Baby, it’s cold outside: The benefits of winter running

We all know what those winter routines are like.

Your alarm goes off at 6am, but it could well be 3. It’s pitch black outside, the heating hasn’t come on yet, it’s baltic outside, and the streets are paved with ice. For many, it’s enough to make you want to curl up back into your warm, thick duvet and snuggle on in for another big ol’ sleep.

Yet, as tricky as winter running can be negotiated, it is packed full of great running rewards. For one thing, it’s far less humid than the summer, and its cooler temperatures can make for much better conditions for long-distance running.

That said, whether you love or hate winter running, whatever your views on the matter, it’s good to exercise caution as you head out into the chilly air to avoid several of the common mistakes that runners make when running in colder climates.

The Benefits of Winter Running

You’re as Cold as Ice

A major bonus of running in the winter is that – shock horror – it’s not all that hot. There’s a reason so many major marathons and races are scheduled for the autumn and winter…

Many runners find running in humid, hot temperatures in the summer to be tougher on the body and resulting in the need more fluid to keep hydrated. Due to lower temperatures, there’s less heat stress on the body, meaning that you can run for longer periods without losing excess energy levels and cool down quicker too.

According to a recent study completed by St. Mary’s University, colder weather also contributes to a lack of stress in the body, as the body’s dehydration levels are significantly lower, meaning you don’t require as much water as the summer months. The study found that when running in the winter, runners dehydration levels are around 38% less than that of runners in the summer, while their heart rates were also 6% lower, suggesting the winter running might just be less taxing.

That said, it’s still of vital importance to stay hydrated – the cold weather doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be regularly consuming water.

The Need For Speed

The St Mary’s University study also concluded that running in cooler climates is optimal for securing personal bests, so it’s safe to say you should be getting your training on big time this winter.

Backing this research up, a study conducted by a Northern Arizona University found that much colder temperatures can increase a runner’s speed by around 29% – a big incentive when thinking about those marginal gains!

Keepin’ Cool While Burnin’ Up

It’s also claimed that running in colder temperatures actually further increases the amount of fat you burn when running.

When you run in colder weather, the brown fat in your body – that’s the metabolic tissue that burns calories – turns white fat – the fat usually thought of as unwanted body fat — into brown fat.

As such, when you run in the cold, you’re converting unwanted body fat into metabolic tissue and altering your body composition by burning more calories.

How to Run Safely in Cold Weather

Keep It Toasty

What you wear when you go running in colder climates is crucial. You want to make sure that you’re equipped with plenty of winter clothing options, with layers being the name of the game.

In particular, it’s best to wear loose and light layers that keep warm air trapped inside, keeping you well insulated.

You’ll likely warm up more as you run, so shedding a layer is no harm but be careful to not wear too little. It’s recommended that you want to add around an extra 10–15 degrees of warmth than the temperature outdoors, so a variety of layers will do the trick – considering, of course, your warm-up and cool down temperatures as you move. If you’re planning a longer run, you should ramp that number up to around 20 degrees to account for more time out in a colder climate.

Beware the Frostbite

Having lots of layers will certainly keep you well insulated, but you can’t forget about your hands and head. Make sure you’re wearing a good pair of heat-retaining gloves and a hat to ensure that you keep your fingers, hands, and ears all wrapped up warm. Even if you prefer to run with fewer layers on, keeping the parts of your body that are furthest away from your heart (like your hands and ears) warm is an absolute must, so grab your hat and gloves when heading outside.

It’s also important to recognise and act quickly on having wet clothes in cool temperatures. Damp clothes will quickly become cold and uncomfortable and can dangerously alter your temperature, so be sure that your base layer is good at absorbing moisture while the layer on top of that works to keep heat in (and ideally, a third layer protects you from windy, wet weather).

Watch Your Step

One major concern for a lot of runners heading out into the cold is the fear of slipping on icy surfaces. It’s a major risk for any winter runner and is tricky to avoid if you’re out running in the dark. As such, running slightly slower and with caution during icy spells is always advised. Even if you feel you can go faster and further, it’s better to play it safe and not put yourself at any risk.

This is where the need for good footwear (and there is always a need for good footwear) comes in to play — especially, footwear with some good grip. Make sure that the treads or your soles aren’t worn down to the point where they can no longer grip to the ground. If they don’t, it might be time to open the wallet and invest in some better winter running footwear.

Planning your routes ahead is also recommended, avoiding any areas that may be icier than normal. If you do have a fall or get hurt, then make sure you have a device on you that allows you to contact help.

As you may have to run in the dark to accommodate for the lack of light in the winter months, it’s also wise to wear some form of hi-vis to make sure you’re visible and safe if you were to find yourself in any trouble.

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