11 Oct 2020

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5 tips for optimal training runs in winter

It’s getting colder and colder outside, the first snowflakes are starting to fall, and the streets are iced with frost. Of course, many of you might prefer to think about a roaring fire than embarking on long runs through picturesque winter landscapes. But this is just the time to conquer your inner couch potato and make sure that you don’t gain any unnecessary pounds over Christmas and the holiday season. One oft-cited excuse is the persistent rumour that it is better not to go jogging in the park once the temperature dips below zero, and that if you do, you should wrap up as warmly as possible.  Is there any truth in such received wisdom, or is it better to get out there? 

The fact is that going running is absolutely no problem in winter, and usually the weather outside is never as bad as it looks from indoors! Nonetheless, there are a few things to bear in mind if you don’t want to get completely demotivated after a single icy lap, as running expert Sonja von Opel explains. And this passionate runner knows her stuff: the Mainz native organises running camps and tours several times a year, and is out and about in all kinds of weather. What’s more, she advises over 100 athletes per season through her website and organises running groups and seminars for a number of corporate clients.  As if that weren't enough, the former Ironman finisher has also published five books on running. So she’s in a great position to dispense valuable tips for what to pay attention to when running in winter and how best to motivate yourself.

1) Motivation is the key!

On cold winter days, there is no greater obstacle to your training than your inner couch potato. To combat this, you should set yourself a personal goal at the very outset, to help you stay on track over the coming weeks and months, even in the freezing cold. It doesn’t matter whether you set yourself a target of a minimum number of training units or kilometres to cover per week, or if you sign up for an existing running event at this stage – perhaps the New Year’s Eve Run or a half-marathon taking place in spring.

2) The early bird catches the worm

This little saying could well apply to runners, too: if you find that the darkness, coupled with the cold, gets you down, then your best bet is to train during daylight hours. You might not get much of an opportunity if you’re at work for most of the week, but have you considered going for a run during your lunch break? As long as your workplace has adequate facilities for showering or freshening up and there’s a suitable running route in the vicinity, it shouldn’t be too difficult. An extra dose of light and oxygen will put a spring in your step and lift your mood.

3) It’s all about the right packaging!

The most common excuse for shirking training is probably the cold weather. But if you're smart about your clothing, you won’t have the slightest problem. Hat, scarf and gloves are particularly important, as the body loses the most heat from the head, neck and hands.  If, just before you set off, you feel as though you might be a little too lightly dressed, you’ve actually got it just right. An overly warm running outfit can, in fact, prove to be the very opposite just minutes later, as it will intensify the feeling of cold once you start really sweating. As such, it’s best to wear breathable and functional multi-layer clothing, following the ‘onion principle’ of several thin layers on top of one another, which you can peel off along the way if required.

4) Take a deep breath and off you go!

Once it gets down to minus 15 degrees, it’s definitely too cold for your bronchial tubes to cope with running at speed, but our bodies generally handle breathing very well in cold weather.  Wearing a cloth or scarf around your face can help if it’s too brisk outside.  If you don’t have any time during the day and have to run mostly in the dark, you should make sure that you're wearing bright, clearly visible, reflective or fluorescent clothing whenever possible.  A headlamp or flashing LED lamp can provide additional visibility, as you may be easy to overlook by other road users on routes in the city.

5) A perfect training plan is half the battle!

Ideally, you should always have a mix of FAST, RELAXED and SWIFT, and LONG and SLOW.  Going for a run three times a week will allow you to cover all of these bases. No matter what, being out in the open air will do you a world of good, whether it’s snowing or raining.  To make your training a bit easier and help you to set your own goals, Sonja von Opel suggests the following standard training week:


1. Fartlek unit:

10 minutes slow running to warm up

10 x 1 minute fast interspersed with 1 minute each of jogging or walking (increase the minute of fast running by 15 seconds each week)

10 minutes slow running to warm down


2. Tempo endurance run

10 minutes slow running to warm up

10 minutes swift endurance run (increase by 5 minutes each week)

10 minutes slow running to warm down


3. Long run unit:

60 to 180 minutes slow endurance run (increase the time by a maximum of 10% each week)

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