Grey, dull days, bad weather, long dark nights… It’s not very inspiring for running!
grey, dull and not very inspiring!
So with the long winter months ahead of us how do you stay motivated to get out running? Here are 5 tips to help get you off the couch and onto the trails, even on the darkest of days.
New kit always inspires you to use it so get set to tackle winter with some new toys! Go on you deserve a new waterproof, grippy shoes or even that fancy watch that counts how many calories you’ve used. Or if you don’t want to spend that much then just a nice new base layer, warm gloves or even some new woolly socks will give you more reasons to get out running whatever the weather.
new shoes for winter!
Embrace the Dark
Just because it’s dark by the time you get home from work doesn’t mean you can’t still get out and run on the trails and fells. A reasonable head torch will give you enough light to carry on running through the winter months. What’s more night running is exciting, your senses are more alert to sights and sounds that you might not notice in the day time. A run on a clear, cold night under a full moon is a fantastic experience!
night running fun
When it’s chucking it down outside it’s easy to make an excuse for not going for a run. But if you’ve made a plan to go and your mates are waiting for you then you’re more likely to make the effort to get out and not let them down. Having a regular slot in your diary each week for a social run gets you into the habit. If it chucks it down then you’re all in it together rather than struggling on alone. If the run finishes at a pub or cafe with a cosy fire you’ll soon forget how grim the weather is!
singing in the rain?
Find New Routes
My favourite runs are out on the Peak District fells. However when the weather’s wet and wild running there can be a real struggle so I head for more sheltered areas. Running in woodland can give you shelter even on the windiest days whilst choosing low level valley routes will also keep you out of the worst of the elements. So if the forecast is bad then check out some new, less exposed places to run, you might even find some hidden gems that you would never know about if you stuck to your usual routes.
woodland offers shelter in bad weather
Set a Goal
Sometimes it’s hard to get motivated to run if you don’t have a purpose. If you know that you are training towards something then you’re more likely to keep at it. So, rather than just going through the motions have a look at the race calendar for next year and pick out an early event. That way, even in the depths of winter you will be able to tell yourself that your run is preparation for the race.
set a goal
So with a little bit of self motivation you can make it through the dark winter months, and whilst there might be plenty of dull days there will be the odd day like this to look forward to!
Maybe it’s because our winters tend to be wet and windy with muddy conditions underfoot that I relish the chance to run in the snow. It brings a welcome change to the ordinary, a different challenge, a break from the routine. When snow is falling the world shrinks, visibility drops and the sky loses its form. The boundary between earth and sky blurs and the horizon disappears. With paths obscured even the most familiar of trails become alien as the landscape becomes uniform and it is difficult to judge distances. The only colour that exists is on my clothing, the rest of the world is monochrome. Falling snow muffles sound, the only ones I hear are the ones I make; my footsteps creaking in the fresh snow, my breathing, my heartbeat on the hard uphills.
the only colour that exists is on my clothing
After the snow comes a different challenge. The well trodden paths that I usually take become buried and there is no such thing as an easy run. I struggle to lift my feet clear of the drift, gratefully find a patch of hard snow that takes my weight and tentatively begin to run, trying to make myself light. A few metres gained and crunch, I’m up to my thighs again and the process starts over. Who needs the gym, this targets muscles that are rarely used – and it’s free!
no such thing as an easy run
There is something rewarding about breaking a trail. Of standing there with virgin snow ahead of me and being the first person to set foot on it – being my own pioneering explorer.
And when the weather system has passed leaving its white blanket covering the landscape and high pressure brings clear skies and freezing temperatures, those are my favourite conditions. They are a complete contrast to when snow is falling, now colour returns and the sky is impossibly blue, the horizon stretches for miles and sound carries on the still air. Shapes and shadows appear where snow lies, sculpted by the wind.
the horizon stretches for miles
I long for conditions like this and on those rare, precious days when they occur I head out into the depths of the Peak District. In midweek it is possible to spend a day out without seeing a soul, being more likely to encounter a mountain hare making the most of one of the few days when conditions suit its winter coat.
shapes, shadows and the tracks of a mountain hare
All too soon the mild air returns, the snow thaws and the landscape reverts to its customary winter condition – damp and grey. But the memories remain long afterwards of those few precious winter days and my adventures of running in snow.
Trail and Fell Running can be a bit more difficult in winter.
Short days, darkness, bad weather, snow and ice; all these could dissuade you from getting out onto your favourite summertime trails but with the right kit and a bit of preparation you can still enjoy off road running right through the winter months. Here are my 10 essential bits of winter kit that allow me to carry on fell running all year round.
It’s Britain, it’s winter and therefore it’s going to be wet and windy at some point. These conditions, more so than dry cold, are the ones that can lead to hypothermia and so it is worth investing in a jacket that will protect you from the driving rain. There are plenty of decent jackets on the market from the very small and lightweight Montane Minimus and Inov-8 150 Stormshell which I use for short runs to the slightly more robust OMM Kamleika and Raidlight Stretch Shell which I choose for longer, slower runs.
a decent waterproof is essential
Fell Running Shoes
Those lovely, dry, summer trails can turn into mud baths in the depths of winter and steep, wet, grass requires a shoe with a decent amount of grip. My winter shoe of choice is the Inov-8 Mudclaw as its aggressive sole lets me run confidently on even the boggiest ground.
Inov-8 Mudclaw’s aggressive grip – ideal for winter
Just because it goes dark before you get home from work doesn’t mean that you can’t get out and enjoy an evening run on the trails and fells. Of course you’ll need to see where you’re going and so a head torch is vital. You don’t need to break the bank, Alpkit’s Gamma, Viper and Arc or Unilite’s HV H4 are cheap and adequate for short runs on non technical terrain. If you want to hit the high fells or mountains you’ll need something a bit brighter with a longer battery life. Torches such as the Petzl Nao, Suprabeam V4 or Hope R1 LED are more expensive, good quality torches for more serious nocturnal running adventures.
head torches for night running
You can stay warm even when running in the worst weather because your body produces heat as you exercise, but if you need to stop or slow down for any reason you can become cold very quickly. Carrying an extra, warm layer gives you that added bit of comfort and safety. I use the OMM Rotor Smock which is incredibly light yet offers a high warmth to weight ratio and is effective even when damp.
OMM Rotor Smock – an excellent warm layer
Not only are cold hands uncomfortable they also make it hard and sometimes impossible to do simple tasks such as tying a lace, undoing a zip or opening food. Dry, toasty hands are good for morale! I like to layer my gloves starting with a cheap pair from Decathlon and adding a pair of Powerstretch wind proof gloves on top. In wet weather I use Goretex Tuff Bag Mitts over the top, these are very light and pack away to a small size.
Don’t you hate that feeling when you run through deep snow and it gets into the gap between the top of your shoe and your foot? It then tends to compact into a lump of ice which you try to hook out with your finger, inevitably pushing it deeper into your shoe! I’ve found that wearing Inov-8 debris socks prevents this happening, they are a comfortable sock with an extra piece of fabric that folds down and attaches to the shoe to stop anything getting inside.
debris socks stop snow getting into your shoes!
I still like to run in more remote areas even in winter in which case I’ll take a bit more emergency kit with me just in case I or anyone I’m with is forced to stop. In addition to the usual map, compass, whistle and mobile phone I carry a survival bag such as a Blizzard Bag, a torch and some spare food.
Blizzard Bag in use
This extra, winter kit is obviously going to take up more room and so in winter I opt for a running rucksack rather than a bumbag. There are loads to choose from, I use the Montane Jaws 10 which is a very comfortable vest type pack made from water resistant material that helps keep the contents dry.
Montane Jaws 10 running sack
I love getting out running on the trails in really cold conditions, even when the ground is icy. I use Snowline SnowSpikes; stainless steel spikes attached to a rubber cradle which simply slips over your running shoe. They can be fitted in seconds and really do work, allowing you to run on hard packed snow and ice.
Snowline SnowSpikes for running on ice
If you’ve ever been hit in the eye by a hailstone you’ll know it hurts. Even a soft, fluffy snowflake in the eye is a painful experience! If you’re running into the wind whilst it’s snowing you’ll find it almost impossible to keep your eyes open and you’ll probably end up trying to run with a hand in front of your face in an attempt to shield your eyes. I carry ski goggles if I am expecting to it to snow and these mean that I can keep running even in a heavy snow storm.
ski goggles for eye protection
So, winter’s coming but you can still get out trail and fell running – just get your kit on!
Cloudless, blue sky days with lying snow make running a joy. But what about when the snow gets compacted and icy or melts and then refreezes over night; aren’t these conditions dangerous for running? If just wearing your normal fell shoes then you will definitely need to slow down and alter your running style to avoid slipping. There is also a higher chance of picking up an injury due to slipping, even if it isn’t due to a full on fall.
So in conditions like this I use a type of running crampon or micro-spike. Snowline Snowspikes are Stainless Steel spikes which are attached by chains to an elastomer cradle which simply fits over your normal running shoe.
12 Stainless Steel spikes give a reassuring grip
Snowline Snowspikes Light (there is a heavier version) weigh only 235 grams a pair (UK shoe size 4 – 7) and come with their own small travel pouch which means there’s no risk of the spikes piercing your bum bag whilst carrying them.
Snowspikes Light – 235g a pair
handy travel pouch means no punctures to your bumbag!
They can be put on in seconds simply by stepping into them and pulling the stretchy elastomer over your shoe. 8 one centimetre spikes on the forefoot and 4 on the rear give a reassuring grip on icy ground and if you find that conditions underfoot improve they can be taken off in seconds. They’re not just for trail and fell running either, they’re fantastic when the streets and pavements are covered in frozen snow.
This video shows how easy they are to put on:
We’ve been blessed by some fantastic winter running conditions in the Peak District over the last few days. If we get any more icy weather this winter, don’t stop running because of the conditions underfoot, get a pair of Snowspikes and enjoy the snow!
“In his autumn before the winter comes man’s last mad surge of youth”
What on Earth am I talking about?
It’s mid November, the sky is monotone, the landscape leached of colour as if nature is restricted to a drab palate with which to paint her surroundings. Heavy rain and strong winds sweep in from the south, the ground is heavy, sodden and summer’s golden rays have long faded. Running on a day like today just doesn’t inspire me, there is little aesthetic pleasure to be had, no urge to linger and drink in the sights and sounds around me. Instead I speed up, not wanting to spend any more time than absolutely necessary in this environment. My gaze is restricted to the few metres immediately ahead of me, head bowed into the wind, squinting against the lashing rain.
But winter running can be a joy. Some days sparkle like bright jewels glittering amongst the oppressive grey.
winter running in the Peak District
Clear nights lead to crystal blue days and the first hard frosts bring firmer ground. The crunch of ice crystals replaces the squelch of feet in mud.
hard frost and the crunch of ice
On high pressure days the air is still, sounds carry: the tinkling of the icy brook, the dripping as a weak winter sun thaws icicles on gritstone boulders, the frosty remains of the bracken expanding as they slowly warm. The landscape breathes. These are my favourite days, when piercing blue skies seem to overload the senses and the clear air brings the distant horizon into sharp focus. On such days I love to explore the remotest parts of the Peak District, making the most of the few hours of daylight to enjoy the solitude of the harsh environment.
winter running under a piercing blue sky
On some winter days a layer of cold air in the valley bottom condenses forming a sea of cloud. When conditions are right the hills above enjoy clear skies and sunshine whilst all below is shrouded in grey. It’s a joyful experience to emerge from the cloud into the sunshine and enjoy the colour and long winter shadows.
above the sea of cloud
Even on cloudy days, there are rewards especially after heavy snow when running becomes a real adventure! Then the landscape softens, sharp edges are smoothed by the snow, paths disappear and what was once familiar takes on a different aspect.
Somehow snow brings on a surge of youth, the urge to “play out”, to explore and experience adventure! The once tame trails of summer become a playground. Nature offers up the challenge of running through deep snow and on ice. The challenge has to be accepted!
running or climbing!
So whilst all is wet, windy and grey, running is done simply for training rather than for any other pleasure. But we can hope.
the joy of winter running – that’s what I’m talking about!
Winter is around the corner and maybe it will bring joy to running on the trails and fells. That’s what I’m talking about!
It’s cold, wet and windy and dark by 4pm. Doesn’t particularly inspire you to go fell and trail running does it!
But what’s the alternative: Sitting at home watching telly with that nagging, guilty feeling that you haven’t been training? Or paying for a gym membership to run on the DREADmill? (set on an incline so you can pretend you’re running up the Ben!)
So what can we do to help motivate us to get out the door? Here’s what helps me:
Get kitted out. You’ve heard people say there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing? Well they’re wrong! there’s some particularly grim weather, usually found on a bleak hillside miles from where you left the car!
Being cold and wet equals miserable at best and in danger at worst. Yes fell running is a cheap sport requiring minimal kit but it’s best enjoyed in the knowledge that your waterproof jacket will stand up to the rigours of the horizontal rain. Get the best waterproofs you can afford, (if that means economising by buying cheaper base layers, socks, underpants, going hungry, no Christmas presents for the kids etc then so be it!) After running shoes it is the thing I would spend most money on. I have 3 decent running waterproof jackets; an OMM Kamleika smock, an Inov-8 Race Elite Stormshell and a Montane Minimus smock, all of which I recommend.
Minimus in a hail storm – a day when I wish I’d worn my leggings!
I rarely wear more than a long sleeved base layer under my outer layer which is fine whilst you’re moving and generating heat. However if you need to stop for any reason you’ll soon get cold so I carry an extra layer. My favourite is my OMM Rotor Smock which, made from primaloft offers excellent insulation for its weight.
OMM Rotor smock
I hate cold feet. You know those first couple of minutes when you set off for a run and try to avoid all the puddles in a vain attempt to keep your feet dry. You know full well that they’ll soon be wet but you try anyway! I find that wet doesn’t need to mean cold. I use SealSkinz socks which claim to be waterproof but in my experience only remain so for a handful of runs after which they allow in some water so don’t keep your feet completely dry – more moist yet warm. They are quite expensive but what price warm feet? Thin racing socks are a definite no no!
Likewise cold hands, I remember a long winter race when I couldn’t grip the zipper on my bumbag to get to a gel, my hands were that cold. I’ve since learnt that a cheap pair of fleece gloves under a thin windproof pair works quite well. On really wet days I wear Tuff Bag mittens over the top which are great for warmth but not so for dexterity so map and compass work, opening food etc. becomes tricky. Also they don’t mix well with rough gritstone so no hands on rock scrambling adventures if you want them to last.
I’m not too fond of a cold head either so any form of hat is a must but nothing too bulky in case you want to take it off and stuff it in a pocket. In dry cold weather I go for a Buff with a second one around my neck that can be pulled up over my nose and mouth to make a balaclava. I also have a windproof beanie which I wear in wet weather. It doesn’t keep my head dry but I can live with that. I don’t like running with a hood up so would only use my jacket hood in the worst rain.
Although I carry waterproof bottoms for emergencies I rarely wear them on the run. What I do swear by are my Lowe Alpine Powerstretch leggings – which even when wet are comfortably warm. They can sometimes be too warm so if it’s not too cold then a pair of close fitting tights will do. I have some cheap Decathlon ones plus some Ron Hills (not the old school blue ones with red stripes!) Anything that doesn’t absorb water will do.
In summer I run with a bumbag but winter running requires more kit so I prefer a rucksack. This allows me to take the extra clothing I need plus extra food and some bits of emergency kit (see here). I use an Inov-8 Race Pro as I find rucksacks with zip pockets that can be reached whilst on the move are best as they allow quick access to food, map, compass etc.
Don’t be put off by snow. Most of our winters are wet and windy but in recent years we’ve had snow. This puts some people off running as they see it as dangerous. I see it as a chance for adventure!
Get a grip. For me there is only one shoe for winter conditions. From boggy ground to deep snow, it has to be the Inov-8 Mudclaw.
Mudclaws – must haves for winter fell running
MicroSpikes give a reassuring grip on ice and compacted snow and can be slipped over your trainers in seconds and are easily carried if not in use. Get a pair of these and you’ll be longing to get out in the snow like you did when you were a kid!
getting to grips with winter running
Running in falling snow or hail is the hardest thing to deal with as you instinctively close your eyes to protect your eyeballs (lovely soft snowflakes actually really, really hurt if you get them in your eyes!) I use ski goggles to prevent this.
Embrace the night. The long summer evenings are a fading memory but there’s no reason not to continue running at night. Night time fell runs are an adventure so persuade your mates that it is a good idea and head out to the trails and fells. You needn’t go far, even a run through the local park or woods adds a bit of variety and a new challenge. Choose somewhere you are familiar with at first as it is very easy to become disorientated in the dark.
head torch running
The first time you see sheep’s eyes staring back at you or you startle a sleeping grouse can be a shock but you do get used to it. (Actually I haven’t yet got used to stepping on grouse but I’m ok with the reflecting eyes!) So you’ll need a decent head torch and there are plenty to choose from nowadays. You can spend a fortune on programmable, reactive light models like the Petzl Nao but that’s probably overkill unless you’re doing some seriously remote running and need long battery life. You don’t need to light up the whole hillside with hundreds of lumens unless you’re in Mountain Rescue! My LED Lenser H7R does a great job and is USB rechargeable so I can always set out with it fully charged. Be aware that some modern torches don’t get gradually dimmer – they simply turn off when the batteries get low, something I found out to my cost! So remember to take spare batteries and unless you can find them in your pack, take the old ones out and put the new ones in all in pitch darkness with cold hands and in a howling gale you’ll need an emergency light or a partner with a torch.
Strength in numbers. Unless you’re very experienced it might be best to do your remote winter running with a partner or group. Make an arrangement with some mates to go for a run and stick to it – whatever the weather! It’s easy to decide against it if it’s just you but you’ll be more likely to run if you feel you are letting the side down. Get a gang together and share the love (of the rain) Having a few of you together is also safer should something go wrong.
share the fun and stay safe!
Time for a quickie. Even the hardiest of runners will not relish going outdoors when it’s dark and lashing it down. It’s here that you need to be flexible with your training. If you’ve planned for a long run and the weather’s awful, go for a quick one instead. A quick 20 minute tempo run will have a good training effect and keep you warmer than a steady plod.
So let’s face it winter’s here and there’s nothing we can do about it, but there are things we can do to make fell and trail running more appealing. So stick with it this winter, you never know we might even have a few days like this:
Fell Running in the Peak District has been difficult of late.
But this weekend Spring showed her long awaited face and warmth returned. Blue skies, sunshine and a respite from the nagging, bone chilling easterly wind that we have endured for weeks made for perfect conditions to get out onto the hill.
Snow still lay, deep in places too and consolidated into steep banks but this enhanced the conditions adding an element of interest to the run.
My route took me along Derwent Edge, picking up the route of the Ultra Tour of the Peak District to Lost Lad, then headed off to the beautiful Abbey Brook before climbing back up to rejoin the race route and follow it towards Derwent Moor.
I recently won a pair of Inov-8 Debris Socks. Designed to keep grit and stones from getting into your shoes I promptly put them to the back of the drawer thinking they’d come in handy next summer.
shoes full of snow!
However during last month’s running when I yet again ended up with shoes full of snow I remembered that I had them and wondered if they’d work in snow.
The socks are basically just that; nice, comfortable Coolmax sock but with an extra bit of sock that folds down over the laces of your shoes and hooks onto the lace with a metal hook – just as with normal gaiters. I wore them over a pair of thin wool socks and pulled them up over the bottom of my leggings – this was mainly so they could be seen on the photos, I would normally wear the leggings over the top.
They have 2 thin plastic hoops that act as stirrups, going under the shoe to prevent the socks from riding up.
hooked onto the laces
securely attached with stirrups
Using the socks with a pair of Inov-8 Mudclaws, the lugs gave a secure grip for the stirrups and I experimented with several different positions (under heel, under instep etc.) all of which seemed to work.
So, how did I get on? Well basically they did what I wanted them to do which was preventing snow getting into the gap between shoe and foot.
effectively keeping snow out
no snow in my shoes!
Running through deep snow lead to snow building up on the sock material but not getting behind the tongue or into the shoe itself.
As with any wool mix sock they are not waterproof and my feet did eventually become damp, although not cold.
Another advantage was that they prevented the laces from freezing up which made untying them at the end of the run easier than normal.
The one thing I did find was that they were fiddly to get off with cold hands after the run. My fingers were too cold to pull the stirrups off and I found that taking them off whilst they were still attached to the shoe was the best method.
I have since used the Debris Socks on all runs where I have anticipated deep snow and I’m glad that I discovered them. I’m now looking forward to using them on dry, dusty summer runs!
Icy conditions have made fell running training a little difficult recently.
Although deep snow is difficult to run through it is actually great for training. You have to work harder as the snow provides resistance to your forwards movement, you have to lift your knees higher and so bring into play muscles that you don’t normally use and if you do fall over (which is inevitable) you usually end up with a soft landing.
The problems start when conditions underfoot are icy such as when the snow melts during the day then refreezes at night or where it gets compressed into a hard, frozen layer. I have been asked by several people recently how I continue training when it gets icy.
One way is to use Micro-spikes. I use Kahtoola. These are basically scaled down walking crampons that simply attach to your shoe and are held in place by stretchy rubber. They can be put on in around 10 seconds per foot and taken off in a fraction of that. Reasonably small and light I simply carry them in my bum bag or rucksack and put them on when needed.
I find them a really great piece of kit which allow me to keep training on terrain that might otherwise be too difficult to run on.
The video shows you how easy they are to use:
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