With colder temperatures on the horizon, and the long winter months ahead, many runners will elect to move their workouts indoors while they patiently wait for the arrival of spring. But just because the temperature drops and the snow begins to fly, doesn’t mean you have to stop running outdoors. On the contrary, with the proper gear, a little forethought, and a healthy dose of determination, you can continue your running workouts outside all winter long. What’s more, you might even come to enjoy it. Here are some tips that can help.
Ask anyone who enjoys being outdoors in the winter and they’ll tell you that a good layering system is key to staying comfortable. Start with base layers next to the skin that are capable of quickly wicking away moisture. This will allow you to stay much drier on your run, which in turn leads to staying warmer too. Next add a middle layer made of fleece for added insulation and a lightweight outer layer that is water and wind proof. Each of these layers serves a purpose, and they all work together to ensure you are comfortable and well protected from the elements. The outer- and mid-layers can also be removed if you find you’re overheating, giving you greater control over your body temperature.
All that said, when setting out on a cold-weather run, you should always dress as if the weather is 20 degrees warmer than the thermometer actually says. It may be cold when you first step out the door, but once you get running you’ll warm up quickly. Endure a bit of a chilly start, and you’ll be a lot more comfortable later on.
Keep Your Feet Warm
When it comes to running, keeping your feet happy is the key to success. This is particularly true in the winter when cold winds and wet snow have the potential to make you miserable out on the road. But with proper footwear and warm socks, you’ll find that even your feet won’t mind running in the colder weather. Consider switching to trail shoes during the winter months, as they not only provide extra traction on slick surfaces but are usually designed to deal more effectively with the weather too. Some are even waterproof, which will help keep moisture at bay and your feet warmer, even if you’re running in the snow. Add in some cozy merino wool socks, and you’ll be set for miles.
Stretch Before You Run
The jury is still out on whether or not a pre-run stretch aids performance or prevents injury, but during the winter months it can prove invaluable. Stretching before you step out into the cold gets the blood flowing to your muscles, which in turn helps to loosen them up. The cold temperatures can have the opposite effect, however, which can lead to tightness in your calves and thighs. Usually, once you’re fully warmed up, that tightness will begin to subside, but you can speed the process along with a light stretching routine before hand.
Avoid the Wind
Often times it isn’t the cold and snow that makes winter so daunting, so much as the biting winds. A strong breeze can make an otherwise comfortable day outside into a freezing experience. If possible, try to avoid those winds whenever you can. Choose paths that help protect you from the gusts or plan your route so that you run into the wind at the beginning, and have it at your back on the way home. That is when you’ll be at your warmest, and possibly your sweatiest, and the wind will fill even chillier.
Just because the temperature is colder, and you aren’t sweating as much, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still be drinking plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated is just as important during the winter as it is in the summer, and possibly even more so. Your lungs will be working harder in the colder temps, which means you’ll actually be breathing a lot of moisture out as you run. On top of that, many cases of hypothermia are the result of not being properly hydrated as well.
Stay Inside During Dangerous Weather
Unlike any other time of the year, winter can present incredibly dangerous weather conditions. Intense cold, dramatic wind chill factors, and heavy snow can all be incredibly difficult to handle, even with the proper gear. In fact, it can sometimes be dangerous to be outside at all, with the threat of frostbite and hypothermia becoming very real. On those days, use your common sense and stay inside. Workout at the gym or on the treadmill at home instead. Or better yet, look at it as a rest day and just take the day off altogether. The weather will improve soon enough, and you’ll be back out on the road before you know it.
As you can see, winter can provide some interesting challenges for runners who prefer to exercise outside. But, those obstacles aren’t always difficult to overcome, and with a little determination and discipline, you’ll find that running in the cold can be a rewarding experience. So don’t let winter keep you inside for weeks on end this year. You’ll be missing out on some good opportunities to keep your training going, and pushing towards your fitness goals.