Tips for running in the Winter
19 Jan 2023, 4:01 p.m.
Winter running can be a challenge: cold mornings, dark nights and a lack of motivation can all impact on your training.
Here, fitness and biomechanics expert, Phil Roberton, offers his top tips on how to get over the hurdles and embrace jogging in winter.
Keep your eyes peeled for bonus advice on running in the cold from GOSH Charity's very own Becks and Georgiana. Becks is currently training for the London Marathon 2023, and Georgiana is a seasoned runner.
The opinions and information expressed in this Article are the view of the Interviewee and do not purport to reflect the opinion or advice of GOSH Charity. Individuals following this advice do so at their own risk and should always consult their GP or obtain medical advice before starting any exercise, fitness or wellness programme.
1. Set reasonable expectations for your winter running programme
“A winter running programme presents a huge opportunity – it really is a great time to start,” Phil says. “Spring is on the horizon and the festive period can leave you feeling sluggish and in need of a change.
“The key to success when it comes to running in the cold is to avoid making huge resolutions or planning to change everything overnight.
“Winter running success is achieved through consistency and achievable goals. It relies on making positive habits that comfortably work with your lifestyle and are manageable, realistic and won’t impact other areas of your life,” he explains.
“Often, people try to do too much too soon. Goals need to fit lifestyle.
“Overcommitting to time-based activities which don’t fit your lifestyle will lead to missed sessions and giving up.”
For Phil, even though gym memberships “go through the roof” in January, it’s more important to exercise in a way that suits you.
He points out that “a walk” or “yoga class” can be great ways to keep your body active, instead of only focusing on running.
2. Lay foundations in cold weather
“If it is a while since you last stuck to a fitness routine, you must start slowly,” Phil says.
“Although it can be tempting to think you could just pick up where you left off last year, during a break your body’s requirement to do physical exertion will have decreased. You risk injury if you do too much too soon.
“Don’t put pressure on yourself to immediately get to a previous level of running fitness. Start off by enjoying being back in the swing of things and remember to celebrate the fact that you are making the first step towards getting back on track.”
“In terms of what to start with, my top tip is this – just get moving!”
For Phil, this could include movement during everyday tasks – such as walking to the shops or taking the stairs.
“There are plenty of activity trackers available that will help you monitor your movement, so you can think of ways to increase it that will fit with your everyday winter routine.”
And for when you do venture out for a jog?
Becks from GOSH Charity likes to get up and out in the morning. “...It’s much harder to motivate yourself in the evenings when it’s dark and cold,” she says.
“There is obviously a large element of common sense when training outdoors,” Phil adds. “If there is a genuine risk to safety, like slippery conditions, I would advise not to train outside,” he says.
3. Do strength work at home or at the gym
Phil recommends between two and four resistance-based sessions per week.
(What these sessions look like will depend on your current fitness level and training history. If you’re just starting out with exercise, and you’re unsure where to begin, consult a healthcare professional and fitness professional for advice.)
“These could be in the gym, at a bootcamp or even at home,” he says.
“If this is the case, dust off your any old gym equipment and put a circuit together.
“If you don’t have any equipment, then you can improvise by just using your own bodyweight.
Bodyweight circuits including squats, lunges, planks and press ups can significantly increase your heart rate and help you get a sweat on.”
4. Conquer cold weather by staying patient
“When you take up running, it normally takes a couple of weeks for your body to readjust to exercise again, so don’t be surprised if you experience some muscular soreness in this time,” Phil says.
“It’s quite normal, but you might like to consider treating yourself to a sports massage.
“Remember that successful winter running results are about consistency and adherence to a programme towards a desired goal,” Phil adds.
For Becks, factoring “rest and recovery” into a training programme is important. “Take time to stretch and foam roll. Also have a hot bath with Epsom salts if you can.”
5. Set a goal for winter running
“Goal-setting can be a great motivator when running in the cold,” Phil explains.
“If you worry about becoming a January drop out statistic, consider signing up for an event to keep your training on track. I’d recommend a charity challenge event as the fundraising element will really spur you on and give you the motivation to stick to your training.
“GOSH Charity offers a whole range of challenge events, from 5k running events to open water swimming, hiking and cycling challenges. To find a challenge that would suit you and your goals, visit https://www.gosh.org/get-involved/fundraising-events.
“Another great way to motivate yourself for winter running is to find yourself a training buddy. It’s extremely motivating to train with someone else. You can easily make excuses to yourself after a long day, but it’s hard to let down a friend who is relying on you to help them keep their fitness routine on track. Even better – if they sign up to a charity challenge event with you, you’ll know you’re both in it for the long haul.
“Overall, my top tip for running in the cold is to just get moving – don’t be put off by thoughts of expensive gym memberships or fear of aiming high with your goals.
“Celebrate the fact that you have made the move to become fitter and as the endorphins begin the course through your body, you may find that you start to feel happier and healthier in other aspects of your life too.”
6. Journaling to track your winter running progress
For Phil, another top tip when it comes to running or jogging in winter is to practice gratitude.
“Whilst I am in full support of always looking forward and looking to progress, there will be times where you may plateau, question progress and feel demotivated.
“When this happens, look at back at what you’ve already achieved,” he says.
“Someone who is training for a marathon may get to 13.1 miles and think ‘how on earth am I going to do that again’... The same person two months prior couldn’t run 5km and was questioning how they could run four times that distance. But they did.
“A daily journal recording your journey, your wins, and your learnings, is a very worthwhile practise.”
7. Do something fun
“When was the last time you did a cartwheel, handstand, or a backward roll?” Phil asks.
“A lot of the time, people will fall short of regular commitment and change, because what they do is boring. Following a plan that’s making you miserable quickly leads to demotivation.
“Make use of YouTube or other apps, as there is fantastic content out there on Pilates, yoga, breathing, and meditation. During lockdown, my wife and I followed some dancing tutorials. A lot of fun, but I won’t change my day job.”
8. Fuel your body
“Make sure you're eating enough to keep you going during your training,” Phil advises.
“Enjoy a well-rounded diet to ensure you're giving your body the nutrition it needs to thrive, fuel, and recover. The thought of a warming evening meal can be an incentive enough to lace up those trainers and get out of the door. My slow cooker has been the source of a lot of motivation over the years.”
9. Wear the right clothes for winter running
“When it comes to running in the winter, clothing is super important,” Phil points out.
“Layering is a skill, and you do need to remember that you will warm up by mile two. You don’t want to be peeling off too many layers!
“Most of your body heat is lost through your head, so buffs or hats are worth investing in. Other extremities are affected, so thermal gloves and socks should be on your list too. Consider the time of day you are running too and think about reflective clothing to allow others to see you. A head torch so you can safely see is important."
Georgiana, who works at GOSH Charity, says, “I wear long sleeves and thermal leggings. This helps the muscles keep warm and prevent injury. I absolutely hate being hot when I run but wearing shorts in winter has proven to make my muscles stiff and painful, so I’m sticking to long leggings throughout winter.
“Plus, if my hands are warm, I can run longer, same applies for my toes. Some people choose winter running trainers which are insulated, or you can buy overshoes that keep the feet away from wind and rain.”
10. Motivation when the weather is cold
“Motivation is tough, especially in winter,” Phil says.
“... There are many reasons we can give ourselves not to do things. It’s too cold, it’s too dark, I’ll just go out tomorrow, etc.
“Without motivation, we need some level of discipline – which can also be difficult. What trumps motivation and discipline is purpose and having a ‘why’. Reminding yourself why you committed to the charity should give enough motivation to thaw out any excuses of cold weather.
“If you’re not fond of group exercise, ask someone to train with you. It’s extremely motivating to train with someone else, and also very hard to let someone else down. We can often talk ourselves out of a workout, but it’s a different conversation we have with ourselves when we know someone else is relying on us. Perhaps get a team of you committing to one of GOSH Charity’s fundraising events.”