Written by Tara Harpur
Running in general builds character but running outside on cold winter days build extra tough character – the kind you need to push through late stages on long runs. There a number of challenges to overcome when running in the minus temperatures but nothing beats being the first one to leave tracks on fresh fallen snow or the flushed tingly cheek sensation of entering your warm house after running in a winter wonderland.
Challenge One – How to dress for the COLD and the HEAT.
Sure you start out cold but if you are anything like me, 5 minutes into the run you are sweating buckets but often shorts just aren’t appropriate – way to much bare skin exposure.
- Layer up (base layer and windproof shell). The base layer doesn’t have to be thick, focus more on efficient at allowing for heat and moisture transfer. If you have a good technical under layer then often just a wind layer will be sufficient. Windproof but breathable outer layers are key, especially on long runs, as they allow heat and moisture to escape keeping you from getting soaked, which can lead to heat loss risk if you cannot maintain the energy output over the course of your run.
- Minimize exposed skin. Cover your head, hands and feet with something that will block the wind but also allow for heat exchange.
- Consider winter specific running shoes. These often not only have treads to handle the slippery winter terrain but are also windproof or waterproof, adding layers of protection. If wearing more minimalist footwear ensure proper thermal socks are worn as feet can be susceptible through shoes to environmental exposure – wind, wet, etc.
- REFLECTIVE gear. It is often dark out or visibility is poor during winter runs. If your gear is not reflective add a reflective vest as an extra layer or consider a headlamp.
Challenge Two – The slippery terrain and awkward footing of running on snow.
Running on snow can sometimes be like running on sand – you slide backwards almost more than you move forward. There are also often hidden patches of ice just waiting to wipe you out.
- Consider specific winter running shoes. They have treads designed to handle the slippery terrain; some, like Icebugs have built-in metal studs to help with traction.
- Alter your gait to be faster turn over with a smaller stride.
- Consider cross training to strengthen your stabilizing muscles. Running on snow and ice requires more effort to be put into maintaining balance and therefore involves muscles not otherwise activated while running. Activities like yoga and pilates often focus on these muscle groups.
- Try to avoid fast acceleration and decelerations.
Challenge Three – Be a smart runner.
You will enjoy you run more if you plan it out and aim for a safe run.
- Don’t be a hero. If it is too cold out – depending on the reference you look at anywhere from -21 to -30 C (without wind chill) – find an alternative to running outside or go easy so you don’t freeze your lungs.
- Protect exposed areas from the cold and drying effects of the wind – apply body glide, dermatone, etc.
- Try to plan your run to start into the wind and keep loops small and close to home so that if you need to bail you can.
- Tell someone where you are going and your expected timeframe. Consider carrying cell phone if going for long runs away from home.
- If you start to detect frostbite – loss of sensation to an area, loss of colour, burning sensation – or are concerned it is happening seek shelter as quickly as possible and warm up (slowly – think warm water immersion not hot).
- For those planning long runs, hydration is still important even in the cold. Small hoses from hydration packs will freeze in colder weather so consider wearing your pack under a jacket for opting for a waist belt with larger bottles.
Running in the winter is great but takes a little more though than other times of the year. Enjoy the Groundhog Jog!