The winter can be a difficult time to get the miles in, but Fast10’s Zak Hanna, often the only man on the mountain, give his take. 

It’s 6am on a Sunday morning in the middle of December, the alarm starts ringing and it is swiftly turned back off again as I listen to the wind howling and the rain battering off my bedroom window as it blows off the top of Slieve Croob.

Given that winter is setting in and for the UK and Ireland, these storms are a frequent visitor to the islands so it’s no surprise to wake up to another one having a good time outside.

For a large majority of the population they will lie on in the warmth and comfort of their bed and maybe not awaken until lunchtime. To me this is a waste of a morning, but then again those who stay in their bed on a morning like that make see running as a bad way to spend their morning. Horses for courses I guess!

Into the Mournes

Arriving at Meelmore Lodge in the Mournes to meet for the Sunday long run, the wind and rain is still going strong. Give that we are looking directly onto the Hares Gap with Slievenaglogh, Slieve Bearnagh and the Meels hidden in the low most, the weather was showing no sign of shifting anytime soon.

In two hours or so we would be back here to get our breakfast and sit in the heat of the cafe trying to warm up, the perfect carrot for getting the run done regardless of the weather.

My Suunto 9 watch gives off a rather exaggerated buzzing sound with ‘Storm Alert’ showing on the screen, it had been a while since I last saw this notification so this was a sure sign that the bad weather was here and ready to throw everything at us.

We roll down the Trassey Road, onto the Mourne Way trail (ankle deep flooding the whole away along here) and into Tollymore forest. Down on the lower slopes of the forest the wind is somewhat eased by the trees, but a bold decision to head up the climbs to the top of the forest meant we would be greeted with gale force winds blowing us sideways across the trail.

My old friend, Relentless Rain

The rain never eased the whole time and we would end up doing two laps of this loop, two hours, 16 miles and 2,000ft of climbing later we arrive back at Meelmore car park and feeling a whole lot better that what we felt before starting the run, ready for a warm shower and a warm breakfast in the cafe after for our efforts.

We should know by now to expect this weather for most of the winter, and whilst this was the worst day for running for the season it felt great to finish the run knowing we had a solid long run in terrible conditions.

I’ve never called off a run due to bad weather. When I was a cyclist in a former life I trained with a group that would have given never-ending abuse if you didn’t show up because it was too wet, too windy or too cold; and I suppose that mentality has stayed with me and it has served me well when the skies are grey and miserable looking.

With the clothing available to us for the bad weather nowadays there should be no excuse for getting out and embracing the conditions.

Thankfully I have the backing of Salomon who have provided me with the best gear for battling the elements, so no matter what it is doing outside I always know that I’ll be kept warm and dry when it is need the most. Petzl have also been great in supporting me with headtorches for running in the dark before and after work.

If it’s good enough for Rocky

During the winter I seem to always watch the training montage from Rocky IV when he is out in Russia training to fight the big man Ivan Drago. Working out in the coldest conditions in Russia with minimal equipment, no distractions like social media or TV; just the drive and determination to train hard to succeed.

This is something I try to replicate as much as I can, as I find that there are so many athletes in running and other sports who over-complicate things in terms of training and recovery.

A great phrase I seen on Twitter recently was ‘Less time tweeting, more time training’ in relation to professional footballers and I couldn’t agree more; focus more on the small things like eating healthy, stretching and sleeping instead of posting what you had for breakfast or how cold it is outside.

It has its place in sport for athletes to post for sponsors etc, but not a step-by-step account of what you do every day of the week!

Going old school

The old school runners of the 70s/80s/90s didn’t have the same technology as we have now, such as shoes, phones, lab equipment etc and still they managed to win and break records, some of which still stand today.

Take Kenny Stuart, who is arguably one of the greatest fell runners of all time, still holds the records for Snowdon, Ben Nevis and Skiddaw, with very few coming close to his times, making his running even more impressive.

Normally cross country races would be on every weekend across the UK and Ireland but with the pandemic the calendar has been wiped; on Boxing Day Northern Ireland enters a 6 week strict lockdown similar to March; which to me is another opportunity to continue making myself a better runner in anticipation for what hopefully is a summer of racing in the mountains across Europe and further afield.

Embracing the winter grind is something that we all should look forward to as it is a chance to work on the weaknesses and strengths we have in order to make us better at what we do whilst racing is at a minimum.

Grab your headtorch, put on a good warm jacket, lace up your shoes and get out for that run you’ve been contemplating putting off because it’s raining.

Everyday you are able to run is a good day and don’t let a bit of wet weather stop you from doing so, you will feel great after and you will be better for it.