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5k Training – Some tips for the colder months ahead
As a beginner runner, you might have certain goals linked to speed, distance or fitness levels. Yet the most important considerations for winter training are to stay warm, have fun & be injury-free. You can be sure that your eagerness and your ability to train will help you more than any single running workout.
If you’re cold & wet…it’s miserable and Netflix will always seem more appealing than inclement weather.
If you’re injured…you can’t train and improve.
Raynaud’s Syndrome: I have problems getting blood to my extremities and my fingers and toes can turn white and get very cold. There’s no cure as such and the doctor helpfully tells me to stay warm. My syndrome is a blessing in disguise as it forces me to carefully consider all the clothes I wear for running and the weather conditions or face the consequences of being extremely uncomfortable by the time I get back home.
Tip 1: Leave the house in a warm and dry state with the right gear to keep you that way. For longer, slower runs I tend not to overheat or sweat too much so I can wear looser clothing or multiple layers to keep me warm and wick away any sweat. On shorter, faster runs of up to an hour, I’m going to sweat and can’t wear too many layers but have to consider the rapid cooling effect as the sweat evaporates.
My main issue when running is the cooling of my fingers and after several years, my staying warm strategy boils down to a combination of wearing two pairs of gloves and arm warmers, the latter keeps the blood warm as it goes into my hands. I would wear a thin pair of cycling gloves under larger SealSkinz gloves and I would wear my cycling arm warmers underneath a breathable, technical long-sleeved running top, perhaps also a hat and an extra technical-tee shirt if it’s especially cold.
Tip 2: Use a weather app to avoid wind, cold and rain. My life permits flexibility and I’m lucky that I can avoid the worst conditions that most days can throw at me. Perhaps that’s difficult for you during the week but for the weekends, do consider computer weather widgets, a widget on your smartphone or some form of weather complication on your smartwatch to keep you updated on the imminent weather conditions. In the UK I find that 24-hour forecasts are not reliable but 2 to 3 hours ahead tend to be much better.
Tip 3: Follow a 5K running plan. The best, free couch-to-5k plan is from NHS England. There are also great free plans from Garmin & Polar if you have one of their watches. Owners of the more expensive Garmin watches also can benefit from less structured training by simply following the Daily Suggested Workouts. Then look carefully at the effort levels that the plan specifies and stick to them, most beginners will run too quickly on their slower running days which makes it harder to run faster the next day and which can accumulate too much overall stress too quickly.
Avoiding injury is key for any level of athlete. If you’re starting out on your fitness journey then you will find that running too hard or too far too soon WILL eventually injure you. Yet both running harder and running further should be in your goals at some point. So, how best to handle that dilemma?
Tip 4: Build strength & resilience. Muscles make you faster and muscles burn pretty much all the calories in your body. You need more muscles to achieve your speed or weight loss goals, so you NEED to do some form of strength exercise at least once a week. As a minimum work on your calves, quads (thighs) and core for quick wins. Guess what? When you’re stronger you will get injured less and, handily, on those cold & wet days, you can simply stay indoors and complete your strength training knowing that it’s helping you improve.
Tip 5: Warmup. As a minimum, I thoroughly stretch my calves and lightly check my mobility in my ankles, knees and hips with various stretches and gyrations…a sight to behold! If you are going for a long run then you don’t need to warm up your muscles anywhere near as much as for shorter, harder interval sessions. For a long run, maybe just jogging slowly at the start is enough but for maximal one-minute reps you really need to do a thorough 15-minute warmup at the start of your run, perhaps also incorporating some drills. Why not do parts of that warmup in your home before leaving? Similarly, for your strength training make sure you start off with some lighter weights even if it is to check that niggle from last week has gone away.
Running injuries come from many sources yet good technique, strength, flexibility and keeping to a sensible level of training will work wonders on injury avoidance.
Tip 6: Injury prevention kit. Quite some time ago I changed how I ran from heel striking to forefoot striking, ending up mid-foot/flat-foot striking. Heel striking seemed to cause knee problems, forefoot striking seemed to cure the knee problems but created serious calf and Achilles problems. And the latter has been the bane of my running existence for over 5 years. Warming up & the right shoes definitely help and I find that compression calf guards and/or compression running tights might help too. However, as 2021 draws to a close, I have remained free of calf injuries for a year and I attribute that achievement to 1) being more sensible about high-intensity workouts and 2) using Powerdot, which is an app-controlled physio tens machine kinda thing. It’s expensive but it has entirely eliminated my expensive physio bills to compensate.
Tip 7: Don’t ignore an injury and be vigilant about new pains and niggles when you run. New injuries or injuries that you can quickly recover from mean more time is available for training.
Tip 8: Run with others. Be safe. Have fun. If you have no others to run with then consider phone apps or fitness watches that have some form of INCIDENT DETECTION. Also, consider that listening to audio when running sadly increases the chances of bad stuff happening.
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