With less than 10 hours of daylight, and 10 hours spent at work, the maths of winter training doesn’t look good! I thought I’d write a quick post about some of the things I’m doing to try and beat the blues and keep my winter training on track. These are my top ten.
Light up the dark
Find a light that works for you. I personally don’t get on with a head torch as the light bobs around in front, making me feel a bit sea sick. But last winter, after running headfirst into a St Bernard on the beach zig zags, I decided that having nothing was not a good option either. In the end I found a chest light that I love. It’s white at the front and red at the back, making me the coolest runner around! It’s also so bright that I have to ‘dip it’ every time a car approaches, but luckily it has a setting for this. It also flashes for a strobe effect if you want the full silent disco effect. Seriously though, it means I can see and be seen, allowing me to run safely in places that would otherwise be out of bounds all winter.
I also like that the strap tells me exactly what it is, just in case I mix it up with the dog’s harness!
I hate being cold. Even though I know that I’ll warm up running, if I have to leave the house in the cold it’s enough to make me not want to go. I can’t remember where I heard it recently, but there was a couple moaning about the cold, and she turns to him and says: ‘when you’re cold, you’re just cold. When I’m cold, I’m in pain. Actual pain!’ This is me.
So, winter running means layers. It’s totally worth investing in a good jacket and some gloves. I’ve also got an Asics long sleeve top with a fleecy lining which is the staple of my winter running wardrobe. I lay these out of the radiator (like my mum used to do with my school uniform when I was a child) and that way there’s an added incentive to wear it.
Pick your time
The cold is one thing, but then there’s the rain. And the wind. At this time of year, I become addicted to my weather app. There’s no point setting my alarm for 6am when it’s going to be hammering with rain and blowing half a gail. All that will happen is I’ll ignore it and then spend the rest of my day feeling guilty. Instead, there might be a window after work, or I might swap my days to go to the gym early instead. Don’t get me wrong, somedays I brave the elements. After all, you don’t have the luxury of choice on race day, so it’s good preparation. At least if you know it’s going to be raining at 6am though, it won’t be a surprise, and the more prepared you are, the more likely you are to succeed.
I think to some degree, most people suffer with SAD (seasonal affected disorder). I don’t know about you, but because it gets dark earlier, by the time I finish work at 6, my mind and body are ready to shut down. Motivating myself to go back out and train is really difficult. Particularly when dinner, pyjamas and a snuggly dressing gown are the alternative. Through winter I therefore prefer getting my session done before work.
The only problem is that I start work at 8am. Setting my alarm for before 6, does not go well. So that means that I usually end up with less than an hour to get showered, ready and walk the 15 minutes to be sat at my desk, all before the clock strikes 8. That doesn’t leave much time for breakfast, but I’ve managed to turn this into a positive. Making sure I’ve sorted breakfast the night before, and having something that I can grab and go, and that I wouldn’t usually have, makes me actually look forward to the days I set an early alarm. Last week I made some cinnamon bagels which I had with cream cheese and jam. Baked porridge with jammy blueberries is another fave. Oh, and cheesy muffins.
Buddy up, or enter all the races you can find
As the saying goes, there’s safety in numbers. You’re far less likely to snooze your alarm if you’re meeting a friend. Don’t fancy a lonely 17 miles in the rain? See if there’s a local half marathon where you can run too and from the start to make up the extra miles. I do this a lot. Running with others is great motivation, and I always find I run faster, so I often use the race segment as a way to add some speed work. Mentally, winter long runs are much less of a mental challenge when they’re broken into smaller chunks like this too. Park run is another great option.
Switch up your routine
There’s usually a racing lull between November and March time, so there’s less pressure on hitting exact paces in training. I use this as an opportunity to make training fun. Actually, I always find training fun, even that 6×3 minute session of death! What I mean is, it’s a great reason to add some variety whilst you can afford to be clocking long, slow miles. This can be anything from designing a route to explore the christmas lights on local houses, to seeing whether you can run down a street starting with every letter of a word of your choice. Leave your watch at home and just enjoy being out. I find the variety and lack of pressure means I clock way more miles than I otherwise would, without even meaning too. Check out Run Up To Christmas as another great way to switch things up.
I found these ghosts on one of my halloween runs.
Get to the gym
During racing season, it’s hard to do too many gym sessions as it kills your legs for any speed work. So, in the winter I make the most of the fact that the doms don’t matter so much. It’s also easier to get up when a warm gym is calling, than a freezing cold, dark road.
Pin your goal
Know your motivation. If it’s just loosing a few pounds, it’s probably not going to be strong enough. You need something intrinsic that you can get excited about. Anything from running your first marathon, to running a Boston qualifier. No one else can chose it for you, but the more it scares you the better. It’s that feeling that will stop you snoozing your alarm, or burying yourself in box sets whilst curled up on the sofa (to be clear, I still do both of those things!)
My spring marathon goal is to run a sub 3.30 in London in April. I know that to even come close, I can’t waste the next few months. It also petrifies me. I find scaring myself out of the front door is as good a tac tic as any!
They always say, if you need something done, then ask a busy person. On days where I have lots of time, I procrastinate and inevitably end up delaying my session. Sometimes I even put it off altogether, for no good reason. If, on the other hand, my day is super busy, I make sure I set my alarm and get my session done because I know it’s the only chance I’ll get. Being organised is key.
I also find it’s an easier way of balancing life. If I’ve trained early, then I never feel guilty about going out for Christmas drinks, or wreath making after work. True story!
Although I do love food, it’s not my reason for running. I tend to eat to run rather than the other way around. I do use food as a reward though, but not in the traditional sense of having to earn a chocolate bar. It’s more the sense of satisfaction it brings. I know that if I get up and run in the morning, I won’t have to do it later, and after a long day I can have an early night with a good book and a hot chocolate in bed if I want. That acts as motivation not to snooze my 6am alarm. Finishing a Sunday long run with a roast dinner is another favourite. As is a good old lush bath bomb. Rewards are different for everybody, but these definitely work for me.
Don’t get me wrong, there is no one magic fix for lacking motivation, but I’m hoping the combination of these will see me through to the brighter days of spring time. With a serious attempt at a sub 3.30 in London on the cards come April, I know that I’m going to need all the help I can get.
Let me know if you have any tips I’ve missed. The more, the merrier!