A student guide to winter running in Cornwall

A cold run on the Roseland | Miriam Leyshon

I’ve always preferred the winter months to the summer ones. This is especially true when it comes to running. Between December and March in Cornwall, temperatures typically average between -2˚C at the lowest end, and 11.7˚C at the top. Due to the north Atlantic drift, warm water is circulated along the western edge of the UK, meaning the climate in Cornwall is relatively mild during the winter, and for unrelated reasons, perpetually raining.

Running is a year-round sport and doesn’t require any particular meteorological conditions – although a clear sky, cool breeze, dry pavements, and un-boggy trails are preferable. However, winter, the cold, the wet, and the fading light, can create difficulties for runners, both physical and motivational – unless you’re Fiona Oakes and enjoy running marathons in the sub-freezing temperatures of the Antarctic and North Pole.

The winter need not stop us running, so here’s my guide to winter running in Cornwall, compiled from personal experience and the anecdotes of fellow runners.

Weather – Light – Layers

When I asked a friend what came to mind when I said “winter running” she immediately responded: “winter running – a long period of procrastinating runs and ending up running in the pitch black in full neon”. As the days get shorter and the dark sets in early, it becomes increasingly demanding to find the motivation to run outside, especially if you’re not keen on running through the streets dressed head to toe in neon lycra like an aerobics instructor from the 80s (I am very keen). Visibility is particularly important during the winter; lanes are dark, and even streets are not amazingly well lit. You can find yourself suddenly running, as my friend relates, “in the pitch black”. I’d recommend investing in a head torch and some high-viz gear (it doesn’t have to be hot pink).

When the temperature does drop, layers become important, and as you run more, you’ll discover which parts of your body get cold and need covering up

As the temperature is relatively mild in this part of Cornwall during the winter, the runner’s primary concern is wind and rain. Individually these factors are manageable but combined, you can easily become chilled and exhausted as the wind always seems to be blowing against you, striking soaked skin and kit. If you are caught out in these conditions remember to get out of your wet kit after the run and warm up with a shower and dry clothes. It’s easy to sit around typing stats into your phone and revelling in the smugness of having braved the elements, but do it once you’re warm and dry.

When the temperature does drop, layers become important, and as you run more, you’ll discover which parts of your body get cold and need covering up. For me, I can run in shorts all year round, but always need a buff to keep my neck from freezing! This leads to another point about breathing in cold air. I’m asthmatic, but despite this, sucking cold air down into your lungs is enough to tighten anyone’s chest and make breathing feel constricted. I find pulling a buff over my mouth can help with this, or attempting to breathe through my nose every few inhales.

Finally, I want to share a story of my Dad’s from a trip he took to the Czech Republic about ten years ago. I know it’s 1,000 miles away from Cornwall, but it reminds me why I, and many others, run – even when the weather demands we stay in bed another hour, and others call us crazy.

“One of the great pleasures of travel is to run somewhere new when you arrive. The time I ran at -7˚C, I was in the Czech Republic in a small town called České Budějovice where they brew Budweiser Budvar – the original Bud and not the American stuff. I remember waking up at 6:15 AM because I wanted to get a run in before breakfast. I pulled back the curtains enough to peep out and the landscape has been transformed into a winter wonderland. It was snowing and there was about 5cm of snow on the ground already.

Not to be deterred, as I ran a lot in those days, I bundled up and put on every bit of running kit I had brought with me: a thermal base layer and thermal tights, another t-shirt, and my running jacket, I also had a thermal hat on my head, a buff around my neck and covering my nose, running gloves, shorts over my tights and two pairs of socks. I felt ready for anything. I went downstairs to the lobby where the concierge told me, in flawless English, it was too cold to run as it was -7 ˚C outside. I said I would be fine and left through the front door.

Thankfully my Garmin picked up the satellite quickly. I had no plans to run anywhere in particular so I just chose a street and set off. It was cold to start with but the sense of running the quiet streets as the fresh snow crunched under my every footfall felt amazing. I soon warmed up after about 10 minutes and as I left the inner walls of the town it was exhilarating. I seemed to have the town to myself. No one else was daft enough to be out running.  But the rhythm and flow of my gait settled me into a joyous tour of a place I didn’t know. Buildings, structures, parks all looked familiar yet strange. I could see my breath travel far out in front of me through my buff. Then, the snow started to fall heavily and the temperature plummeted further. I thought it was probably time to retrace my steps home and warm up! When I think back to the run, I don’t remember the cold or the burning sensation in my lungs, I just remember the peace and quiet and my wonderment of the beautiful medieval town. That night I had a few beers at the Budweiser brewery and recounted my run to others. Some said I was daft, but all the runners said they wished they had been with me.”