Whether we’re ready or not, winter has officially arrived. For those of us not fortunate to live in the Sun Belt, we are left with three options when it comes to running in the winter months:
1.) Quit running
2.) Log hours on the dreadmill
3.) Learn to embrace the outdoor run.
After years of spending too much time cooped up in a gym and running in place like a rodent in a cage, I decided to give outdoor running a chance. To my surprise- I loved it. I actually came to enjoy the winter outdoor runs more than training runs in the summer.
Here are a few reasons to embrace the cold run and how to best prepare yourself for all that Mother Nature may throw at you.
5 Reasons to enjoy outdoor running in the winter:
1.) Eliminate hamster syndrome– When we run, we are meant to go places, in our minds and physically. Nothing gives you a sense of accomplishment quite like going from point A to point B and back. You cannot duplicate this on a treadmill.
2.) Inner peace awaits – Once the temperature hits around 40 degrees, the large majority of runners head indoors for exercise. It is during this time that you will often find yourself alone on your favorite running path. Take the time to enjoy the solitude and the serenity. It’s a great way to lose yourself in a run- especially looking over the snow-covered city.
3.) Run chafe free – This is one of the best benefits of running in the cold. Your body is covered in appropriate running gear eliminating the all too often painful chafe and the need to lather your body in bodyglide.
4.) Heat exhaustion doesn’t exist – If you are like me it’s easy to get overheated in the summer. I have to be mindful of what time I run, the temperature and proper hydration. However, in the winter. I just need to make sure I am warm enough to get started (though it is still important to stay properly hydrated).
5.) Sleep in – In the summer months, I find myself getting up earlier on the weekends then during the week in order to avoid the heat. Winter running allows you to sleep in- and you’ll actually want to run later so that the sun can warm up the air a bit. You will also want to run during the daylight and you don’t need to get your run in before the heat and humidity get out of hand.
5 Ways to be prepared for winter running:
1.) Dress appropriately – I follow the adage, dress as if it’s 20 degrees warmer than the thermometer. I do 2-3 layers depending on how cold it is. If it is under 30 degrees, I wear 3 layers and if over 30 degrees usually 2. Though not an exact science, go with what feels good to you. A general rule of thumb is that you should be chilled when you start your run, but always be prepared for the weather to change during your run.
2.) Layers, Layers, Layers – Layer 1- A thicker performance/wicking material. Form fitting. This provides a layer of warmth but also wicks away moisture from your skin. Layer 2 – (I usually add this layer if it’s below 30 degrees). This consists of a merino wool long sleeve, fleece or a performance pullover. Layer 3 – Running jacket/shell. This will keep the wind, snow and/or rain off your body and I wear this layer no matter what the temperature.
3.) Pants – There are a number of different types of pants- some lined and some not. My favorites are form fitting for warmth and also zip at the bottom in order to prevent my feet from catching the bottom of the leg.
4.) Hats, Gloves, and Socks. Get a moisture wicking set of hat and gloves, especially for your head. You do not want a hat that holds the moisture coming off your head. I often find as soon as I warm up my gloves come off and on throughout my run and holding them in my hands can provide ample warmth. Don't underestimate how warm your hands will get in gloves - I opt for a very lightweight pair unless it's below 20 degrees. Socks – Snowboarders and skiers have this down to a science. I have a great pair of thin wool snowboarding socks and my feet stay dry and warm no matter what the weather situation. They also fit perfectly in my running shoes.
5.) Be visible – Make sure your outer layer is highly reflective. It gets dark earlier and motorists are not on the lookout for runners during the winter. Make sure they can see you. You can also get a small blinking LED light and hang it from your zipper.
Dressing for winter running is more of an art than science and is very specific to each runner. I know some runners that will run in shorts no matter the temperature and others that are in thermal pants as soon as it hits 50 degrees.
Practice, Practice Practice – find which combinations work best for you just remember you can always remove a layer but once you are on the path you can’t add things. Lastly, cover any exposed skin, i.e. your face, in Vaseline or bodyglide. This provides a layer of insulation for the skin that happens to be exposed.
Winter is great time to base train for your upcoming spring, summer and fall races. Outfit yourself properly and get out enjoy nature. Save the dreadmill for days when it’s too late to run outside or it’s blizzard like conditions.
Enjoy the run. Remember TWILLCAD…There will come a day when you can no longer run in the cold…Today is not that day!