Running in the winter is not something I had a lot of experience to draw from. Growing up on the west coast, there weren’t an awful lot of opportunities to go running in temperatures below zero. After getting to experience my first -20 run this past week, I feel like it’s a good time to draw from the experience of people who have run in these temperatures for a bit longer.
What to wear?
It’s important to dress properly for this weather, as runs often become uncomfortable if you’re not sufficiently prepared. Depending on how hard you plan to run, you’ll likely want to dress for warmer weather than you think. When you’re running in the cold the last thing you want is to sweat, as this makes you lose body heat much quicker. Instead, try to dress as if you were going for a light walk in 10-degree warmer weather. You want to be slightly cool when you start out . Dressing in layers is a learned technique.
-A base layer that wicks moisture
-A mid layer that’s warm
-An outer layer that is wind and waterproof, and has zippers in the armpits to vent air in case you get too warm
Wool socks that wick moisture are a great thing to have for the winter months. They come in a variety of thicknesses and lengths, I suggest at least a crew height or taller to prevent snow getting up your legs. Think about the surface that you’re running on. Is it going to have ice or compact snow? Yak Trax are a great piece of equipment that can fit in your pocket until you need them when the ground gets slippery.
Being visible is important as well. Using reflective or fluorescent gear is necessary in the winter months, especially in the north, as we have shorter days and running in the daylight may not always be a viable option. Headlamps and flashlights are something to think about as well, especially if you’re trail running, you’ll need to see where you’re placing your feet. Running in areas with tall snowbanks can be dangerous because traffic can’t always see you as well.
Preparing for Your Run
You should try to warm up inside before you start. Get the blood flowing, but make sure you don’t break a sweat. Going up and down the stairs a few times, jumping rope, doing some jumping jacks, or giving the house a brisk cleaning are some great ways to do just that. You’ll quickly realize that outside doesn’t feel as cold when you’re warmed up.
If you’re meeting friends or a running group at the start point, don’t get out of your car until everyone else is ready to start. You don’t want to start your run cold.
Know where the wind is blowing from, some places have worse wind than others. Outsmart the wind by running 10 minutes into the wind and 5 minutes away from it, then repeat. Start your runs by running into the wind, as you don’t want to be running into the wind if you’ve worked up a sweat. Know your route and plan to seek out natural windbreakers. If you’re running in the city, plan to run the longest portion of your route on streets that don’t have wind blowing down them. Using Vaseline on your face is something that runners in Alaska do. They spread a thin layer of the petroleum jelly on the sensitive parts of their face to prevent chapped skin. A buff will also help to protect your face from the wind.
On Your Run
Be flexible with the pace and mileage for your run. Running in the winter is more about maintaining your physical activity than setting distance or speed records. Try to run in the middle of the day when the temperature is highest. Always try to run with a buddy or group. That way, if anything goes wrong you have someone there with you.
After Your Run
Change out of your clothes as quickly as possible, especially if you’ve gotten really cold during your run. Your core temperature will drop quickly after your run and getting into a warm, spare pair of clothes is very important. Bring a warm drink along in a thermos for the drive home afterwards. Maybe even end your run at a coffee shop and change your clothes in the bathroom there. Hydration is important both before and afterwards.
You can always use the treadmill to stay inside if it’s especially cold outside. Swimming and rowing are also great for cross-training and getting a good cardio workout in.
Looking for Motivation?
Promise yourself a reward for after your run. There’s nothing wrong with having a hot chocolate and a nice snack afterwards. Maybe reward yourself with a night out at the movies, or catch up with a good friend. I find that at this time of year running through town to see all the Christmas lights is a great way to get out and explore new routes. I also find that if I make a commitment to a running partner it’s a great way to make sure I am accountable to someone else, so I’m less likely to miss my run. Running partners can add a social connection to running in the winter, which makes you more likely to get out there. It’s also helpful having someone to witness and compliment your achievements in running. In Edmonton every year they hold the Hypothermic Half-Marathon, a race that has been run in temperatures as cold as 50-below! They reward themselves with a free meal afterwards including bacon, eggs and pancakes. That’s motivation enough for me!
If winter running isn’t for you, that’s perfectly okay. There are plenty of other great activities out there where you can get your weekly active minutes in. But for those of you who are excited about running in a winter wonderland, do your research, and be safe out there. Most importantly, have fun with it!
1. Running in Winter Pointers
2. Running Room Winter Running Pointers