Feeling like your running mojo is freezing up with the weather? It’s usually coldest for 4 months in the middle of winter but if you hate 4 months of every year – you’re hating one-third of your life by default. That’s not a great equation.
So we just need to change our perspective and condition our brain to make the most of the winter months, don’t hate on it.
Here are some tips for staying motivated even when it’s cold, wet, windy or dark.
Tip 1: Decide on the days you plan to run
It all starts with this one.
Sure, in Summer there’s more reason to be optimistic that you’ll find the natural motivation to get up and go running.
In winter, it’s a different story. You’re don’t have the warm weather, sunshine and events to rely on. Instead, it all starts with you – your motivation, your mindset, your confidence.
Bad weather is actually a good thing. The extra challenge of the getting out exercising in winter will force you to become a stronger, more determined, more persistent person. Aren’t these the exact qualities we’re trying to establish?
If you’re new to running, then you’re still building habits. This takes extra effort and extra effort takes willpower. We only have a certain amount of willpower and winter chews through it a lot faster so we need to be smart and plan ahead.
We need to know the days we’re going to run because then we can set ourselves up to succeed no matter what the weather.
Tip 2: Prepare the night before (always)
We all can put the free weather app on our phone. The night before you have a run, simply check-out whether you should expect rain, wind or cold.
It takes just a moment of thought while you’re setting your alarm but makes a huge difference. Then you can lay out the clothes you’re actually going to need for the next day – including that rain jacket or light jersey.
Think about how much easier that makes it to get outdoors running, especially in the morning.
You’re now committed, you just need to put on your clothes, no procrastinating thinking about where your sports bra is…just out the door and get it done.
Setting reminders for the night before
This is worth creating a habit of. On most smartphones you can set an alarm for half an hour before you want to go to bed. Not only does this remind you to get ready for bed on time which will dramatically improve your night’s sleep, but it’s the mental cue to get ready for the next day.
One other tip for iPhone users is a new free feature called “Night Shift“. It’s aimed at reducing your exposure to bright blue light in the evenings which can affect your circadian rhythms and make it harder to fall asleep. But it’s a more subtle and automatic cue to go to bed without the jarring sound of an alarm. It works during the hours you want to be sleeping or thinking about sleep. This way, when you see those warmer colours you know that bed must come soon.
Tip 3: Warm up before heading out the door
The hardest thing about running in winter for your mind is contending with the sharp contrast in temperature and comfort between inside and outside. Instead of going straight from a warm bedroom into the elements,
How about doing some quick, exercises in your lounge or bedroom before you make the plunge outdoors?
20 start-jumps, 20 squats, 20 lunges, 10 press ups (on knees), 20 triceps dips (on a chair) and a plank hold (30 seconds) will only take you a couple of minutes.
This is a good idea for your muscles, joints, lungs and motivation.
Firstly, muscles are like rubber bands. They tighten up even more when the temperature’s cold and are more likely to snap if we’re not a little more careful.
When we warm up and prime our muscles, they tend to function better, recover faster and we use less energy trying to get into our running groove.
Secondly, our joints are like cogs in an engine. When it’s cold, they’re more likely to seize up (especially since we tend to be naturally less active in winter). Warming up is easier when you’re in a warmer environment to start off with.
As a bonus, you may also find that when you’re warmed up inside, you have less need for that extra layer you tend to take off after 5 minutes anyway.
Tip 4: Dress for the occasion
The key for running is knowing what you’ll want to wear after the first five minutes.
One of the first reasons running becomes uncomfortable is because after the warm up, you’re sweating, overheating and now find yourself carrying a heavy jacket under one arm for the rest of your journey.
So worry less about the first 5 minutes, and worry more about the subsequent 30 – 60 minutes when you’ve warmed up.
For running, you don’t want to be running in a fancy plastic bag or in a jacket only good for 1 or 2 freezing days a year. The sweat and moisture needs to be wicked away or allowed to pass through the fabric. Otherwise, you’ll overheat like a covered pot of rice on the stove.
If you can’t afford a rain jacket yet, then worry less about keeping the rain out and simply work on staying warm. That’s all we’re really worried about since our skin is fortunately water-proof.
Light weight sweatshirt or thermal top
We don’t really want to be running in cotton, especially in the rain or in the cold, because it absorbs water and gives you a chill. When the material gets wet, it feels heavy to run with, it will cling to your body and can cause chafing.
Better is a light weight synthetic running top (generally polyester) which won’t absorb water (sweat or rain), will keep you warm and are usually pretty cheap to buy.
Best is a light weight merino long sleeve top because even though it absorbs moisture, it’s warm when wet, regulates your body temperature, doesn’t get nearly as smelly and feels nice to have a natural fibre on the body.
Remember to layer up
Instead of trying to wear a thick jacket that keeps you warm and dry for the first five minutes before causing you to overheat for the rest of your run – layer up.
Better to have thinner layers, you can put on or take off easily to keep you at a comfortable temperature.
Now, when you’re at the start of your journey, it might seem a little unaffordable to buy all this different gear but don’t worry…these would be my list in order of priority:
Good quality, comfortable running shoes
Supportive sports bra
Comfortable running top
Long sleeve thermal top
Tip 5: Enjoy winter food that nourishes you
One of the fun aspects of winter is that you feel like different food. Food that warms you up, energises you and keeps you well.
Try and eat more hot food (soups and slow cooker meals with lots of green vegetables are ideal).
Drink more hot water (that doesn’t mean endless tea or coffee.
Keep up your vitamin C (oranges, kiwifruit or in tablets).
In the end, if you get sick, injured or too stressed you won’t be able to do much exercise so it’s crucial to prevent problems from arriving as much as possible.
To wrap up
It’s really important to plan ahead in winter months. Knowing the day’s you’ll run enables you to plan the night before. Laying out the right gear means you’re minimising the opportunity for procrastination which will wear you down.
Warming up before you head outside can help you better deal with the colder temperatures outside. Starting in the same way each time you go running will also help create a stronger habit (trigger) which will mean you use less energy and willpower to head out in the first place.
Once you’re back, it’s important to get dry, warm and enjoying some food. Enjoying hot healthy food or water will help you get and stay warm.
Running in winter isn’t always easy but it’s rewarding and you become mentally tougher. Even though it’s a challenge to stick with your fitness over winter, it’s a hell of a lot easier than having to start from scratch each Spring.
Also published here.
Header image available as stock here.