Skip to content
Landing page show after 5 seconds.

Take the sting out of winter training


COLD COMFORT Best to dress for the second mile, but pack for the finish line.

Andrew O'Brien

A friend of mine messaged me recently in a bit of a panic. He has been asked to give a talk on winter training and injury prevention to a group of ultra-marathon runners preparing for the Dragon’s Back Race.
I’d heard snippets about the race, but had to check the website for details, and found this: “The legendary Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race follows the mountainous spine of Wales from north to south. This incredible five-day journey is 315 kilometres long, with 15,500 metres of ascent across wild, trackless, remote and mountainous terrain.” No big deal then. I did suggest that, by the time a runner has the experience and confidence to enter such a race, maybe they should already have a decent handle on winter training and injury prevention.
What about those of us who aren’t keen on five-day epics in the Welsh mountains, but would still like to do a bit of training in winter time? Are there extra things that need to be taken into consideration in the cold weather?
From an outright training perspective, the answer is probably not. If you are training for a marathon in January, you are still going to have to log long miles through November and December.
From a logistics perspective, there are things to think about, the first of which is equipment. As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.  
When it’s cold and wet, you clearly need a decent jacket. Obviously everyone in the west of Ireland should have a decent jacket anyway, but a good, sport-specific one could quite literally be a life-saver in winter. There are countless options on the market at countless different price points, but when it comes to rain jackets for winter training, the smartest advice I’ve been given is to buy the best fully waterproof, not water resistant, jacket you can afford.
Another tip is to dress for the second mile, but pack for the finish line. What on earth does that mean? Have you ever been outside on a crisp morning in winter, layered up to high heaven and then found that after two minutes of walking you need to take a layer off? There’s no harm being a bit cold for the first ten minutes if you’re going to warm up quickly. But – and it’s a big but – remember that the moment you do stop, you will cool down extremely quickly, so make sure you have something warm and dry to put on when you stop. Dress for the second mile, but pack for the finish line.
Many people would notice on those same crisp mornings that it can be a bit harder to breathe. For some people, exercising in cold air can result in what’s known as Exercise-Induced Asthma, where cold air catches the back of your throat, making the chest tight, even causing you to cough, much like regular asthma.
It’s often recommended to cover your mouth with a scarf to warm the air as you breathe. My personal preference is to shut my mouth and breathe through my nose; the nose is our built in warming and humidifying unit, and I hate scarves!
In truly bad weather, or if you just can’t be bothered getting cold and wet, it’s perfectly acceptable to take your exercise inside. There are gyms everywhere offering spinning and circuit classes, all the pools are heated, and you can even play tennis undercover in Castlebar.
As tedious as it may seem, I actually enjoy an easy run on a treadmill staring at a blank wall. It allows me to switch off any competitive instinct and trot along, letting my mind wander over whatever topic comes into my head – several of these articles have been drafted on a treadmill.
The main suggestion I would give, perhaps unsurprisingly considering it tends to be the take-away message in every one of these articles, is to keep exercising. Sure it’s darker, colder and probably wet, but that’s no excuse. And besides, it’ll give you a head start on your New Year’s resolutions.

Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at