Training through the Winter Blues

Winter looms. The nights draw in, clocks go back, temperatures drop, and gale-force winds blow your bins down the street. We’ve swapped the beer gardens for the lounge, the fake tan for the woolly jumpers, and the flappy shorts for the running tights.

This is our descent into the Winter Blues.

This time of year is represented by training in the cold dark before and/or after work. Muddy trail runs, paths masquerading as streams (or were they always just dried up streams!?), and wearing more layers than an Eskimo. We hate winter for this. And whilst our modern world fades nature into the background, it cannot be replaced. The absence of natural light can and will have an impact on our cognitive and emotional function, and thus physiological function.

Accepting the Discomfort

Despite all of this, we revel in and are normally brilliant through winter. As Ultrarunners we are used to absorbing the pain, internalising the discomfort and we get great satisfaction from overcoming all that Mother Nature throws our way – we don’t just get on with it; we love it!

Preparing for the worst, and putting event kit through its paces

And we reap the physical benefits too…sure we move slower (which is to be expected), and our long runs take on more of an expedition feel but we are building mental and physical strength and resilience.

And our attitude shifts. Less daylight, means less time, and therefore less freedom. Less freedom means less thinking and less procrastination! Fewer opportunities to drag our heels getting out the door, the compressed days of winter in a weird way make us more efficient. Perhaps it is a shift in expectation, you just expect the reality of training to be a bit rubbish. You know you are being faced with the worst context, but the alternative to this reality is to face the emotional and physiological ramifications of avoiding this discomfort…losing the fitness you fought to build.

The darker and colder environment we are heading towards leaves us the same two options we’ve always had: train or don’t.

When we think about this, we do still want to train, we are avoiding the comfort of a warm and light setting.

What may go far, is the thought that training is never an act of comfort. We are all performers because of our perverse attraction to being in discomfort. Darkness and coldness merely add an extra dimension to that discomfort.

Building Resilience

Perhaps it can be used to your advantage. The extra exposure to low level, short-term stress has been found to increase our resilience to chronic stress. And it’s also a great time to stress test your bad weather kit!

Winter Beauty

And don’t forget, there’s a huge amount of beauty (and a large dash of humour) to be found in winter running…whether it’s cutting fresh tracks in the snow, sunset/sunrise, a barn owl surfing in your head torch beam, an urban fox trashing the bins, or the total peace of a deserted hilltop there’s plenty to stop and absorb on your winter runs.

Of course, there are still adaptations to be made in order to move through and manage the change in seasons well.

Safety First

Safety considerations always come first. We don’t want to dive into personal safety here but we know that winter can be a great time to catch up with old running friends or join a group which can be safer in all ways (and the peer pressure always helps getting out the door on those really miserable days)

Plan ahead

You also have to plan more carefully, not only in time-management, but also kit. The kit you need for a busy well lit urban loop is drastically different from an off-road night run. And don’t forget that even on a relatively well populated area if you are forced to stop the cold will bite quickly – do you have enough kit to stay warm; what if you have to wait 60 minutes or longer for an ambulance? See here for a thought provoking blog. (Not one of ours)

To summarise, in winter:

  1. Emphasis shifts to training being the task and the psychological and physiological results the reward.

  2. Our expectation shifts and we have the decision to train or to not train (but have to accept the consequences of that decision).

  3. In training, we add another layer of exposure and thus stimulus to adapt to. Embrace it.

  4. We need to adapt, and plan more carefully.

So, shift your expectation of what’s to come. Embrace the discomfort. Plan sensible alternatives. And then just get on with it! But stay safe.

More like this:

Lessons from the clock change challenge

Training for Trails…when you don’t have trails

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