If you're looking for a way to keep your training consistent when the temperature drops, the rain starts to fall and the pavements ice up, there is a simple solution: move to Australia. If, however, that seems a little impractical, you can still maintain a high level of training throughout the winter months - without saying goodbye to speedwork, tempo runs, or long runs. You just need to be a little more flexible and creative with your running regime, keep safe and dress well.
It's unlikely that your club will hire a gritter lorry if its Tartan track succumbs to black ice, but speedwork doesn't necessarily mean a track session. You can take some of your favourite track sessions on to the road. In general, this means running for time instead of distance. Yes, this will only approximate the length of your repetitions, but you'll still strengthen your aerobic and anaerobic systems, not to mention your legs.
Before you embark on any of our winter sessions, though, there are a couple of things you need to bear in mind. You probably think your body doesn't function quite so effectively when it's chilly. You're right. "The human body is less able to cope with cold than it is with heat," says Dr Joanne Fallowfield, senior lecturer in exercise physiology at University College Chichester. "It affects your breathing, cardiovascular system, and energy metabolism, and you require more energy to run at the same speed," she explains.
The cold also reduces the speed and intensity of your muscle contractions. As a result, according to a study at Ball State University in the USA, you'll run slower because your muscles will work less efficiently (which also makes them more prone to injury). The two lessons to be learnt here? Don't expect to make the same big improvements in the winter that you can in the summer, and never skip your warm up.
Hard-core winter runners also have to become weather watchers and build flexibility into their training schedules. If a storm front looks to be rolling in on the weekend, do your long run on Friday. An unexpected break in the weather might mean scheduling that hard session today rather than the day after tomorrow. Any time you're running outdoors during these messy grey winter months, assume you're invisible to traffic. Dress like a Christmas tree, wearing as much reflective gear (and as many light-producing products) as possible.
Art of darkness
It isn't just the weather that makes winter running a chore. Whether you like a long run before breakfast or prefer to slip in a quick one after work the chances are you'll be doing it in the dark.
Obviously, when it's dark drivers find you harder to see, so you need to make more of an effort to show up on their radar. Perhaps surprisingly, wearing fluorescent clothing at night gives motorists no more than 100 feet in which to stop. Instead, opt for white kit as this increases the reaction distance to 300ft, but this still isn't enough. To give yourself the best chance of being seen as early as possible you should attach a light to yourself or wear good-quality reflective kit, which gives drivers at least 700ft in which to slow down. If you only wear one piece of reflective gear, make sure it's on the lower part of your body.
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