On Saturday, Tapiwa and I did a 12 km run. We met at 06:15 in the cold and dark. I looked at her and she looked at me, and we just said “Why? Why are we here?!” Winter is the hardest season to stick to a running routine. No matter how many times you see the hashtag “Summer Bodies are Made in Winter” it is incredibly difficult to just get up and go! It is cold. It is dark. It is just plain miserable. But… taking three months off because it’s winter should NOT be an option. It just makes starting up again in Spring that much harder and before you know it, it’s Christmas. So here are some tips I find really helpful to get me running even when I would rather be in my cosy red gown in front of the heater.
1 – Set A Goal: I really struggle to run for the sake of running. I always need a goal to keep me focused. That’s the real reason I ran 17 races last year! So this winter I have scheduled several races to keep me active: the Kgale Hill Challenge, a 15 km race in Selebi-Phikwe and the Lady K Obstacle Course Race. There is nothing that gets you out of bed quicker than knowing a race is looming. If you don’t feel ready to sign up for a race just yet, then set a winter mileage goal instead. Training for a specific goal keeps you focused and motivates you to leave the comfort of a warm room. Once you have achieved your goal, treat yourself and then quickly set and move onto your next goal!
2 – Run With A Friend: Truth be told, if I was not meeting Tapiwa on Saturday, the 12 km run would never have happened. The fact that we had promised to meet up and I had no credible excuse for missing this run meant that the only option I had left was to turn up. As always, it was worth it. Running with someone also makes for a brilliant catch up session and often that is what I most look forward to! The runner’s high that follows is just the added bonus. The cold winter months really test all your good intentions to keep fit and active. So if you can, organise runs with friends. It really does make a huge difference and makes you think twice before coming up with an excuse.
3 – Layer Up: Although our mornings and evenings can be chilly, we are lucky not to have to contend with snow, ice, rain and wind during winter in Botswana. But still, having an appropriate running wardrobe is important. My winter running kit is simple – long tights, a tank top and a long-sleeved shirt/jacket, all made from materials that wick away moisture. As you run, your extremities are quite vulnerable to the cold so you can add gloves and a hat if necessary. I don’t use either but my husband loves his winter hat. If you don’t want to invest in gloves, a pair of socks works just as well. As your body temperature quickly increases when you run, be careful not to over-dress. Layers are good as you can remove them as you go. Always remember, it’s okay to feel a bit cold when you first step outside. If you find you are too warm, you probably have on a layer too many.
4 – Warm Up For Longer: I can be quite lazy when it comes to warming up. However, try not to take any shortcuts. Be patient! Our bodies take much longer to warm up in winter. My husband swears by taking a hot shower beforehand to warm up his muscles. On Saturday, we only felt comfortable after 15 minutes of dynamic stretching. We regretted not warming up inside the gym as we were parked right outside it! Also, don’t be surprised if your body takes time to kick into gear. Take it easy as you set off so as to avoid injury.
5 – Be Visible: Our long runs are usually in the mornings when it is still quite dark and when we finish our weekly evening runs, it is very dark. Wearing reflective/ high-viz clothing or a head torch is important so that you are easily visible to drivers and cyclists on the road. I have found that my running clothes don’t have enough reflective bits on them so I am on the hunt for a high-viz vest.
6 – Always Be Safe: If you’re running in the dark, stick to routes that have good street lights and a bit of traffic. We avoid the Airport Road in winter as there is too much bush on one side and it is not very busy in the early hours. Having been mugged on a race before, we tend to be quite cautious about where we run. Although music is nice to have, it is probably a good idea to avoid headphones so you are more aware of what’s going on around you. Of course, having a partner or a group also helps with safety.
7 – Stay Hydrated: I hardly drink on my winter long runs and on Saturday I ended up with a whopping big headache because of that. So when it comes to hydration, stick to the same rules as summer running – drink before, during and after your runs so you don’t become dehydrated. When it’s cold and you are not sweating much, it’s really easy to forget that our bodies still need to keep hydrated.
8 – Have Fun: If you start getting bored of a routine, chances are you are not going to be motivated to keep doing it. So I like to change things up to keep things exciting. I usually have a speed workout on Monday, hills work on Wednesday and a long run on Saturday. My long runs change in terms of distance and routes just to keep me on my toes. I also throw in some gym and pilates classes which keeps things interesting too.
9 – Be Flexible: I love having a solid schedule in place. But I have found that during winter I need to have some more flexibility. Sometimes you will get home to find your kids are not well and they need you more than you need your run. Sometimes you will have scheduled a speed workout but after a rough day at work, you would rather go for an easy run. Sometimes your running partner can’t make it, so the treadmill is the next best thing. Flexibility is good so long as you don’t start using it to skip too many workouts.
10 – Snuggle Up: Your immune system takes a bit of a hit after a hard workout or a long run. As reported in Runner’s World, “During the strain of a hard run, the body churns out the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses immune function in large amounts.” So once you are back from a run, quickly get dressed up in warm clothes; stretch indoors if you can; take a warm shower or at the very least grab a hot cappuccino! All this will help to keep those nasty bugs at bay while your body regroups.
Do you have any other tips for keeping active during winter? Have any of these tips worked for you too? If you are planning on testing them, let me know how it goes!