Have you ever seen those crazy people out running when it’s so cold that your face hurts? It’s me. I am those crazy people. But I wasn’t always. When a cold front would come through, I’d either move my workouts indoors or - more likely - take a few days off. Through the icy windows of my car, I’d see those folks running, and say “not me… never.” Then I decided to run the Boston Marathon, which is (usually) held in April. A typical marathon training program is 12-16 weeks so that means, you guessed it, I would be training in the winter! (Insert scary music here.) So, I started running in the winter, in good weather and bad. And I loved it. I now love running in the winter, and with these ten tips, you can too!
The single most important thing you’ll do when you run in the winter is get dressed. The quality of today’s running gear is astounding. You can find liightweight yet super warm jackets, gloves and hats at affordable prices these days (hot tip: stock up on winter gear in the spring when it’s on sale). As always, avoid cottons or other materials that will hold sweat, because you will sweat, and you don’t want to be carrying around a heavy, freezing cold sweatshirt for 45 minutes in the cold.
It takes me a solid 20 minutes to get dressed for a cold weather run. There are days when I have more items of clothing than there are degrees Fahrenheit. A skin-tight base layer is key, and I always opt for multiple light top layers as opposed to a heavy coat or pants. You can always remove a layer if you get too warm.
The common myth that you should dress like it’s 20 degrees warmer than it doesn’t work for everyone. It varies for each runner - and the weather. We tried and true New Englanders know that 30 degrees and sunny is very different than 30 degrees and snowing. Personally, I heat up pretty quickly so I can dress lighter than most. Other runners are constantly cold even after a 90-minute run. Trial and error, trial, and error.
I went into my first winter training plan determined to not buy any more gear. Then… ahem, things… started chafing. I’ve never been happier to pay $16 for a pair of underwear in my life.
It’s cold, so it might not seem like you’ll need it, but you do. In some ways, it’s easier to stay hydrated in the summer, because when it’s hot out you want to drink. In the winter, you may not feel like drinking, but at least it’s easy to keep your water cold!
Running on an idyllic stretch of forest trail with a fresh coating of powdery alabaster white snow (“crunch, crunch”) looks glorious on Instagram. In the real world, however, that’s pretty rare. More likely, you’re trying to run after the plows have come, the snow banks are blocking the sidewalks, and that alabaster powder is now a sloppy mixture of chemical ice-melt, sand and exhaust fumes. There’s really no advice here, just a tempering of expectations. Plan your runs accordingly.
We’ve all seen the clip on YouTube. Ice, it turns out, is slippery. If you’re determined to run on ice, to avoid falling like the unfortunate young lady in the video, try one of the various traction accessories available for runners. If you’re trail running, or running before the plows have come out, they’re amazing. In my opinion, however, they’re not great for everyday winter city running because when you do find a stretch of bare pavement, they can affect your gait. Icy roads are one of the few weather related conditions that get me to skip an outdoor run.
Chances are, you’ll be running in the dark in the winter, because it’s always dark in the winter. You’re also more likely to be forced into the street, since there’s always that one neighbor who doesn’t shovel, or makes a giant snowbank that’s impassable. During all night runs, you should be wearing at least some type of illumination. Headlamps, hand-held flashlights, and clip-on lights work well, but the new standard is the fully rechargeable illuminated vest. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just whisper “noxgear” and you’ll get social media ads galore.
This is where it gets awkward because I want you to like me, and you’re not going to like this one. There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just say it. You should never run with headphones. Period, end of sentence. For about a million safety related reasons, you should never run with headphones. But in the winter, in adverse conditions, when it’s dark, and you’ll be forced into the street, and drivers are facing those same adverse conditions… you should never run with headphones!
Those of us who have been running in the winter have known about balaclavas for years. And if you do want to pull your mask down for a bit during your run, the good news is, when it’s 10 degrees outside, you’ll probably be the only one on the road. In 2020, we take victories where we find them.
When it comes down to it, practice makes perfect. There is no one size fits all formula. You won’t get it right every time but the more you get out there, the more you’ll start to figure out what works best for you. As our idol Des Linden says, “keep showing up.” See you out there!