It has been a couple of weeks since I last posted about beginning my marathon journey third time around so you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’d jacked it all in and opted for the Christmas on the couch, no exercise at all regime.
Aside from the couple of sporadic recovery runs that I used to make while on my teaching holiday pitstops in Ireland, I hadn’t very much experience of running in my country and what it would entail. Almost all of my running has happened overseas and in the heat which is one hundred percent my preferred natural habitat. The exception is northern Italy where each freezing January morning and the presence of snow when I had arrived expecting t-shirts and ice-cream has very much threatened to put me off the country for life.
Having run primarily in warmer climes meant that my very first problem was that I simply didn’t own the clothes to run in Ireland in winter. Now if you’re a runner, especially if you’re a long distancer, you’ll no doubt know – or else have learned through experience – that what to wear while running is a hot topic, with countless opinions about how to avoid chafing, over-heating or the excessive pooling of sweat in either uncomfortable places or places you had no idea could produce sweat.
In my own experience I know that I tend to heat up very quickly and that whenever I have gone down the layers route I have regretted it. Even when the weather has not been especially hot I have always gone out with the knowledge that while I will start my run feeling cold, I will end it wishing I could be wearing less. Think: running in shorts even though it is raining attire.
So naturally I tried this strategy in Ireland. In December.
Did it work? If course it didn’t. I started the run freezing and hating everyone and everything and I ended it with less hate, thanks to what must have been a massive serotonin hit but even more frozen than I had been. Once inside I resorted to placing my hands around the boiled kettle to try and get them back to human colour.
My mistake had been not to layer. I had gone out for a long run and failed to realise that the object of such a run is to run long and far, not fast and so the initial cold that I would feel upon starting would be more or less how I would feel throughout. On the next long run I opted for same long runner’s leggings, a long sleeved top, a t-shirt over that and a light-weigh running jacket over that again. I also teamed the above with a hat that is definitely not a runner’s hat and a pair of gloves and two pairs of socks.
It seems like a lot but it helped me combat my most annoying running in Ireland habit: starting out too fast in order to heat up. A quick look at my Strava stats told me that what I suspected myself of doing was correct. I was leaving the house and belting down the road in order to start feeling some warmth but that inevitably messed up the consistency of my breathing and my ability to focus my mind on the task ahead.
That’s another thing: if anyone tells you that running doesn’t count as meditation, they have never been more wrong. Running is meditation.
So, layer is my first piece of advice. The second is to make yourself seen because apparently there are no lights in rural Ireland and I hadn’t realised this either.
I’m a morning runner. It gives me an ego boost to think I am out there helping my heart to beat more effectively while most of the rest of the country is sleeping. A snob, basically. I’ve tried evening running but I somehow always feel too full of the day that has happened to be able to commit properly to a long run. I even once tried afternoon running with a colleague but I was bemused by the idea of running in the middle of your day.
In Ireland during winter there is sunlight (well, more like greylight) from approximately nine o’clock in the morning to around four in the afternoon and it is only going to get worse from here on in. That means that if you’re like me and like to run in the early mornings it is imperative that you have some sort of lighting device on you and wear something reflective.
I had neither for the first couple of runs in Ireland and it was foolish. My rural village does have street lighting but the road from my house to the village definitely does not. I had to use my phone to cast some light ahead of me but I was both in danger of falling off the path and loosing my footing on some of the more grassier areas. It felt like too much of a risk and even though the cars are not too frequent, there was the very real presence of danger coming from the fact that should I run without the light of my phone, I would be invisible to passing motorists. Not worth it.
Thinking about it I’d say this is my biggest gripe with running in winter in Ireland. The cold anyone can deal with really but having to seriously think twice about your own safety before attempting to keep fit made me question, more than a few times, whether or not an early run was worth it. A number of times I simply opted for the gym but still had to content with walking down a dangerously unlit road, alone.
With these experiences in mind I asked a friend to come running with me and though he hasn’t agreed fully I think that this will be the way that I will most effectively and safely manage my time running in Ireland. A lone female runner out early in the morning on an unlit and relatively quiet road is an unnecessary risk I need added to my running. I already have my knees to contend with.