How are your New Year’s Resolutions coming along? Did you resolve to run more, sign up for a 5K or some other race distance? Or have you decided to update your resolutions to learn how to knit a warm sweater and binge-watch Netflix during these cold and windy winter months?
I get it. I was never a winter person and even moved to Las Vegas for the eternal sunshine and hot weather after spending four years freezing at college in upstate New York. Though after I trained for the Marine Corps Marathon during a summer in Las Vegas, I decided winter wasn’t so bad! Now that I’m training for the Boston Marathon in winter I wonder, was summer so bad?
While training outside in the winter can be tough, I find that it prepares you very well for the mental challenge of pushing through 26.2 miles. Ideal race day weather conditions are never guaranteed and training indoors on a treadmill can never prepare you for Mother Natures’s fickle forecasts. In previous years at Boston, runners have experienced a number of climate calamities that included freezing rain, which is why I encourage you to give winter running a try. Here are some of the ways I turn some common winter running ‘obstacles’ into training assets.
There are many advantages to running in the cold, but my favorite is being able to sneak in a midday run without having to take a shower. I’m not saying you shouldn’t shower, but if you want to go for a run on your lunch break it’s entirely doable. In the summer this is nearly impossible as your stench and sweat puddles would not endear you to your co-workers. You may also find that you can run faster and longer in the cold.
The Irish blessing, “May the Wind always be at your Back” comes to mind whenever I head out for a run. When the wind is at your back it gives you a gentle push allowing you to run faster. I’ve run some of my fastest miles on windy days until I’ve had to turn around! If the wind is at your back it will likely be in your face for the return trip. This may be a hindrance to some, but I prefer to view the wind as a great opportunity for resistance training. Running into the wind is similar to running up a hill, which is something I regularly prescribe in my training programs to build strength. I’m hoping that training in the winter wind will prevent me from having my heartbroken at Heartbreak Hill.
The advantages to running in the snow are many. Snow causes us to slow down and run more mindfully. I like to look at my tracks to check on my running form. Am I picking up my feet, heel striking, running on my tiptoes, or running with a smooth even stride?
In the winter of 2010 or Snowmageddon, I was training for the National Marathon when I got caught in a blizzard (the snow was supposed to come much later in the day). Rather than panic, I caught up with another runner training for the same marathon and we stuck together and completed the run. It was the most fun I’ve ever had on a run and that runner has become a good friend and training partner.
I like to look at running as a moving meditation. It is a time when I can be totally free from the demands of email, texts, social media, and life in general. In the winter there are fewer tourists and fewer locals running and biking allowing for a more fluid run with less weaving and stopping. I notice the bare trees and imagine them as spectators cheering me along in an otherwise barren landscape
There is something deeply satisfying about completing a run on a cold day when most people are indoors. Running outside in winter can help alleviate the winter blahs, limit weight gain, increase your exposure to sunlight, and give you bragging rights.
What to Wear
Now that I’ve convinced you to give winter running a try you may be wondering what to wear.
Hat and/or headband: On cold days, you can lose 10% of your heat from your head, so it’s important to keep it covered.
Shea Butter: On very cold days it is a good idea to spread this on your skin to protect from windburn.
Balaclava: You’ll look like a bank robber, but will be happy to have this facemask for extremely frigid days.
Base Layer: The layer closest to your body should be made from a synthetic wicking material such as Thinsulate or silk. This will wick the sweat away from your body, keeping you dry and warm. Do not wear cotton, as it tends to get wet and freeze when you sweat.
Insulating Layer: Your second layer, which is needed on very cold days, should be made of an insulating fabric such as fleece. This layer will continue to wick moisture away from the skin.
Wind/Waterproof Outer Layer: This layer should protect you against wind and moisture (rain, sleet, snow), but at the same time allow both heat and moisture to escape to prevent both excessive sweating and chilling. Look for jackets with zippers and vents.
Gloves/Mittens: On cold days, wear gloves that wick away moisture and on extremely cold days wear mittens.
Tights/Wind Pants: You can usually wear just a pair of tights, but if it is really cold you may want to opt for a pair of wind pants over your tights.
Socks: I swear by wool socks because they wick away moisture and help prevent blisters.
Shoes: Your feet should stay warm, as long as you keep moving and avoid puddles and slush. Look for a running shoe with as little mesh as possible, since they let more wind and moisture through. Invest in trail shoes if you plan to do a lot of running in the snow as they have more traction.
Check back in a couple of weeks where I’ll list some of my favorite local winter-friendly running routes. I hope to see you out on the run!