It is that time of the year again – the clocks have now gone backwards, the days are longer and sunnier, the temperatures are kinder to us. Those runners who have been hibernating throughout winter are starting to get their mojo back and hit the trails again. Those of us who have been running through winter diligently are getting filled with renewed energy.
This is my favourite season to run in – I just love the rich flower extravaganza, seeing the yellow daffodils and purple bluebells sticking their heads up everywhere; waking up to a choir of songbirds before my alarm clock goes off, and still having some daylight at 8pm. These things give me so much more energy!
As the spring racing season is now in full swing in England and as I am just gearing up for a couple of more challenges, I felt this was a great opportunity to write about running in Spring – how to get the best out of your runs, and how to plan your next set of goals whilst staying safe. The inspiration came as I headed out for an early morning walk to the beautiful Hughenden Manor before work
Even for seasoned runners like myself, Spring presents a number of challenges:
- Even though winter is now history, the weather remains capricious and there can be quite big hikes in the temperature during the day. As the saying goes, you can easily see weather of all four seasons in one weekend at this part of the world, so choosing what to wear for your usual run may take a bit more forward planning.
- March and April tend to be quite showery, and as a result, thick and sticky mud builds up on the footpaths and trails, adding an extra challenge to walking, not to mention running on these surfaces. Staying safe and injury free becomes increasingly important.
- Shoes and socks can get damp quite easily in the muddy paddles, therefore your gear will need a bit more TLC than usual.
- As the temperatures are getting warmer and you end up sweating more as a result, you need to factor in getting your hydration strategy right.
- As the trees and flowers are starting to blossom, unfortunately this also signals the beginning of the allergy season for those with pollen sensitivities, so perhaps it is time to stock up on some antihistamine.
- Apart from Autumn, Spring is the biggest racing season in the UK, so you need to give careful consideration to planning the right race mix and choosing the best training plan for your abilities. A common mistake even seasoned runners tend to make is getting overly zealous about racing after a quieter winter period, and then ending up feeling burnt out and losing out on PBs.
So here are my top fool-proof tips to help you run through Spring feeling happy, healthy and safe, and staying one step ahead of the pack:
- Use a layering technique when you dress for your runs so that you can get rid of the extra layer if you get too warm. It is always better to have too much than too few clothes on which could easily result in hypothermia – it is easy to misjudge the temperatures at this time of the year, especially when the sun is peaking out of the clouds. To brave the elements on colder days, I usually start wearing a very light waterproof or windstopper jacket with a tank top underneath. You can always tie these around your waist during the run if it gets too much. And I do encourage you to take the extra layers off as believe me you would not want to end up shivering in the wind in your cold sweat. At this time of the year I dig out my ¾ length pants which will keep my legs warm but don’t get dirty as the mud and water splashes up. They are brilliant!
Effort, not time
- It goes without saying that you need to watch very carefully where you are going whilst you are running on the muddy trails and paths. These slippery surfaces are likely to slow you down so it is more sensible to focus on effort rather than a time goal when you go cross-country.
Get your strong on
- As the movements of running draw on the strength and stability of your glutes, obliques, and ab muscles that lie deep beneath your six-packs, it is very important to strengthen these areas to help you stay stable and supported on tricky surfaces and when the going gets really tough. Your core is actually like a power plant – if it’s not strong, your running mechanics can decay and set you up for injury in different areas of your body. I have found the following exercises to be the best ones to help you carve a very strong core for running (look them up on Youtube or you are quite likely to come across these exercises in a Pilates or a Les Mills Body balance Class):
Plank (TVA, erector spinae)
Side Plank (Obliques, TVA, erector spinae, glutes, hips)
Supermans (TVA, erector spinae)
Glute Bridge (glutes, hams)
Pilates 100 (TVA)
Rollouts on stabilty ball or using a barbell (rectus abdominis)
- I tend to get a bit wheezy and asthmatic when the pollens fill the air, so I take two puffs from my blue inhaler to prevent any discomfort in breathing, just before I head out for my run. If I am particularly worried, I carry my inhaler in my pocket. This just gives me peace of mind and allows me to focus on my running session without worrying too much about my breathing. You may find the same works for you if you are also asthmatic.
Dump the damp
- It is quite difficult to avoid getting a bit wet if you go for a good old cross-country run at this time of the year. My advice is to take off the damp kit as soon as you are able to – you may even want to store a towel and a change of socks and shoes in your car boot so you don’t need to stay wet longer than necessary. Clean your shoes with a sponge and some lukewarm water mixed with liquid soap, as soon as you can, to prevent the shoe from getting damaged. I find the airing cupboard the best place to dry out those shoes. Stuff the toe box of your shoes first with some newspaper balls to prevent your shoes from shrinking in that area as they are drying.
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail
- Ideally, you would have thought about the races you want to do in Spring in the Winter as places are always filling up fast. I personally like to mix up the distances rather than race only one particular distance, this way you can use the shorter races as ‘tune up training’ for the bigger and tougher events ahead. When choosing a training plan (you can find these easily in running magazines and their online versions), make sure to evaluate where you are in your running before you embark on the plan – a lot of these plans have been written for the general population without any knowledge about individuals’ specific strengths and weaknesses, running and injury history, current mileage, any hiatuses, and lifestyle. If you are intending to follow a structured training plan, it may be worth enlisting the support of a personal trainer or a running coach who will be able to help you devise a personalised plan which is tailored to your needs and specific goals, to help you run injury-free and achieve your goals.
What do you like/dislike about running in Spring? What races have you signed up to do this season? What is your favourite place to run?