Staying Engaged With Running In The Winter

Guides Dec 29, 2020

In the warmer months; getting out there onto the trails just seems to be that much easier. It gets lighter earlier, the ground is drier, the weather brighter and you only need shorts & t-shirt to enjoy it.

In the winter I like to think back and pretend every day is like this:

Glastonbury Tor dusted in some light snow on a crisp yet sunny day

When in reality it's mostly like this:

Blurry shot of rain in the early hours soaking an already boggy field

Its dark for more of the morning, biting cold, the trails are usually muddy to the point of being bogs and (especially here in England) more often than not it's raining!

Due to this staying engaged with running and keeping that weekly mileage up becomes more of a struggle. Most of my runs are between 06:00 and 08:00 in the morning so it's often the darkest and coldest of the day, adding to the general sense of malaise.

So I thought I'd list a series of things I find help keep me running in the colder months; the things that get me out the door.

Gear Up

First and foremost; I've found the difference between an enjoyable winter run and a horrid one can often be based on what you are wearing.

For winter its worth investing in:

  • A decent running jacket that will keep the wind and rain off you
  • Hats, gloves and a buff to keep your extremities warm
  • A headtorch to light the way
  • Thick running socks
  • Shoes appropriate to what you are doing

This will help those wet cold runs feel more comfortable and even enjoyable.

Podcasts & Audiobooks

Podcasts especially have been an absolute lifesaver for me this winter; in the UK we've had a few horrid weeks of rain in December that have really pushed the motivation to it's breaking point. I'm finding that having a new episode to listen to, that I only play when running, is helping get me out the door.

There are two stand out ones I've been enjoying so far, the first is Ten Junk Miles, 2.5 hour episodes focused mainly on light hearted chatting, feels like a radio talk show and has made me laugh plenty of times.

Ten Junk Miles Podcast

The second is Running Commentary; two UK based comedians who chat whilst out on a run themselves.  Apart from being hilarious, it's also good motivation to feel like they are running along side you when chatting.

Audiobooks can help in the same regard, giving you something to look forward to each time you go out for a run.  I've found that sometimes they can even encourage you to stay out longer, just to finish off a particularly interesting chapter!

Heatmaps & New Routes

Just because it's darker doesn't mean you can't go exploring, you just need to be a bit more inventive about it.

Strava has this fantastic feature called heatmaps, that lets you see everywhere you have run; I find this especially motivating as you can pick a place on the map you haven't been yet, go for a run there then see the lines turn blue.

My heatmap for Bristol and North Somerset

In the winter when the trails are especially unforgiving you can use heatmaps to see urban areas you haven't explored yet, then use tools such as Strava Routes or Komoot to plan out a route to follow.

Part of the Gordano Round between Portishead and Clevedon, planned in Strava Routes

Komoot especially is great for getting more detail on a potential route, it tends to show footpaths more prominently and highlight routes you never even knew existed. It also lists what type of path a section has (unpaved, stone, tarmac etc) which can help avoiding boggy areas after hard rainfall.

Komoot route from Oldbury-on-Severn to Thornbury

Interval Sessions & Training Variety

Winter is a good time to focus on more technical sessions, concentrating on the moment to moment of the run whilst its too dark out to enjoy the scenery.

To that end you could try incorporating one or all these types of sessions into your training. I've found intervals help the time go faster whilst improving your form, pace and economy:

Speed Intervals - This is when you run at a fast, close to sprinting pace, for a set time / distance then recover, before repeating it again.  For example you may do a 5 minute warm up, 60 seconds speed work, then 2 minutes recovery, repeated 4 times.  Runners World has a good introduction to this here.

Fartlek - Swedish for "speed play"; this is similar to speed intervals but less structured.  The difference is that you make up your own intervals as you run. Say "when I reach that lamppost I will sprint until I hit the next one". The idea is that it keeps your body guessing whilst making things more fun with the unpredictability. There is a good guide to this technique here.

Tempo Runs - Your "tempo pace" is a pace you can maintain for 60 minutes, so unlike speed work it's a sustainable, yet hard pace.  Tempo running is key to increasing your anaerobic threshold, which is when lactic acid starts to accumulate faster than your body can clear it.  Increasing the threshold is essential for endurance running (such as half marathon distance upwards). See here for a slew of useful details on how to get started.

Timing Runs With The Sunrise

Finally; if you do tend to run in the earlier hours, one thing I've found that helps motivation immensely is to time a run so you hit the sunrise around the midway point. There's something special about seeing the world start to brighten and warm up that makes the second half a run feel all the better.

Image credit - Dawid Zawiła

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Luke Merrett

Ex smoker and couch potato turned manic trail runner, wannabe ultra runner & proud Dad