The clocks going back can feel like an ode farewell to those long, midsummer nights of feeling like you could run forever, and send us reaching for the long sleeves faster than you can say ‘pumpkin spiced’. The fact it happens every year offers little consolation. Some people will find it easier than others, whilst naturally many people exercise less during the winter months, perhaps when it’s even more important for our mental health. Less exposure to ambient daylight is thought to be responsible for low mood and depression in the winter months, whereas just 13-15 minutes of daylight can start to release feel-good endorphins. Whether you’re a competitive athlete or enjoy keeping fit a few times a week, the winter season shouldn’t stop you in your tracks: it can even give you an advantage and bring you into the spring season even stronger.
But like all good wisdom, it’s easier said than done. We often wait for motivation to do things, but it’s actually taking action that creates motivation, by creating momentum.
So, I wanted to share a few tips for helping you take action and keep moving through the winter gloom.
Break Down the Barriers
If opening the curtains to darkness beckons you to training like a duck to a frozen pond, then removing the number of potential obstacles will give you a fighting chance.
Rain always sounds worse against a window than it really is. The longer we sit and stare, the longer we have to talk ourselves out of it, especially after returning home to central heating after a weary day. Minimise the number of steps it takes. Leave your kit and nutrition ready to go. Set yourself a scheduled time for the session. Have the route planned the day before. I’ve been known to sleep in my running gear so in the morning I literally just have to get up and go. But don’t forget to warm up muscles and tendons as they’ll be more prone to injury after a nights rest.
They say sharing is caring, so why not share the miserable weather too? Bringing a friend along for those longer sessions or even the regular miles is a great way to create accountability and distraction. It’s much harder to change your mind if you’re letting someone else down, and they will spur you on too. Joining a club or attending local events is a great way to keep connected.
Embrace the Elements
Contradicting the above – things are only as miserable as we create them to be. It’s not about being *that* annoyingly optimistic person when everyone else is having a rubbish time, but finding the fun in numb fingers and wringing water out of your gloves. Training through challenging conditions – cursing into a relentless headwind or falling into a bog on mile 1 – is a sure way to build mental resilience and prepare you for the inevitable. Laughing out loud is a great antidote to frustration. When it comes to race day, the conditions will feel easy by comparison, or you’ll be unphased by anything that comes your way. When you’re questioning your choices, remember that life will throw up challenges we don’t get to choose. This power of choice is how we live to our fullest potential.
Change your Routine
Our routines and habits are generally formed for a purpose. But if a 9-5 work routine leaves you in the dark (quite literally), why not shake things up? If you spend all day looking at the window and finding acceptable reasons to skip the gym, then why not ‘eat the biggest frog’ first and get it done first thing? It’s a brilliant way to boost your energy and endorphins for the day ahead. Or try getting out during your lunch break if you can, splitting your planned exercise sessions in two.
There’s no shame in a bit of bribery to make the experience more enjoyable. Why not give yourself a little treat to look forward to when you get back? The little things can go a long way. Even just stopping your ride halfway for a coffee. Those pleasant thoughts can give you that little extra incentive for your efforts. Bring your favourite audiobook or podcast, whilst keeping road safety in mind too. You can even buy heated gloves nowadays (but perhaps don’t turn up to your local fell race wearing these).
Control the Controllables
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”… said someone who clearly never experienced horizontal rain in the Lake District. But like many things in life, we can’t control the weather, but we can control our response to it. That could mean staying indoors, but it could also mean making sure you have the right equipment for the job. Investing in a reliable waterproof, lighting, high-visibility clothing and warm layers can make training through winter a much more enjoyable experience. If you can stay warm, dry, safe, and fuelled, then there’s really no excuse not to train through the winter. Even if you have to switch for the turbo trainer, lower your mileage, or stick to the pool when the lakes freeze over, it’s about making the best of what we can.
Keep the End in Mind
Having a strong goal in mind can be hugely motivating at any time of year, but especially when the process is less enjoyable. Without a goal to aim for, skipping a session doesn’t seem to have any consequences, and instead a goal becomes the nagging voice on your arm that you probably should (and will feel better for doing so). Setting some short-term goals like a local race, joining Parkrun, or the fantastic ‘Run Every Day January’ can keep the enthusiasm ticking over. Buying a sports watch (or even using free apps like Strava) add a new dimension to your training, and there’s nothing more motivating than seeing the numbers of progress.
But let’s not forget that even elite athletes have an off-season. It’s also fine to have down periods where you take it easy and do what you feel like doing, if you feel happy about doing this, but if your well-being starts to suffer then sometimes we need a little nudge.
Hopefully these tips help provide a spark of action when you’re feeling the cold in your bones. Don’t let the darkness defeat you or send you into hibernation.
And some final Yorkshire sage from my grandma: “Don’t forget your big coat!”
What helps you keep moving through the winter? Please share your ideas in the comments below!