How to Survive the Winter Running Season

By Talyn Williams

Winter is a spectacular time for getting outdoors. It brings its own magical twists to any activity and inspires new experiences and challenges. Running is no exception!

Over the years we’ve tinkered with our winter running kit, adapted our training regimes and powered on through wind, rain, snow and ice.

Here’s everything we’ve learnt, and all our advice for running through winter, so you can stay warm, stay dry, and experience the pure joy of winter running.

What to Wear for Winter Running

Start with a base layer and work your way out, getting your layers right is key and they all need to work together to keep you warm and dry from changeable winter conditions as well as perspiration. Our go-to winter base layers are Merino wool.

The right way to layer clothing for winter running is to make sure the fabrics and garments you choose are high wicking and breathable. This ensures any build up of moisture can dry off quicker. During the winter months, being wet is a sure-fire way to get cold (really cold), so make sure your midlayer is just as high wicking as the base layer.

Getting clothing right in winter can be tricky, the weather in the UK can be notoriously unpredictable and you could end up with days that are wet and cold, wet and warm, wet, cold and dry, cold and windy, and everything in between. Much of the correct layering system is down to the wearer, the route/workout and the weather of course, but there’s no sense in wearing a bin bag over your high performance base and midlayers. A windproof or waterproof jacket with high MVTR (a.k.a breathability) will prevent you from overheating whilst keeping the excessive chills at bay.

If you’re going to be working harder, you’ll inevitably be warmer, but longer runs where you’re keeping fuel in the tank could leave you a little more vulnerable to feeling the cold, so you’ll want to pack extra layers (and food) just in case.

For shorter, harder runs (and warm blooded folk), we suggest to be bold and start cold! If you’ve got protection from the rain and/or wind, you’ll warm up really quick when your running

However, if you suffer in the cold and you’re heading out for longer runs, make sure to layer up and bring spares just in case the weather turns (always check the forecast).

Alpkiteer and Lake District local, Ian Palmer, is no stranger to running across snow covered fells. Here’s how Ian layers up…

Winter Running Kit List

Our recommended kit list for surviving anything the winter running season has to throw at you

At the end of the day, getting your winter running clothes right comes down to common sense, but if you’re ever in any doubt about what you should be wearing, following the FRA minimum kit regs is an easy ticklist for sensible running kit.

silhouettes of three people running at sunset

How to Stay Motivated to Run Through Winter

Find friends to spur you on, join a Strava community, set yourself goals, warm up indoors and remember, when the sun comes out in winter, it’s ok to stop and drink it in.

Sometimes the mental struggle to get out during winter can be tougher than the physical one. As the temperature drops outside we turn up the thermostat at home, and darker nights feel less inviting than the longer and warmer summer evenings. So how do we overcome all the seasonal changes and power through the cold?

Training: Big or Small, Set Yourself a Goal

What do you want to do with your running once the winter is over? Are you just trying to maintain some cardio or do you have bigger plans in mind? Make a training plan and stick to it, ticking off sessions as you go can be greatly satisfying.

Whether you’re new to running or looking for the next big challenge, having a goal to work towards can make a big difference when finding the motivation to run through winter. It could be breaking a personal best round your local 5/10/15k circuit, or making it up that tough climb you always seem to struggle with.

Remember to keep goals fun too, explore new routes, mess around, and don’t take every run super-seriously.

It’s also a great idea to set short and long term goals. You’ll get a confidence boost every time you achieve a smaller target, helping you to push towards that ‘holy grail’ you’re aiming for.

If you like a bit more pressure, why not sign up to an event? Signing up for a big event like the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon can be great as a target to aim for.

Finally, make sure your goals are specific and realistic, and that you’re reviewing your progress regularly. If you set your sights too high, you set yourself up to fail, which isn’t great for staying motivated to run when it’s blowing a hooley outside.

Start small, reach easy targets to boost your confidence, review your progress and set a higher goal that’s within reach. This process will keep you not just ticking over through the winter, but steadily improving until the weather does.

A woman in a yellow jacket running on a gravel path with hills in the background

How to Keep Warm when Running in Winter

To stay warm when winter running it’s more than just packing on the layers. Make sure you stay dry, hydrated and consume enough food to keep you going.

You lose a lot of heat from your head, and numb fingers will soon have you questioning why you left the comfort of your warm house. It’s amazing how much of a difference a hat and gloves can make, plus they’re easily packable once you’ve warmed up.

Staying fuelled is just as important. If you’re out for a long run without any snacks, you can quickly get yourself into trouble. Your body burns through calories to keep you going, if it runs out your core body temperature can drop, and once that goes it’s harder to keep everything else warm.

The snack often depends on the run. For short runs you might not need to take anything, but a banana back at the car would help for the journey home.

For longer runs you need more calories, rice cakes, savoury bits like nuts, or Alpkit resident runner Dave is even known to take pizza out on the fells with him. Snacks like this help to avoid sugar rushes and will burn for longer.

We always recommend carrying emergency food too, just in case. If you find your snacks aren’t quite enough, you can always dip into the extra stash. For really cold days, a thermos full of hot squash can be the pick-me-up you need after a tough uphill slog.

Finally, have a tasty dinner prepped. You'll need to up your energy levels and just the thought of your favourite meal waiting for you at home might just be the extra push you need to power through the last few miles or set a new PB.

So there you have it, we all agree that winter is the time to get out running... well until those warm balmy summer evenings are back anyway

For more information and ways of getting involved in races and events then be sure to check out the Fell Running Association and Trail Running Association websites.

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