We may have started the New Year with a sense of deja-vu as we entered another lockdown but at least there is still one thing that we can count on. Running outdoors! Although…this may be of little solace to those who are more keen on working out in their closed gyms while catching up on Netflix rather than facing the prospect of running in the freezing winter weather. It also hardly seems something to celebrate if your main motivation to lace up your trainers and hit the pavement comes from the camaraderie and weekly catch-ups with mates from running groups and parkruns which are sadly, suspended. Not to mention that it can be difficult to carry on training in such uninviting weather when you’re feeling slightly demoralised because every race and event you signed up for the foreseeable future has been cancelled or gone virtual.
And I hear you because I am no different. I had planned and was looking forward to running both a half-marathon and a 20 miler event in March until they were both cancelled on only the second day into my training plan…As someone who hates the cold, running outside in the torrential wintery rain while splashing myself on flooded, mucky paths just for the pleasure of working out is not exactly my thing. But even as a fair-weather runner I still know that needs must. In these uncertain times it’s more important than ever to continue to exercise outdoors for our physical and mental health and well-being, whether we like it or not.
Therefore, as a fellow sufferer of winter weather and lockdown fatigue I thought it worth sharing some simple ways to make it easier to cope with winter running during the lockdown which I hope will help to keep you out there. After all, misery loves company…
Hands, face, pace
It may seem pretty basic but it is still worth reminding yourself that if you are going to brave the winter elements then you need to be dress sensibly for the cold. Forget about styling yourself. No matter how ridiculous you look, if your kit makes you feel comfortable then you are far more likely to enjoy your run. Base your clothing on the principle that the best way to trap in heat is to wear layers that you can unzip or remove easily if you get too hot. Cover any exposed skin including ankles from the cold and choose thermal gloves and socks. Pre-warming your trainers and gloves on a radiator before a run can ensure you start out the door feeling good. Hand warmers and toe warmers can also make a massive difference if you tend to feel the cold or you suffer from Raynaud’s. Wear a hat and snood to protect your face from bitter winds and rain and remember to pocket some tissues to combat a runny nose. Lastly, watch your running pace in the winter months ahead because it is far safer to take your time when negotiating slippery pavements and icy paths. It’s better to run at a slightly slower pace than planned rather than risking a nasty trip and a fall.
Running in a time of Covid lockdowns can bring up some unexpected challenges so it is worth looking again at the facts. Starting with the government rules, running and exercising outdoors is allowed alone or with members of your household, your support bubble or with one other person. There is no limit on the time you spend exercising outdoors but you should not do it more than once a day and it should take place in your local area. While exercising, you need to maintain social distancing of 2m apart (or 1m, if wearing facemasks) from anyone who is not in your household or support bubble.
Then there is the all-important science bit. The risk of catching Covid from being outside is significantly reduced because fresh air dilutes and disperses it while ultraviolet rays from the sun kills it. Theoretically it is not impossible to catch Covid if you run too closely for an extended time with someone who has it. But there are no cases to report to date. Which means that as long as you practice the usual precautions of limiting your contact (and choice of running partners) with those outside your household or bubble, running outside is extremely safe.
Unfortunately, not everyone seems to know this and I have found that runners can face a certain degree of hostility by others who wish you weren’t outside at all. Particularly in areas that make it tricky to social distance. There aren’t many options to give people a wide berth if you’re running on a narrow stretch or if others take up space like a middle lane hog. But if you let people know that you’re approaching them from one side and thank them for letting you pass, you normally get a good reaction. But not always…so be prepared. If you find yourself being the recipient of passive aggressive comments about social distancing just smile and wish them a good day. And rest assured knowing that if you have to get <2m to pass someone, even if it includes another runner who is huffing and puffing, the chance of catching Covid or passing it on from that fleeting second is minuscule.
Food for thought
My last tip to help you cope better with winter running is all about my favourite topic – nutrition. In the winter months it is just as important to pay attention to what you eat because it literally fuels your performance, whether you are a Couch to 5k runner or a current record holder. It can also be surprisingly easy to forget about hydration on a run when you are just working on trying to stay warm and not skid off the pavement. But you will still work up a sweat in the winter months so it pays to think ahead and bring a water bottle.
Particularly for those who are training for longer distances, the same rules apply as the rest of the year. Always carry a drink to keep yourself hydrated for runs over an hour and if it’s over 90min, take a snack to keep your energy levels up and to replace electrolytes. In terms of recovery, the cold weather may make us a bit more partial to stodgy food and like many people, I would be hard pressed to turn down a fudgy brownie. But one of the best healthy winter warmers and satisfying recovery meals has got to be soup and bread. It’s a perfect partnership of carbs and protein that fills you up like a warm hug in a bowl. So my last top tip has got to be to keep some soup on hand for speedy recovery meals when time is short and especially for days after returning from a hard run.
Speaking of which, here is another great recipe for a recovery soup that takes minutes to prepare. There is nothing better after a good workout than eating this Speedy pea and broccoli soup with some hearty Sweet potato bread to refuel. Even on the coldest days, it makes all that effort worth it.