By Dakota Jones
The problem with winter running is that you have to make certain sacrifices. Are you willing to be frozen and miserable at first so that the majority of the run will be comfortable, or would you rather take a nice jacket at the beginning and roast? Consider snow and ice – they’re very slippery and made out of water, and thus have the potential to leave you both broken and wet in very little time. Even the days are shorter, meaning time management around running is that much more difficult. With all these problems, the prospect of winter running can seem daunting and unpleasant. But the outdoors are beautiful in winter, and they offer a perspective on the running and the natural environment that we often miss in trying to avoid the cold. If done right, running can be fun and comfortable even on the coldest days. Here are eight tips to get you outdoors when the snow starts flying.
- Wear warm clothes, but not too warm. The unfortunate truth is that you’ll be most comfortable if you start a little cold. Yes, going outside in a light jacket when the temperature is below freezing seems appalling at best, but within fifteen minutes you’ll be warm and comfortable. Taking too much clothing at the beginning will leave you sweaty and uncomfortable, so sacrifice comfort at the beginning for performance later.
- Shoes are also crucial to winter running success. Do away with little racing flats and embrace something larger, with bigger lugs. Lightweight shoes are often thin and transparent, meaning snow and ice can melt into your feet and make you miserable. Larger shoes are more resilient to outside conditions and grip much better on slick surfaces. For those real icy days, try YakTrax or Micro-Spikes.
- Wear gloves. No matter how well-suited your outfit may be for winter running, you’ll be powerless without gloves. In cold weather the body sucks all of its heat into the core, and in doing so leaves the extremities without adequate circulation, meaning your hands just won’t work right. Also, cold hands hurt a lot, and then even more when they warm up (this also refers to other extremities – see rule #6). Make sure to wear adequately warm gloves that also provide a level of waterproofing so that snow or rain won’t render them useless.
- Hats. Conventional wisdom says that we lose up to 80% of our body heat through our head, which is why you should know that conventional wisdom is oftentimes completely false. You don’t lose any more heat through your head than through anywhere else on your body, but you’re usually (hopefully?) wearing clothes in most other places. Wearing a hat keeps your ears and head warm and saves energy by preventing body heat from radiating off into the atmosphere. Try out a buff, which can serve as a hat, ear-warmer, neck-warmer, bandit-hat or any combination of these.
- Don’t forget water! In cold temperatures people often forget to drink enough water. I can attest to this – last winter I ran thirty-three miles in five hours and drank less than one bottle. This left me dehydrated for days. While you don’t need as much water on a cold day as on a hot day, forgetting about water on a run is detrimental to success. Continue to use your top two racing principles: eat before you’re hungry and drink before you’re thirsty.
- Dudes: pad that crotch! I cannot stress the importance of this rule. Sometimes you’ll go out for a run in the winter wearing just shorts, saying your legs can handle the cold. And you’d probably be right – your legs can handle the cold. But you might incur other casualties by wearing shorts that you may not have expected, if you know what I mean. Fortunately, most winter running tights come with this technology built in. But always make sure. Remember – it won’t hurt during the run. It’s the thaw that will have you reconsidering any future reproduction.
- Run with other people. The fact is that sometimes running sucks. Maybe you’re tired from a long day at work or from the previous day’s workout. Maybe your screaming, sick children kept you up all night. No matter what the reason, cold weather has a way of sucking even that last remnant of running motivation out of you. So plan runs with partners. That way you’ll have someone to keep you honest in your training, as well as someone to complain to incessantly about the damn weather.
- Run less. Everyone needs a break from running now and then. You have to maintain your psyche for running in order to continue training hard. My advice is to avoid spending all that psyche just to get out the door for mediocre runs in the winter, and save most of it for when the nice weather rolls back around. As in all things in life, your fitness needs its ups and downs – you cannot continue to gain fitness forever. Stop running, eat some cookies and most of all don’t worry about it. You’ll gain that fitness back in the spring and you’ll feel so much better than if you had used up all of your willpower grinding through the cold.
- OutDry. If you don’t what this is yet – check it out.
- Tip #10 comes from you. What have I missed? Leave a comment and share your wisdom.
These tips won’t make you enjoy running in the winter, but they will provide the tools that will allow you to do so. The enjoyment you’ll find in winter running will be from the running itself, just as you enjoy running in the summertime. By eliminating the discomfort of the cold you can focus on the act we all love so much: just moving efficiently from point A to point B. Running is still running, even in the winter.