The dark winter grind hits almost all runners at some point. For those of us that have a working job and are running once or even twice a day and wanting to be serious competitive runners, we come to a point where it just gets so difficult during winter. It’s a low place and one which sometimes makes us question what we do. But stay strong and you can persevere and get through it.


The Dark Winter Grind

Part of the reason the dark winter grind hits us so hard is because of the lack of sunlight. Lack of sunlight makes it harder to get up in the morning, it’s harder to get up and get moving. Sleep becomes so much more tempting. We feel more tired. And from an evolutionary perspective, we probably would’ve slept for longer periods of time during the winter compared to the summer so it’s certainly not unnatural.

For those of us that live in countries like the UK, Norway, Denmark, Germany, France and many more places with a similar latitude then the dark winter grind tends to start somewhere in late October and makes its way all the way into late February. It usually doesn’t hit you initially, but as the days get darker and the training progresses and you become more tired from the training then it hits you.

Many people actually suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) due to the lack of sunlight. The lack of sunlight also causes us to synthesise less vitamin D making it more important to eat vitamin D rich foods or supplement vitamin D.

Early Morning Training

It’s particularly hard to get up early in the morning when it’s so dark outside. For many though, once you get outside, up and running, it’s actually not too bad although depending on whether you’re hitting the streets, trails or the park and the lighting in the environment, you may want to wear some reflective gear and/or bring a headtorch.

If you’re hitting high mileage, double days are usually necessary which means if you really want to seek out those marginal gains, you’re going to need to stick to your early morning training and stay motivated.

To help yourself get up and running consider having a loud or annoying alarm, using your watch as an alarm, having a bright light wake you up or rewarding yourself for doing your morning training. If you have someone to run with in the morning, that certainly helps. Make sure you also prioritise sleep and try to sleep earlier rather than later. Fail at this and there’s a very high probability that you’ll decide to skip your early morning training during the dark winter grind season and for good reason. Sleep is important and essential for proper recovery.

Dark Evening Training

On the other side of the spectrum you have dark evening training. Some people when they get home after work just don’t want to go outside when it’s so dark outside and that’s understandable. But then again, you have to ask yourself whether you want to get fitter at running and whether you want to race well and run faster.

Having a group of runners to run with such as those at a running club certainly helps to get you out and about in the dark winter grind. Some might also find it easier to go to a gym where it is well lit in the winter. To improve your chances of starting your dark evening training try to make sure you don’t burn out at work. Keep your stress levels low and remind yourself of how important your evening training is.

How Well Do You Want To Perform

Provided you’re not compromising recovery or sleep too much, you have to ask yourself how well do you want to perform. Do you want to turn up to a 10k race and run 35 minutes or 36 minutes? Do you want to be able to hang onto a certain group of runners during a race or will you get dropped within a couple of minutes?

Ultimately, it’s all up to you. The choices you make in your training such as skipping sessions due to feeling tired, ill preparation or being lazy may seem insignificant, but they all have a compounding effect which could well affect how well you perform in a race two or three months (or more) down the line.

You have to decide how much you want it.

Then you need to put the tools in place and manipulate your environment to set yourself up for success. Some top tips:

  • Sleep well (minimum 7 hours, target 8 – 9 hours)
  • Keep stress levels low
  • Eat whole foods
  • Reduce high sugar and junk foods
  • Stay positive
  • Trust the process

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Further Reading:

Be Patient And Trust The Process

10 Tips To Improve Sleep Quality

Tips For Getting Up And Out For Dark Winter Morning Runs