How to make the most of winter fitness
By Tobias Mews
That’s it. Enough’s enough. It’s time for a run. I’ve just got to get my arse off this chair and away from my desk. I need to breath fresh air and get my outdoor fix with nature.
I cast an eye on the clock. There’s time before it gets dark. I close my laptop and grab my running kit.
Less than 10 minutes later, I’m about to head out the door but my hand lingers on the handle. Outside, the rain is literally bouncing off the pavement. In France, they have an expression for this, ‘il pleut comme vache qui pisse,’ which basically involves imagining a cow taking a leak. It’s pretty grim. Maybe I’ll go later, I say to myself.
It’s a moment that every single one of us faces at some point in time, especially in the winter months when the evenings are dark, it’s cold and there’s an ever present ominous looking cloud floating above us.
But I remind myself that up in the hills, the trees, plants and grass are breathing a sigh of relief. They’re happy. And as trail runner, it’s also where I’m most happy.
Once upon a time, I might have spun on my heel and retreated into the warmth indoors. But I’ve learned that you can make a few simple changes to your mindset as well as your kit list, so that you can continue to make the most of your winter fitness, even when it’s cold, wet and miserable outdoors.
Change your mindset and embrace the cold and wet
When I was an officer cadet at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, our directing staff often quoted the saying ‘Train Hard, Fight Easy’. It was what they reminded us when we were leopard crawling on our hands and knees through a snow drift in the Brecon Beacons. As you can probably guess, in your case, it essentially means that if you train hard now, then when it comes race day it will be much easier.
Indeed, in the days leading up to a race, the state of the weather is probably the number one thing that will occupy your mind. But if you’ve already trained in every condition that nature can chuck at you, especially in those dark, cold and wet winter months, you’ll have no nasty surprises. Whilst your competitors look at the weather forecast with gloom and doom, you’ll be embracing it. You trained for this moment! Go get it.
Invest in the best running kit you can afford
My second suggestion is to invest in the best running kit you can afford. If you have the right gear, then you won’t have any excuse not to head out of the door. And considering I train in the French Pyrenees, where rain and snow are as plentiful as sun, I know firsthand that by staying warm and relatively dry, you’ll not only be more motivated to get out of the door, but you’ll equally be less at risk of becoming ill.
So here’s a list of the gear you need to ensure you have no excuse not to head outside:
- A head torch for those early mornings and dark nights
- A waterproof running jacket
- A hat to keep your head warm, and/or
- A peaked cap should it be raining. Keeps rain out of your face
- Long tights for those cold days
- A merino/cotton wool top combination to help wick away moisture and sweat but keep you warm
- Some warm socks that don’t mind getting wet. Look for wool combinations.
- Gloves to keep your hands warm. They make all the difference.
- A Buff or similar type of tubular headwear to keep your neck warm should it be windy.
- Trail running shoes with a decent amount of tread, designed to work on wet and muddy trails.
- A reflective vest, should it be dark and you need to run on the road.
- A gilet. I find having my chest warm but my arms free a really good combination, ensuring I don’t get too hot.
Be seen, be safe
Your safety on the trails during the winter months is of paramount importance. The weather is more variable and more often than not, can get a little more extreme. It goes without saying that if it’s very icy or there’s heavy snow and therefore a higher risk of danger, it’s okay to skip a day of training. Or wait for a better weather window later in the day, when the ice or snow has melted. What you don’t want to happen is that you slip on the pavement, fall on your coccyx and end up injured for 3 months.
Also, as per our packing list above, don’t forget a reflective vest. [Ed: Aussie Grit Apparel’s garments have reflective detailing, but you can never be too lit up]. There’s nothing more disagreeable than running along a dark road (especially one without a pavement) whilst cars pass you by.
Tell someone where you’re off running
Although it’s good to be a creature of habit, as this helps us stick to our training through the winter months, we also have to be sensible. Therefore, if you’re going out alone, especially on the trails, make sure you tell someone where you’re going. And consider switching on the GPS tracking on your phone. You can use Google Maps or What’s App, both of which have free live tracking (look for ‘share live location’). Or you can subscribe to the ‘Beacon’ service that Strava offers, which allows your loved ones to know your location.
It’s one reason less for your spouse or loved one to worry should you be late or stop for a coffee. And if you’re lost or injured, it gives them a better chance of coming to your assistance.
Join a running club
This is by far one of the most effective ways to make the most of your winter fitness. When I first moved to London, I joined a running club called the Clapham Chasers. It cost me a grand total of £20, but it was one of the best investments I ever made. Come rain or shine, the scheduled runs guaranteed you’d never be alone. Running as part of a group gives you a feeling of solidarity and comradeship, knowing that you’re facing what nature might throw at you together.
Find a running buddy
If you don’t have access to a club, then at the very least find a running buddy. Having a friend to run with is not only a good idea for safety reasons, but from a motivational point of view, it’s a lot more fun. It also means that you’re much less likely to miss your run, should the weather take a turn for the worse, for fear of letting your friend down.
Create a daily routine, but be flexible
If you’re at the beginning of your trail running journey, it’s likely you’ve not created a routine. But by committing to go running at a certain time of day, say an hour before work, it becomes easier to stick to. However, if you see that it’s raining in the morning and sunny in the afternoon, there’s nothing wrong with postponing your run to later. Just remember, the longer you put it off, the more likely it is you’ll miss it.
So what are you waiting for? Don’t hesitate any longer. Open the door, head to the hills and breathe that fresh air. It’s worth it. After all, it’s only in the winter months that you’ll find your true grit!
Editor’s Note: Shop Tobias’ winter kit list with Aussie Grit Apparel:
- Our versatile shell jacket is waterproof to 20,000mm and has a breathability rating of 5,000gm
- The flint beanie is warm but light
- Our bestselling women’s full length tights are warm, with airflow panels behind the knee for heat evacuation
- The all-rounder merino blend long-sleeve top is perfect temperature regulator as a base or mid-layer
- Our exceptional thermal gilet has a brush-textured liner which will keep you warm, while the light material at the back helping heat evacuation