Why winter is no excuse to stop running

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Many runners tend to hibernate in winter. World-renowned ultra-marathon man Dean Karnazes explains how to keep going during the colder months

Completing a marathon is an impressive achievement for anyone. The 26.2-mile race stands as the ultimate test of both physical and mental strength. Now imagine completing 50 of them in as many days. That’s exactly what ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes did in 2006 when he embarked on his well-publicised Endurance 50 run in the US.

The 52-year-old extreme athlete is considered a hero in the running world, not only because of his ability to run distances that most of us would tire of if we were driving, but also because he has done so under some of the most extreme conditions imaginable.

His achievements include a 135-mile race across Death Valley, the treacherous desert area that is the lowest, driest and hottest part of North America. He also completed a 350-mile continuous run, with no sleep for three days. On top of that, Karnazes managed a marathon to the South Pole in sub-zero temperatures. So when it comes to tips on how to run in colder weather, he is definitely the man to ask.

“Think of training in the winter as simply maintaining your base fitness, so that when the spring thaw rolls around you’re not entirely out of shape,” he says. “Athletes typically like to train in cycles and consider winter a time to cycle down, but not to stop entirely. This lightened load will allow you to fully recover and be ready to go come the warmer weather.”

One of the main reasons runners tend to adopt a more relaxed attitude to their exercise regime once winter strikes is because of the added discomfort involved. As temperatures rapidly drop, it’s much more tempting to scuttle back under the duvet on a crisp Sunday morning rather than brave the elements. But pull those sheets wide open, because cardiovascular exercising in nippy conditions has many health benefits.

Another bonus is that colder temperatures prompt our bodies to produce more brown fat, a type of body fat that creates heat and so boosts our metabolism, helping to burn more calories.

Plus, running outdoors is much less monotonous than pounding away on a treadmill for an hour or so. You can arrange to go along scenic routes so you squeeze in some sightseeing along the way, and incorporate interval training by sprinting up and down steps or hills.

But it is important to take the necessary precautions to ensure you don’t hinder your health or get injured.

“Widen your stance if you are likely to encounter ice,” says Karnazes. “Having your feet spread farther apart helps create a broader base and prevents slippage. It’s also helpful to use a headlamp or a hand-held torch if you are running at night.

“Be sure to keep your lips lubricated as well because cold air is drier than warm air.”

Planning ahead in terms of your route is important, too, so you know the conditions you are likely to encounter and more importantly, can take measures to prevent getting lost, especially on a long run.

“When you slow your pace or stop altogether, it’s easy to become cold very quickly and potentially develop hypothermia,” says Karnazes. “So make sure you have a well-established stopping point where you can get out of the elements when you need to.”

Wearing suitable clothing and footwear is essential, too. Layering is a necessity because each pocket of air between the fabrics helps to insulate the body.

“There’s no such thing as bad weather – only the wrong kit,” says a spokesman for Nike Running. “It is important to layer up to stay warm but with the right type of clothing, so it doesn’t weigh you down. A good base layer with weather protection and reflectivity is important to keep you dry and visible, especially in the evenings.

“Footwear needs to have good grip and firmer foam for increased stability, along with ultra-responsive, high-speed cushioning so you can go faster for longer in comfort, too.”

Another good tip is making sure you warm up properly before heading outside, something father-of-two Karnazes swears by.

“If you leave the house cold, it may be difficult to ever warm up,” he says. “Try to do some light stretches or running in place inside before venturing out in the cold, and strengthen your calves by doing some calf raises on a step for a few minutes beforehand.”

But if you’re all kitted up and good to go, yet still find yourself making excuses instead of slipping on your trainers, Karnazes offers this final bit of wisdom: “My advice to other runners is always, ‘Listen to everyone; follow no one.’

“Personally, when it’s cold outside I prefer running at noontime, but you must find what works best for you. One thing I’ve found helpful is setting a goal time, say 45 minutes or an hour. Then make a commitment to do the best that you can until you reach it, which can be very empowering and motivating.”

And whenever he doubts his ability to complete a route, this superhuman runner simply remembers what a race director once told him: “You’re better than you think you are and you can go farther than you think you can.”

Probably worth remembering if you plan to run to the South Pole one day.

Running kit:

Running experts agree that wearing the right kit can make all the difference between a pleasurable or painful winter run. So here’s a guide to some of the best gear on the market.

Jackets/tops

Animagi jacket £110, thenorthface.co.uk

One of The North Face’s best sellers, this popular lightweight jacket has made a comeback this year and is ideal for the runner who wants core insulation with breathable fabric. It has several pockets to store essentials.

One Series Long Sleeve 1.4 Zip Top $44.28, reebok.co.uk

A performance-primed top with PlayIce technology to keep skin cool and dry, it also has zoned laser perforations for extra breathability.

Tights

Flow Trail 2.0 tights $85, thenorthface.co.uk

Windproof, performance fitted and fleece lined for extra warmth. These ultra-comfortable tights are suitable for all types of terrain.

Flash running tights $90, nike.com

The Dri-Fit jersey fabric helps keep you dry by wicking sweat away to the fabric’s surface. Like the matching jacket, these tights have a reflective screen print so you remain visible in low light.

Shoes

Gel-Noosa Tri 9 $105, asics.co.uk

The ideal footwear if you want to do some winter cycling as well. Designed with an open mesh upper for breathability, this shoe also has a seamless front so feels like a glove on the foot. DuoMax technology in the midsole provides extra stability.

Adidas Supernova Glide Boost $105, adidas.co.uk

Adidas has updated the technical features of its Supernova range so the shoes now have a sleeker silhouette designed to appeal to women. The shoes can be worn in any weather conditions and suit runners at all levels.

Adidas Energy Boost 2.0 ESM shoes $120, adidas.co.uk

The inbuilt technology in these trainers is designed to return energy to the foot with every step, while the seamless upper provides natural, flexible support.

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source: Telegraph by Nilufer Atik

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