Dark nights are upon us, dark mornings too! It’s easy to feel the motivation slipping away. We talked to Lucy Colquhoun, one of the country’s top ultra-distance runners and women’s record holder on the 95-mile West Highland Way race. Lucy is also the founder of Gutzi foods, savoury energy snacks for athletes.
You know the feeling. It’s half past six in the morning and the alarm that you set last night in a fit of enthusiasm is now buzzing annoyingly. Whose idea was this? It’s pitch black, for heaven’s sake. Not to mention bitterly cold. Maybe I’ll just wait until it’s light. Or I could run after work. Or tomorrow?
Sound familiar? It’s so much easier to find motivation in the summer months, with long evenings, (usually) sunny days and t-shirt weather. But as soon as the clocks go back and temperatures drop it can be all too easy to stay indoors and make excuses not to get out. Which is why setting yourself a mini winter challenge can be a great way to give yourself a proverbial kick up the backside.
Marcothon is an online challenge started by GB ultra runner Marco Consani when he was coming back from injury in 2009 and wanted to maintain some fitness. The idea is staggeringly simple and strangely addictive: simply run 25 minutes every day in December. That’s it. There are no prizes, no need to pay or sign up, just decide that you’ll commit. There is, though, a Facebook page and community, with people from across the world posting their photos of runs, and because it’s open to anyone there’s a great camaraderie and encouragement. Nothing like seeing other people’s run photos (some posted stupidly early in the morning) to make you get out and do your own run. What started as a personal challenge now attracts over 6000 runners from across the world. Two years ago I was at my brother’s house for Christmas Day and managed to coerce their entire family – including two reluctant teenage boys – to do Marcothon with me. I even made race numbers and goody bags as an added incentive.
Aside from an organised challenges there’s the sheer beauty of winter runs – sunlight on frosted leaves, dew-covered cobwebs, ice patterns on frozen ponds. And then there are night runs: these always feel like a mini adventure to me, especially if I’m the only one around and have the forest trails to myself (apart from the owls, who are very vocal). I love the solitude and feeling of freedom that comes with being out alone after dark, with a hint of the unknown and a childhood sense of the forbidden. I took my dogs for a night run up Glen Sax recently, at full moon: at the furthest point I stopped, turned off my head torch and took a few minutes to watch and listen. I saw the moon on the stream, eyes of curious sheep staring at me and the dark silhouetted skyline of hills ahead. To me, those moments of escape are invaluable and increasingly rare in a daily routine of noise and rush. Running has always provided that haven of space, and the darkness lends it an added edge.
Practically, having the right kit for cold weather makes it a lot easier too: as well as my head torch I’ve got a selection of woolly hats and gloves of varying thicknesses, plus a decent waterproof and long-sleeved layers. The truth is you often overdress and then spend time peeling off layers, but it’s a matter of practice to find what works for you. One thing worth remembering is that the minute you stop running, you’ll get cold very quickly, so it’s good on longer runs to carry spare layers and gloves in your rucksack. For icy, more technical runs a pair of pull-on studs is a must (don’t do what my friend did on a 40-mile run and just hammer some nails upside down into your shoes – it didn’t end well); for deeper snow running there are some good ‘microspikes’ which give traction.
But it needn’t be overcomplicated. Wear what you like, go where you want but the main thing is get out there – you know you’ll feel ten times better when you get back.