mountain with her children. Ben regularly sets himself specific locations where he wants to run, like the Italian Alps, &/or the challenge of specific races. Your challenge could be as simple as to compete in or beat your previous best time in your local Park Run, to run a specific distance, to beat your time on a local segment on Strava (routes of different lengths other runners set up as challenges in the app) or to take part in a local fell trail or race in summer or winter 2021. You can find trail races here & fell races on the FRA website, but joining a local running club is often the best way to get involved in racing.
Plan your next adventure – think about what you will need to be able to do. Then see your walks & runs as working towards this & think about that whilst you’re out. The next time you’re about to set out walking or running in the cold wind and rain, & you lack motivation – remind yourself why you’re doing it. Whatever your goal, it’ll be worth all the effort in the end!
Tip #6: Many runners find buying new kit can really help them to get out the door. It doesn’t need to be an expensive shiny pair of shoes (although those are a great motivator), but it can be as simple as some new socks or gloves, or a new head torch. Alternatively, treat yourself when you get back with something you really love to eat (give yourself a justification for that tasty cake, biscuit, bacon sarnie or lovely cup of hot chocolate!)
Make sure you stay warm! Our Tip #7 is that it is essential to not get cold – imagine you had to stop for some reason & have enough clothes with you to stay warm whilst waiting for help. It is better to have too many clothes (you can always tie a jumper round your waist!) rather than have too few.
Layering up is a top tip – wear several thinner layers, as these trap heat between them. Top this off with a jacket that is water/wind-proof. Keep your extremities warm too – a hat & pair of gloves are a great investment! A running belt can be useful (these don’t have to be big or bulky), you can keep a mask, some disinfectant wipes, your phone, a whistle, a biscuit, etc. with you & so stay safe whilst you are out.
As well as staying warm, our Tip #8 is to make sure you warm up & warm down! Stretch carefully before you go out & start off steady – slow down at the end of your run or walk & stretch when you get home. See our guide from international runner & coach Max Wharton for some stretches & exercises to help you with this. We’ll be sharing more exercises & advice in the coming weeks. Many runners swear by Pilates & Yoga to help them stave off injury & there are lots of free & cheap resources online.
Most of all though, our final tip (Tip #8) go out & enjoy yourself! At first, you might only enjoy being active once it is over! But over time, you will come to enjoy getting out – whatever the weather & it really does help you to remain both physically & mentally well, especially in our current situation this is arguably more important than ever.
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