Marathon training in winter: how to survive.

Because, like many of you reading this, I am a little unhinged and have decided to run a marathon in the spring, I have also decided to run through the worst months of the year. There’s no getting round it: it’s dark, it’s cold and, more often than not, it’s wet. This will be the fourth winter I’ve trained for a marathon, and every year there have been runs where I’ve questioned whether or not it is actually worth it (mostly the runs where I am being battered by the English Channel and my friends are in the pub).

However, I’ve survived each winter, and live to train for another marathon. So here’s how to do it.

1) Wear the right clothes.

This does not mean wear ALL clothes. I generally go for 3 layers on top (a base layer, a lightweight long sleeved top and a jacket), long tights, good socks, gloves and a headband or buff.  My rule of thumb is that if the temperature goes above 10 degrees, then 3 layers is too many layers, and so I’ll leave the long sleeved top at home.  Gloves are a total must wear though: if it’s too warm you can always take them off, but chilly hands can absolutely ruin a run.


2) Be accountable

It’s really hard to get out the door in winter. Truly. Take today: it’s windy, the rain is coming down in sheets and there’s a lot of cake in the house. Writing down when you’re going to run, how far you’re going to run and then TELLING PEOPLE is the only way to make yourself do it sometimes. This is why things like Jantastic are so brilliant. I would also suggest writing every single run you’re going to do in your calendar or diary, and then keeping a training diary too. There’s nothing more guilt inducing than a)getting to the end of the day and staring at the run you never did b)having to write “skived off today’s training session” in the training diary…

3) Go early

This sounds nuts, but the earlier you run in the winter the easier it is.

Yes, it’s dark – but it’s getting lighter; yes, you’re tired – but you’ll be more tired later after much Christmas shopping and mince pie munching and yes, it’s raining – but it’ll still be raining later, and you can have a lovely warm shower when you get in and enjoy the rest of the day being dry.

It’s so easy to put off going in the morning and have that extra 30 minutes under the duvet, but it’s so easy to then skip the run, as life gets in the way. It’s also rubbish to watch the miserable weather outside get more and more miserable, knowing the whole time you’ve still got 5 miles to run that evening. Just get it over with.

4) Roll with the elements

I live in Brighton, and it is WINDY. Sometimes it is windy whichever direction you run in and comes at you from the sides and from the ground too, like that air vent thing that whipped Marilyn Monroe’s skirt up.  I often run in Brighton and wonder if I’ll end up in France, and if Bez will work out that that is what happened. But there’s no getting away from it, and I refuse to run 15 miles on a treadmill. So EMBRACE it. Make the run not about how fast you’re going, but the amount of time you’re running for. I work out how long that distance should take me, and then run as far as I can in that time, trying not to look at my garmin at all for pace, as I’ll know I’ll just be miserable about how slow I am going. Same goes for snow and icy, treacherous conditions.  There’s no point being an idiot and gunning it when you might fall over and break yourself. Just take it easy and enjoy the wintery scenery.


All that being said, I run a helluva lot faster in the rain.

5) Smile through it

It’s grim, it’s grizzly, it’s 6:30 am and your trainers are still damp from yesterday’s soggy run.  So what? You’re running, you’re fit and it’s only a tiny percentage of your day.

Think how great you’ll feel afterwards. You’ll be walking on sunshine for the rest of the day.

6) Treat yourself

Marathon training is a hard slog.  My training program, for instance, is 18 weeks long – that’s many, many weeks. I plan on reward myself every now and then, and you should too. The rewards can be as small or large as you see fit: maybe some new socks, new leggings, or even some Tom Daley cupcakes.Image

It’s really up to you to decide how deserving you are.

7) Keep your eyes on the prize

Training in winter is vile, but finishing the marathon is the best thing ever. Keep sight of what you’re running for, remember that it will totally be worth it in the end and crossing that finish line is the most incredible feeling. Although you’ll have really tough days when you’ll wish you never, ever started running or said you were going to run 26.2 miles in April, a lot of what’s a-OK about running in winter is the sense of achievement (and slight smug glow) after every run.

There’s a reason I’ve come back for more (and more and more).

So folks, Happy Christmas!



5 thoughts on “Marathon training in winter: how to survive.

  1. I did a run last January of about 16 miles that took me and my mate back along the undercliff from Rottingdean. It was like today and we ended up wading through knee high water on the concrete walkway and were utterly frozen by the time we were home again. Thing is though, that was my favourite run of the whole year!

  2. We were hit by several waves; it was great! It was after that run though that I invested in some toe socks to partner my Vibrams as two of my toes were actually blue when I got in.

  3. Great post Cathy – I’m actually really looking forward to getting stuck into training this winter, and am excited to see improvements as the months progress. I’m signed up for Jantastic too, so looking forward to that 🙂

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