Baby, it’s cold outside! 8 degrees Fahrenheit according to my phone. That’s -13.333 degrees Celsius (also according to my phone) and 259.82 Kelvin (just for fun).
This time of year it can be challenging, both physically and mentally to get out there and log those miles. When it’s dark and the temperature is well below freezing even at it’s peak hours, the couch, Netflix, and a blanket start to look way more appealing than going for a run. Add a nice winter beer or some hot chocolate and, yeah, running can wait. I can totally run tomorrow. And I will. Really I will.
But then you don’t and tomorrow turns into a week. Before you know it you’re feeling sluggish and gooey, mentally and physically, and (worst of all!) you’re losing your base level of conditioning, the one that makes it easy to just go out and train for whatever race goals you might have. Once you realize this you get sad and depressed. All the treats you’ve been eating really don’t help matters or the fact that you haven’t seen the sun in a while. It’s a slippery slope of doom. Five days into the New Year some of us might already be treading down that icy path.
If you’re one of those people…STOP IT! STOP IT RIGHT NOW!
Not only is running outside possible during the winter months, it’s super fun once you master proper layering techniques and know how to prepare for the cold. Yes, I know I sound crazy but try it (a few times) and you’ll see. Going out for a run and making the elements your bitch is invigorating and exciting. Plus any tiny bit of sunlight you can get this time of year helps. The cold air adds a new level of challenge to running, but when you’re out there (or maybe once you’re done and can feel your extremities again) you feel like a bad ass for going out and running when so many others are cowering under the blankets. Don’t be a blanket cower-er. Be a runner!
I’ve lived in Michigan my whole life. Apparently we are the state with the second most miserable winters in the nation, a title I’ll proudly claim. I actually like the cold weather and love snow. (Again, yes, I know I sound like a crazy person.) For the past few years I’ve embraced the challenge of running in the cold and have learned a few things about staying warm and safe. So, in hopes of helping motivate some of you to get out and run (because treadmill running just isn’t the same), I’m going to share some tips for cold weather running success (or at least survival).
First, it’s all about that base!
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the importance of layering in the cold weather but quality is as if not more important than quantity. You don’t just want to throw on five shirts and three pairs of running tights and go out in the cold. For one, you’ll feel overly bulky and won’t be able to move freely. And even worse, if you wear a cotton layer directly on your skin you will be a Popsicle as soon as you start sweating (Yes, you can sweat in ten degree weather.). Cotton gets wet and stays wet, keeping all that now-cold wetness right on your skin. That’s No Beuno!
There are lots of options for good base layers in a wide range of prices. Anything that is thin and “moisture wicking” will work. I’ve got tank tops, short sleeve, and (I think) one long sleeve moisture wicking base layer shirt. Usually I’ll wear a tank top or short sleeve shirt, then a thinner (preferably also moisture wicking) long sleeve shirt, and, on top, a fitted fleece, water proof hoodie. If it’s very windy a fleece vest or lighter wind breaker type jacket can help.
Thin and water proof but warm is a good rule for the top layer. Again, there’s tons of this stuff out there. I got my two winter top layer sweaters on at TJ Maxx for less than $30 a piece. And really you don’t need more than one for starters as the top layer doesn’t get stinky as quickly as the under layers.
For my legs/bottom half I almost never wear more than one layer. I’ve got regular running tights and slightly insulated running tights. Both are great. Every once in a while I will add an insulating layer of very thin merino wool long underwear. Usually I regret it when I do though. Just one good pair of slightly thicker running tights that stop the wind can get you through a winter of running. This is one area where I wouldn’t cheap out (and I cheap out any and everywhere I can). Invest in a pair of cold weather specific running tights that fit well and will last you.
So here’s my concise guide to layering: On top, moisture wicking, fitted base layer, thin long sleeve insulating layer, warm and water/wind proof top layer that covers wrists, hands, and neck. On bottom, quality insulated running tights. In the extreme (or if you’re very sensitive) add a thin under layer.
Second, cover your mouth when you breath! (And your hands. And your feet.)
Breathing in very cold air makes the old lungs burn pretty quickly and any skin that’s exposed will get cold. Any time it’s below freezing I don the face mask, pull my hat down low, and sometimes even zip my sweatshirt up to the top. The only thing exposed is my eyes… and sometimes not even that.
The face mask, one of my best friends in the winter.
With the face mask breathing is easier and my face stays warm. There are also wrap style ones that you can pull up over your mouth and nose but I prefer my fitted, neoprene thing. It’s nice and snug, breathable and relatively comfortable. If it’s not super cold I can easily pull it off once I’m warmed up. Plus it’s pretty fun to pretend I’m a ninja while I’m out running. A bad ass, cold weather mastering ninja of awesomeness!
When it’s cold your body wants to protect its vital organs first so blood flow to the extremities decreases. This translated to cold hands and feet. A pair of quality gloves are a must for running in the winter! I find moisture wicking/water proof gloves that aren’t too thick are best. All the name brands make these (Underarmour and the like). They’re all good and usually in the $20 range. I think I got mine at Costco on sale for $10 last year. they’re Head brand and have served me well though they’re noticeably thinner the second season of wear.
Cold feet can also be an issue though slightly less of one since your feet are in constant motion on the run. Usually my feet don’t get cold unless I stand still for too long. So don’t! Water proof shoes are helpful, especially if you can find some with more tread. I also wear a pair of thinner wool socks (not the hefty hiking ones) when running in the snow. They insulate enough without making my feet sweaty. Warm and breathable = happy feet!
These New Balance Maximus trail shoes have been my favorite winter runners so far.
Oh and, don’t skip the hat. A hood is not the same. I love my fleece lined, wind proof Dickies brand hat. Again, warm and breathable is the way to go. No matter how goofy you may look (Do any runners really care about that? If so maybe you haven’t run enough because no one looks pretty running.) you will not regret wearing a hat when it’s cold out.
Third, visibility…it’s important. This is always true if you’re out running on the roads or anywhere even close to traffic. In the winter, though, it’s more likely to be dark and dreary out. Snow or other crappy precipitation can impede visibility. So prepare. Don’t be an idiot, dress in obnoxious colors. I like my black and dark grey probably more than the next guy BUT I also like being alive and not having a brain injury and debilitating injury because I got hit by a car when I was out running. So, neon colors, reflective stripes/areas on you clothing and shoes, and carry a freakin flashlight or wear a headlamp if it’s even close to dark out. If you can see them that does NOT mean they can see you. Be safe! Safety is cool! Even if you think bright colors are not.
My obnoxiously colorful layers of winter running clothes.
Fourth, don’t linger. So you layered up, you’ve got wool socks, gloves, a hat, and your mask on and it’s time to run. Great! My advice to you now is Run! Don’t walk. Moving keeps your body temperature up. If you have to stop at a traffic light or whatever jump around a little and keep your blood pumping. There’s a sweet spot somewhere beneath actually sweating and not moving. Luckily it’s not that difficult to find. usually by the time I’ve jogged a half mile I’m nice and warm but not overly so. By the end of a three mile cold weather run I may have pushed my sleeves up and taken off my hat or mask but I still don’t stop moving, not while I’m outside. If you start standing around after you’ve run you will get cold. So run and then get inside, take off some layers, and reward yourself with a hot cocoa or coffee. After all you went out and ran when most people wouldn’t. that deserves something.
Catching the last little bit of daylight…
It may be fierce out there but it is also beautiful!
That being said, I’m waiting until mid-day when it’s supposed to get up to 15 degrees (Fahrenheit) to run today.