Friday, 25 January 2013

Cool Runnings

At this time of year the weather is notoriously cold, bleak, damp, and wet (and any other negative weather adjectives you care to think of), and the glorious days of spring seem like a lifetime away.  In the winter months, those of us that have been bitten by the running bug are faced with two options; we can risk the further onset of middle-aged spread by staying indoors; or we can carry on regardless and brave the elements.

I am firmly of the opinion that running in the rain is actually rather enjoyable; for one, there is no greater feeling than coming back from a shiversome run and feeling the familiar warmth of the central heating soothe your chilly extremities.

Secondly, your body has to work much harder when you are exercising in the cold, as it is also expending additional energy (calories) trying to keep you warm.  Cold weather is known to activate your brown fat stores, which helps you to burn more calories from your regular fat stores.  Stimulating as little as 85g of brown fat by exercising in the cold can burn an additional 500 calories a day, which basically equates to an additional ‘hearty’ winter meal per day.

Thirdly, exercising in the cold and rain affords you a certain level of smugness, which comes from the looks of astonishment and respect that you will get from motorists, commuters, and pedestrians when they see you pounding the pavements in freezing temperatures.  I can safely say that you wouldn’t receive the same respect if you were sat at home in your pyjamas watching The Simpsons.

Fourth, as we all know, the feel-good chemicals in our brain dip dramatically due to the short days and long nights; exercising outdoors can counteract this, as it increases the levels of serotonin in your brain.  Running has also been clinically proven to be four times more effective at reducing the symptoms of depression when compared to anti-depressants.

Fifth, running in wintry conditions means that your body is actually being trained to use oxygen more efficiently.

Finally, believe it or not, exercising outdoors is also one of the most effective defences against the dreaded colds & flus that are so prevalent at this time of year; this is due to fact that frequent cold-weather exercise will boost your immune-system.  But be warned, this isn’t true if you hit the pavements in a skimpy vest and pair of shorts; you need to ensure that you are adequately protected from the elements by layering up, which will help to keep your muscles warm.

The secret to layering is to invest in running clothes that have zips and vents, which will keep your muscles warm but will also stop you from overheating.  When the weather is particularly arctic, I prefer to wear my Jack Wolfskin Serpentine Waterproof Jacket while I am running; it has both a fleece inner, and a weatherproof outer, which can be removed easily once I am in my running stride.  In my opinion, it is probably worth investing in some base layers for your winter running exploits, which are made from innovative fabrics that draw moisture away from your skin and help to keep you warm. I find that Cotswold Outdoor has a good selection of base layers for both men and women.

In the meantime, I am going to crank up my central heating to full power, in anticipation of my return from my 7 mile run in the snow, sleet, slush, wind, cold and rain this evening!

GUEST POST: Craig Bradshaw. Marathon Runner, Blackpool.

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