The big chill
If you’re the sort who takes one look at the onset of winter and puts his trainers into hibernation, MR is here to show you how to beat the freeze and stay on your feetWords: Dominic BlissPhotography: Sam Scott Hunter
The Scandinavians think we Brits are soft. Bathed all year round by the Gulf Stream, we rarely have to venture out running in sub-zero temperatures, even in the mid-winter. Up in the Baltic, though, it’s proper brass monkeys for almost half the year. Michael Lemmel, from Stockholm, is race director of a famous Swedish multi-sport race, the Ö Till Ö, and a serious runner all year round. “In Stockholm, for a good four months we have sub-zero degrees and a mixture of snow and ice on all the trails,” he says, with little sympathy for fair-weather runners. “Winter running is essential. Since we also have only six hours of daylight, I do a lot of running with a headlamp.”Lemmel knows the winter months are inescapably harsh, so from autumn onwards, he always embarks on his training regime well prepared. Back in Blighty, our winters are balmy by comparison. Provided you buy the correct equipment, follow a few common sense tips, and, most crucially, psyche yourself up for the cold weather, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be running every day of the year.Winter wearDon’t scrimp on winter running gear. It needs to wick away the sweat from your skin, and it needs to be windproof and sometimes waterproof. “Knowing how to dress properly with good thermal underwear, a light windproof jacket, a fleece hat, thin gloves, wool socks and light windproof tights gives you the ability to cruise for hours,” says Lemmel. But it’s also important not to wrap up in too many layers. “Do not overdress, as sweat equals cold,” he adds.Perry Dau is owner of running equipment store Revel Sports, based in the American state of Wisconsin, where thermometers regularly dip below -10ºC in mid-winter. “There’s no place for cotton in the winter runner’s wardrobe,” he warns. “It absorbs water and will cause you to get chilled if you slow down or if the wind picks up. Whenever you can, wear clothes that unbutton or unzip. That way, you can zip up at the beginning of the run or when running into the wind, but unzip layers after you warm up.”You may need specialist footwear, too. In Britain, ordinary trainers normally suffice. But remember how much snow we had last winter? The Scandinavians know all about that. “You need to tread lightly so as not to slip on ice or hidden roots,” says Lemmel. “I run a lot with studded shoes.”On reflectionCome October, those of us with day jobs will be forced to run in the dark. Avoid altercations with car bodywork at all costs. “A good reflective vest should be your first purchase,” says Dau. “Also get two pairs of reflective ankle bands – one pair on your ankles, the other around your elbows.” If you’re running on particularly dark streets, you may want to invest in LED lights. Headlamps designed specially for runners are available, but in any bike shop you can pick up cheap flashing lights that clip to your clothing.Keep movingWhen it’s cold, dark and rainy, even the most dedicated athletes struggle to motivate themselves to run. Mike Antoniades is director of The Running School, a nationwide network of instruction centres for runners of all levels. “Don’t sit down when you first get home after work,” he says. “The biggest danger is you come home, it’s freezing outside, and all you want to do is sit down and watch the telly. I advise my clients to change into their running gear straight away. That way they won’t be tempted to skip their training.”Feel the heatThis is even more important when the mercury is dropping fast. “Warm up in the house,” says Antoniades who has worked with many Olympic and marathon runners. “It helps if you raise the body temperature somewhere warm. Do some dynamic movements, some running on the spot. You’ll feel much better when you head out into the cold. And you won’t be at risk of injury as much.”Music to your earsThere’s nothing like an upbeat tune to get the blood pumping. Not only will it motivate you to run through the cold, wet evenings, but it has actually been proven to increase endurance and help your overall routine and performance. Dr Costas Karageorghis, a sports psychologist from Brunel University, in west London, found that listening to music while exercising increases energy efficiency and reduces the perception of effort, especially when stride length is matched to the tempo of the music. “Music can trick your mind into feeling less tired during a workout,” he says. “It blocks out fatigue-related symptoms, such as the burning lungs, the beating heart and aching feeling of lactic acid in the muscles. It can reduce your perception of effort by as much as ten per cent. It can help make you feel more positive at a high workload.”Just make sure you choose the right tracks on your iPod. Apparently, Paula Radcliffe’s favourite training song is Stronger by Kanye West, while Kelly Holmes opted for Alicia Keys when she was preparing for the 2004 Olympics. “Music is considered by some athletes to be a legal drug with no unwanted side effects,” Karageorghis adds.Variety: spice of lifeWhen running conditions are far from ideal, spice things up by varying your routine. “Interval running will stop you getting bored of the same old route,” says Antoniades. “It also means you don’t need a long run. Find a stretch of ground 100 metres long that’s well-lit. Run fast in one direction, and jog back slowly in the other. Do ten reps of this and you’ve done your training session. You’ll be working both aerobically and anaerobically, and you’ll be pushing heart and lungs to a different level than you would normally push them to if you went for a slow run.” For your longer runs, it’s a good idea to have three or four different routes available. “If you always do the same run, you’ll quickly get bored of it over the winter,” Antoniades adds.Buddy upTurn your running into a team sport and you’re far more likely to stick to your training schedule. When your running partner comes ringing at the door you’re going to need a really good excuse to duck out. “Running buddies will motivate you to get out the door,” says Antoniades. “Inevitably you push yourself more when you’re running with other people.” Even better if you’re all training for a specific goal. “If you’re leading up to competing in a race, the mutual challenge will make all that training seem easier.”Thank God for the Gulf StreamCome January, when it’s blowing a gale outside and you’re tempted to skip your training run, spare a thought for runners who experience the real cold. Russian athlete Evgeniy Gorkov was the winner of the first Antarctic Ice Marathon, back in January 2006. He completed the snowy 26.2 miles in under 5hrs 10mins. “The most unpleasant environmental factor was the wind,” he remembers. “Bitter winds in Antarctica flow from the pole to the edge of the continent, with few obstacles in their way. The course was a giant figure of eight, so we alternated between running into the wind and then away from it. For the last 5K we had to run straight into a 40mph wind. Several times I turned my back and ran backwards.”Just as cold and harsh is the North Pole Marathon, where temperatures regularly dip to a teeth-gritting -30ºC. Winner of the 2006 event was Irishman Michael Collins who completed the course at the geographic North Pole in under four and a half hours, and had to deal with the constant threat of hungry polar bears. “The cold was so severe that instead of having the sweat evaporate, it turned to ice,” he recalls. “So when I finished, I had a literal sheet of armoured ice. That sense of cold remained with me for days after the race.” Suddenly, winters in Blighty don’t seem quite so bad.