While all seasons bring their own difficulties to runners, Winter seems to be the one I hear the most complaints about. This is the time of year that many lose the desire to do anything outside, some turn to the DREADMILL while others hit the gym and a few just find the couch.
I purpose that while running in the Winter can be a challenge, it can also be very rewarding. From a mental stand point, remembering the hard work that you put in during the freezing weather can be just the inspiration you need at a critical point of a race or run. In last year’s Oak Barrel Half Marathon when I was feeling rough, I remembered the bone chilling runs in below zero temperatures and was able to push through. From a physical stand point, we all know that the fewer gaps we have in our training, the stronger we are and while sometimes it may be necessary to move inside at times (like the recent blizzard in the North East), the treadmill is no substitute for actual road or trail miles.
Here are a few tips for running in the winter:
1. Shoes. If you are planning on running in the snow and ice you might think about investing in a good pair of trail shoes. Most shoe manufacturers offer a trail version of their most popular street shoes (I have a pair of Hoka Stinson ATRs) that offer better treads and a more waterproof body. Saucony offers the Ride GTX with Goretex lining and Brooks and New Balance offer similar options. If you switch to “waterproof” or not, still be ready for wet feet and shoes, it’s going to happen! Thankfully, as long as you are moving, even wet feet tend to stay warm enough to keep going. Another good piece of equipment to have is a PEET boot and shoe dryer to use before (to pre-warm your shoes) and after (to dry) your runs.
2. Layers. Layering clothing allows you to tailor what you wear to the exact weather conditions you are dealing with. The biggest mistake most people make is dressing to warm to run. Even on subzero days it doesn’t take long to build up heat when you are moving and wearing clothes that are to warm will only cause you to sweat excessively. If you stand outside and are comfortable then you are probably dressed to warm to run, it is better to be a little cold the first half mile than to be to hot the rest of the run. Cotton is NOT your friend! When you start to sweat it is best to have a moisture wicking layer next to you. The dryer you are, the warmer you are and cotton tends to keep you wet once you start to sweat.
3. Forget your times. Trying to run when you have to watch each step or when you are wearing multiple layers is not the time to worry about personal best times or hitting the exact training pace. Take it steady and just remember that you are outside when most others are not.
4. Protect your hands and head. I have a great pair of Reebok running gloves that I wear whenever the temperature starts to dip down but when it gets below 10 or so degrees it’s time to trade them in for the ones with more insulation. For me that means grabbing the Walls 120 gram thinsulate gloves that have the added bonus of being water resistant. Sure they are bulkier and there is not much dexterity but other than hitting a start button on the Garmin or phone, what am I really using my fingers for? I also trade in my light weight beanie or hat for a heavier UA Storm beanie to trap in the heat and I also always start really cold runs with a hooded sweatshirt. As I start to warm up I can slip the hood off but if the wind becomes a problem it is there. When the temps really drop I take either a baklava or a gator to cover my mouth and nose. Again once you get heated up this can be pulled down of your nose and mouth if you want but at the start I need it.
5. Stay on familiar terrain. When there is a fresh layer of powder or ice is not the time to go exploring. Chances are you are going to be one of the first few out on the path or trail so you want to stick to a place you know intimately. If the roads are slick then stay OFF of them! It is far better to run in deeper snow or ice than to be on a partially plowed road dodging sliding vehicles. Another good idea is to go somewhere you can start in the middle, that way you can run away from your house or car for a shorter distance and then come close to it heading in another direction. I often use BMS or the Kingsport Greenbelt for this as I can always stay a mile or two from warmth if needed.
6. Lighting. It gets dark earlier in the winter after all. It only took one after dark run out of the Guest River Gorge to make me invest in a good headlamp. Now I take it with me whenever there is a chance it will start to get dark before I get back to the car, regardless of where I am. If you run on the side of the road then think about getting lighted running gear such as Nox Gear or reflective gear. It is definitely worth the extra cost to stay safe!
7. Accountability. In EMS we are very big on accountability, whenever there is an incident we have systems in place to account for each EMS, Rescue, Fire and Police person there to make sure that we know where everyone is and when they enter or leave the scene. When you head out on a run you should be the same way, especially in dangerous conditions. It is better if possible to run with someone else but if not then always let someone know when and where you are going and how long you should be. This would be a great time to use the Road ID app so you can send the information to someone and they will know if you stop for an extended period of time and when you are through.
With the proper prep and planning, Winter running doesn’t have to be feared, I actually prefer it to the 90 degree humid days of summer. This past Thursday is a prime example, the first true snow run of the season. A surprise 6 inches had been laid down on Wednesday while I was at work which of course made working EMS… um… let’s say interesting. As I got out of the car, the snow under foot crunched an invitation to try my luck and I was off. Soon I was immersed by the pure whiteness of the day as I trudged down the trail. There is something about the beauty, the crispness, of a cold Winter’s day with a fresh snowfall that is not to be missed. Everything around is brought into sharp contrast and it is one of the few times I run without headphones because even sound seems to be changed by this phenomenon. Days like that are to be relished, not dreaded, not rushed but enjoyed.