The dark winter months can test the motivation of the even the most enthusiastic of endurance runners, so if the lack of light is leaving you feel more ‘mole’ than ‘Mo’, and you’re prone to ‘man-flu’, read on.
1 Make a commitment
Going out to exercise in cold, dark weather can challenge even the most motivated athlete, so make a pact with an ‘exercise buddy’ to train together. It is harder to talk yourself out of it when you know that someone else is relying on you.
2 Wrap up wisely
People often over, rather than under dress but the trick is in wearing layers. You should feel a little chilly when you head outside as being too warmly wrapped up can lead to quick chilling if it is windy. Don’t forget your feet in your winter dressing – thin mesh-topped trainers will quickly allow for soaked feet, so it is good to invest in Gore-Tex trainers for rainy weather, in particular. Ears and hands can get wind-nipped so wear gloves, particularly if you are a Reynaud’s sufferer.
3 Be seen
Dimly lit roads and driving rain can make runners and cyclists literal moving targets. Don’t be shy – be seen! Never dress all in black; wear white or Day-Glo reflective clothing and consider using a lightweight head torch and/or flashing light, clipped onto a running jacket. Upgrade your bicycle slicks to tyres with more winter suitable tread and don’t cycle on days where the risk of black ice is high – a novel way to acquire a fractured collarbone. Get in the habit of carrying a piece of ID with a clearly labelled, next of kin telephone number. It is a good idea to tuck away an emergency £20 note, just in case a turn in the weather or injury means it is time to head home. So many runners could avoid doing further damage to (what was) a minor injury, if only they had headed home straight away.
4 Warm up that engine
Before you leave, it is really important for muscles to get some blood pumping, as cold muscles injury easily. Walk up and down the hall way a few times, followed by a few burpees to get your temperature up. This is all the more important if you are asthmatic as it gets your airways warmed too. Also, don’t forget to use your inhaler before heading out. If you are waiting on a buddy, don’t hang around in the cold, sit in the car or shelter in a doorway until everyone is assembled.
5 Forget speed training
Winter training is about slow gains and maintenance. Consider switching a running session for a spin class, or try a strength and conditioning circuit class. Classes that take place indoors can be great for those days when you really need extra motivation.
6 No short cuts
Weather conditioners sometimes tempt runners into cramming or accelerating their training because of missed sessions. This hugely increases your risk of stress fractures. If you have missed a chunk of training, go back to where you left off, and repeat that week’s training. Never jump ahead.
7 Sleep well
The power and importance of adequate rest is so profound, it always deserves a mention. If you’re not a professional athlete, and have to combine a hectic work day/year end/50 minute commute with training, you’re doing to get sick if you don’t rest. That means sleep, and lots of it. Don’t try to kid yourself that somehow 5¾ hours kip is ‘do-able’ because it means you can cram in a 10 miler at threshold pace, after you’ve put the kids to bed. If you’ve never experienced it, overtraining + under-resting = massive underperformance. No late night sneaky-peeking at your smart phone – simply GO TO BED. Each week, try to turn in 15 minutes earlier than the week before, and experience how much better it feels to begin the day with a spring in your step.
8 Eat well
The run up to the Christmas session signals booze excess and comfort food for many. Why throw out those good habits you cultivated all summer? Egg-Nog whilst fun once in a while, should not become your new post-run protein drink. Vitamin D levels typically plummet this time of year – so regardless of the weather, make sure you get outside every day, and consider topping up a Vitamin D sub-lingual spray, such as ‘Better You’s ‘DLux’. Just what the Doctor ordered.
9 Clean well
And finally, the single most important thing you can do to stay well in winter is to clean well. We’re not talking shoes, homes or Hollywood crime scenes – we’re talking HANDS. You might think that you’re doing a good job by washing your hands every time you’re about to eat / visit the loo / change a nappy, but you could be doing so much more to protect yourself. The vast majority of winter coughs and colds are not contracted by breathing in airborne sneezes, in fact the truth is, we choose to pick them up – literally. Most airborne particles quickly land on surfaces, and are then transferred to other surfaces such as door handles and escalator rails, and probably one of the worst bug-hoarding devices are office keyboards. Develop a healthy addiction to hand gel – and use a dab of it every single time you shake someone’s hand, or exit the Underground. If you have sticky toddlers, you especially need to be doing this. If you’re not cleansing your hands at least once an hour, then you’re slacking. Cleaning your hands is an easy ritual to develop – there are some many hand-friendly, nicely scented gels in highly portable, squeezable tubes, there’s no excuse not to have some with you all day long. The average human has four+ colds a year. You can pretty much get that number to zero, if you work to keep your hands clean. Communal areas may look clean an inviting, but how many other hands have picked up that new ‘iPhone 6S’ in the Apple store you just browsed your way around? Eehhhhwww!
Following these simple steps you can ensure that you stay safe, healthy and full of energy this winter. Happy training!
This article was written by Catherine Spencer-Smith, Consultant Physician in Sport & Exercise Medicine at Sportdoc London Limited. You can find out more about Catherine here: http://www.sportdoclondon.co.uk/about/dr-cath-spencer-smith