[Published October 2014]
Last year was one of the worst winters we have had in well…my lifetime. It was also the winter I logged the most outdoor miles EVER. And, as a life-time sufferer of what I call SAED aka Seasonal Affective Eating Disorder, I had one of the overall best winters I have had in years–devouring mashed potatoes out of the pot with a wooden spoon only once.
Before I begin, a disclaimer. There are no hard and fast rules about running in the cold. As you read this post please keep an open mind. Remember one of the best things about this team is that it can force you out of a comfort zone or out from under your comfort-er. That said, there is a difference between stepping outside your comfort and being an idiot.
Tip #1: Don’t be an idiot. If it doesn’t feel right or safe. Don’t do it. No matter what well-meaning teammates tell you.
Tip #2: Even in the winter, outside time is critical to good health. Get outside whenever you can. The key is to be prepared for the conditions.
Tip #3: Have the right gear: it boils down to these six must have pieces. Below are pics of my winter running gear from last season. Make an investment in a few high quality pieces. Runs in general, and winter runs in specific, are not fashion shows. I wore the exact same outfit every Sunday all winter long. Some days I hoped laying them inside out on the towel rack overnight had some mystical sanitizing effect. Don’t buy many cheap things. Rather, buy a few quality items and…..some Febreze.
A thin base layer like this one by CuddlDuds was essential. It was warm but so thin it was almost like not wearing anything. This is a turtle neck which was great for blocking wind.
A thin outer layer is a must. This zip up by Brooks has a hood with ponytail opening, reflector stripes and tons of pockets for keys, iPod, etc. You will see mine in EVERY single winter run group photo.
Running tights are not just long. They need to be insulated and ideally longer at the back to keep snow, rain and mud out of your shoes. Again, I LIVED in this ONE pair of Brooks tights. One day, the temperature when we started out was a brisk 7 degrees. On this day, I added another pair of CuddlDud tights beneath my Brooks and boy was I glad.
When temps drop below 30, gloves are critical. Just be sure to choose a pair that is easy to scrunch into a pocket if you get warm.
Remember it only takes a few minutes in really cold temperatures to threaten finger tips. Don’t skimp on the gloves. In fact, I now always keep an extra pair in my car in case a running buddy shows up without theirs.
There is a lot of controversy about hats and running. The bottom line is that you will lose the most warmth from your head and your ears are extremely vulnerable to frost bite. I interchanged these two pieces all winter.
On the coldest days, plan on two pairs, a thin pair and a wool pair over top. You may need to loosen the lace on your shoes a bit but trust me–warm feet are key to a good long winter run.
This had to be one of our coldest days out there. As I said, I relied on these pieces above and was toasty the whole way. Of course being with some of the best, funniest, most inspiring people around doesn’t hurt either.
Tip #4: Check with your doctor. If you have asthma, you will want to use your rescue inhaler just before heading out and keep it in your pocket. A face mask or scarf helps to warm the air before it hits your airways. Other medical conditions such as Raynaud’s or Diabetes can effect your outdoor running. Don’t take a chance till you clear it with your doc.
Tip #5: On ice.
Two winters ago, if there was even a hint of ice on the ground, I would abandon my outdoor run and opt for the treadmill. Half those times I would think about getting on the treadmill for most of the day then ultimately skip it altogether. This last winter, the ice no doubt slowed us down but it never stopped us from trying. Some “runs” were really more like slow walks punctuated by not-so-graceful skids. But even on those days, we got out. We breathed. We moved. We laughed. That alone is worth a lot in the middle of February.
I will never forget one particularly icy week. We met at our usual spot on Sunday only to realize it just wasn’t safe to attempt the trail. So, we drove to a local school. No luck. That was worse. Finally, one of our runners mentioned that the parking lots of an industrial park owned by his family were always meticulously plowed and salted. So we headed there…and ran. Six miles. Around a parking lot. It wasn’t scenic or pretty but boy was it fun.
Tip #6: Don’t go alone.
It is really hard to motivate to run in the cold. It is nearly impossible to motivate to do it alone.
I am going to show my age here by referring to one of my favorite movies of all time: The Breakfast Club starring Molly Ringwold and Emilio Estevez.
Running in 7 degrees is kind of like The Breakfast Club. Nobody gets to that run by really wanting to be there. There is a lot of complaining and blaming. But, once there, we learned to make the most of it. We got to know people we might not ever have spoken to much less run with. In the course of those runs, barriers were torn down and stereotypes shattered. In the end, these frigid early morning “punishments” brought our team closer together than we ever imagined possible. We wear those memories of freezing, icy runs like badges of honor.
Misfits started, friends finished.
Lastly the key to running in the winter is PREPARATION.
Have the gear set out the night before. Allow the time to layer it on meticulously. Make a well-laid plan with your friends/ teammates. Then, just have the guts to leave the house.
Cancer doesn’t quit in winter. Neither can we.
This winter is predicted to be even worse than last year with colder temperatures and more ice and snow.
I say: Bring. It. Mother (Nature).