Coming in from my run outside yesterday, I promised myself that that would be the last outdoor run of the season; my ears were tingling, my toes were numb and I found myself gasping to let in another mouthful of air. Considering I opted in for a “light” run which meant 4-5 km through residential uptown and then into the trails before circling round, I was shocked at how weak I felt as I walked through the front door! It felt more like my first run back after a tropical holiday than a jog that followed shortly in the footsteps of my first time ever winning a race (I was the first female to cross the finish line of the 5 Km “Santa Shuffle” at the beginning of December) and runs of 10 km + during my visit to Vancouver just weeks before (read more about discovering Vancouver, step by step here).
Yet here I was – three weeks later, doubled over wondering why the hell anyone would ever run outside during winter in Canada? And then (after convincing from many a friend that winter is, in fact, the best season to run outdoors) it hit me. It’s not the weather that is the problem with running in the wintertime; it’s me. I have been guilty of the three cardinal sins of winter running: indulgence, sloth and stupidity… read on.
The sweet life: a serious hazard to your health
Welcome to the ho ho ho-ly unhealthy holidays batman. Holiday season is officially upon us and I don’t know about you guys but I’ve been stuffing my face with cookies, chocolate and the goodness of office potlucks. My days essentially start with a chocolate courtesy of my two advent calendars (one was a gift) and end with a glass of port, curled up on the couch watching my favourite holiday movie. Needless to say, I’m quickly turning into one mother of a *sweet* couch potato. The worst part of this over indulgence is that even when I embark on a run to balance things out, I still feel full because I’ve overeaten… again!
Since you tend not to see the weight gain until the week after you’ve over indulged, there’s a very suspicious feeling of being invincible around this very merry time of year! Of course by week two or so, you realize you should probably switch over to stretchy pants so you can stomach a turkey during the last hurrah – I blame North America for the ridiculous lead up to Christmas which means non-stop food and drink for a month straight (the fact that my birthday falls mid-month doesn’t help my cause). The point of this tangent is to highlight the temptation as well as the fact that no matter how tantalizing those sweets may be, it is possible get the best of both worlds.
My disappointing performance on the aforementioned run – and the lack of energy I experience throughout – made me realize that one of the biggest problems during holiday time, is that I’m actually not fueling my body with enough energy to pull me through when I decide to do something active! And that just doesn’t make any sense at all.
The solution? Here’s what I’ve got:
- Plan healthy meals and cook them ahead of time too: This is a busy time of year! It can be tough to make full meals when you’re eating out half the time. The thing is, if you have healthy meals or snacks readily available for consumption, you’ll be much more likely to grab that from the fridge and less likely to reach for another handful of chocolate covered almonds or pralines. I tried this with tofu salad yesterday, and it works. Even if you just graze, take a bite of something that will fuel your body and leave the chocolate as a side dish with your next cup of tea.
- Don’t stop buying groceries during the holiday season: When you have dinners coming up, whether you’re hosting, going or eating out, it’s hard to remember to buy the staples! Don’t let your habits slip just because you’re low on inventory when it comes to healthy foods. Do at least one grocery shop a week during holiday times to refill on the necessities – and no, Christmas cake is not a necessity (hell, it’s not even tasty!).
- Get a daily dose of fruit and veg: If you’re struggling to find the time (or energy) to cook whole meals, make yourself a promise to get at least one serving of fruit and veg a day! Whether it’s in the form of a smoothie on the run or a banana sitting in – make yourself gnaw on at least two things a day that will provide you with more than your yearly allowance of sugar and fats. It’s winter! You need vitamins to build up a strong immunity against flu season, plus, if you do plan on exercising at all, you’re going feel pretty low if you’re energy supply is running on empty.
Winter weather! When motivation is a no-go
Your alarm goes off; it’s dark outside. You step out of the office; it’s dark outside. How many times have I brought my gym clothes to the office with the intention of working out after work… and then headed straight home instead? More than I’d like to admit. Winter weather is a huge downer for anyone who likes working out – and especially running outside. While I always struggle to find my routine at the beginning of the season, I’ve found two solutions for this problem: fight it or face it- but don’t just walk away.
1) Fight it! Take up a gym class: Winter is the perfect time to explore alternatives to running outdoors. If you’re not a member of a gym, now is the time to join one – or, if you’re not a ‘gym person’ (I’ve heard tale of these strange creatures), find a facility that offers individual classes where you can pay as you go. Have you ever tried yoga? Kick-boxing? Pilates? What are you waiting for? These classes are tons of fun, a great workout and best of all, they take place inside.
2) Face it! If you’re someone who has to run outside, then find a way to love doing it during the winter months. My trick during this time (which carries over during the rest of the year) is to workout in the morning. I’m much more likely to get up and hit the gym, or the pavement, when I’m not feeling worn out from a full day of work only to face a wall of darkness as I leave my home or the office. Knowing that you’ve done something good for yourself at the start of your day is great for your mental health and that way you’ll feel a little… less… guilty when it comes to enjoying those holiday favourites.
(You can read more about how to get out of a winter rut here!)
Keep it simple – and dress appropriately – stupid!
My biggest mistake when it comes to winter running is dressing appropriately for the weather. While leggings and a long sleeve shirt seem like enough, it’s important to take into consideration elements like… oh, I don’t know… wind perhaps? Don’t under-dress and don’t be afraid to turn back for an extra layer or a pair of gloves if you think you have; layer up with items you can remove if you start to overheat and check the weather before heading out the door.
If you’re heading out for a winter run, consider wearing the following to protect you against the cold:
- Gloves: I’ve run in a short-sleeve top with gloves on more than once. When it’s hovering around 0 degrees, trust me, your fingers will be the first thing to go. You can always take gloves off if you start to overheat but if your fingers start to freeze (especially if your running gear isn’t equipped with pockets) it can lead to big trouble.
- Headband or Ear-muffs: The next thing to go will be the tip of your ears. I’m not a hat person and I know a lot of women who feel the same. Wear a headband instead; you won’t overheat – I promise – and your ears will be protected. It’s a great compromise for runners of all levels and in every climate.
- Neck warmer: Caution! These guys heat up fast! If, however, it’s windy outside, you may want to wear a neck warmer that you can pull up over your mouth and nose. Breathing in cold air can be painful and interrupt the flow of your run – warming it up by placing a cloth barrier in between is a great way to catch your breath and warm things up.
- Windbreaker: A windbreaker is great for any climate. It will help you cut through an icy chill but won’t make you overheat.
- Breathable tops and bottoms: Make sure that whatever is touching your skin allows you to breathe. You want to sweat but you don’t want to drown in it! Layer up with a long-sleeve breathable top from Under Armour or the like and add-on a t-shirt or a light sweater to round things out. Top it off with a windbreaker over top a pair of breathable leggings and you’re ready to roll! Note: If you have bad circulation, your butt might get cold, consider putting shorts on top of your leggings for added comfort, its helps.