Training Tips: Running During the Winter Months

by Karl Gruber
Those of us who live and run in the parts of the world that have a funny thing called “winter” understand that it can make things a bit more challenging. One thing I can guarantee is that the amount of clothing you have to wash will definitely increase! This is because of the multiple layers needed to stay comfortable and endure the blasts of cold air, snow, sleet, ice, wind and more snow. 

First of all, running itself is not easy; winter throws added elements at you to make it even harder. For veteran runners, harsh winter running conditions are a given. That’s why so many frost-bitten runners like myself have a closet filled with top-notch waterproof/windproof gear. 

There are going to be days where you roll out of bed at 6 a.m. to find six inches of fresh snow on the ground and the temperature hovering around 5 degrees, but you know you need to get six miles in. You’ve simply got to go do it! When this scenario presents itself to me, I quickly remember that I just dropped $135 to register for a spring marathon – which is only four months away – and I need to train. 

Obviously, less-than-ideal winter running conditions tend to diminish your desire to leave a warm bed and head out the door into the cold. So why not adopt an attitude that will do just that – get you out the door for your run. Maybe an attitude like these runners adopted…

"Whether the weather is fine, or whether the weather is not; whether the weather is cold, or whether the weather is hot; we'll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not!" - Unknown

"Running in the snow has its own special qualities - softness, quiet, the white landscape - and it can make you feel like a kid again." - Claire Kowalchik, The Complete Book of Running for Women

“Summer bodies are earned in the winter!” - Unknown

Just the other morning, it took me almost 20 minutes to put on all of my winter running gear, and that was before I had even taken the extra minutes to stretch. When I finally made it out the door, it was only 3 degrees and frigid, but the sun was just coming up over the city skyline. As I cruised through a local city park on the trail, the ice crystals on the grass sparkled gloriously in the rays of sun. Not a creature was stirring, except me out there by myself – getting my miles in and loving every minute of it.

Here’s some running tips that should help you to enjoy rather than dread your wintertime running.

Wear layers of non-cotton, polyester clothing. 
If the wind chill factor is not too bad, you may not even have to wear that many layers. Cotton clothing will simply absorb the moisture of your sweat and make you colder. Polyester sports clothing, on the other hand, will wick the sweat from your skin as you run and allow you to stay warm.

Wear windproof/waterproof clothing. 
The advancements in winter running gear have come light-years since they first came on the market. Now windproof/waterproof clothing is light and breathable, and it allows for a nice comfort level as you blast through those cold miles. These items may not necessarily be inexpensive but are well worth the investment, and when taken care of properly, will last you ten years or more.

Carry a water bottle and stay hydrated. 
Many runners mistakenly assume that they don’t need to drink nearly as much during a winter run as during a warm weather run. Well, there’s a reason why all of your clothing is wet when you take it off at home – you were sweating! Sweating means you lose liquid from your body, which means diminished performance. It’s no surprise how great I felt after drinking an entire 20 oz. bottle of liquid during a five-mile run at minus 10 degrees. 

Wear some traction on your feet. 
It used to be that the only weather conditions I wouldn’t run in was lightening or ice – if you get both at the same time, you’re in real trouble! But then the running retailers came up with cleats for running shoes that you can simply pull over your feet for some serious traction. Now when icy conditions present themselves, I just pull on a pair of these cleats over my shoes and off I go with nary a spill. Sometimes when there are a few inches of snow, I will run in my trail running shoes (usually constructed with deeper tread for gripping power in off-road conditions) for added stability and traction.

Wear bright colored, highly visible clothing. 
There is a two-fold reason for this. One, much of your winter running will probably be done either in the darkness or in dimly lit conditions. Two, bright colored clothing will allow you to stand out from the white background of the snow or when it is snowing so that drivers can see you relatively clearly. It’s all about safe running!

Slow down your pace. 
For many runners, especially competitive ones, this is a tough one to swallow. However, when footing conditions are bad, you just have to accept that you won’t be setting any personal records on that day. The goal is to stay upright and get your miles in. Winter running is all about base building, so don’t worry too much about speed in January if your goal race is in May. 

If you are fairly new at running and still a bit skeptical about running outside in the winter, I can tell you with certainty that at some point in your running career, the weather conditions will no longer matter to you. All you know is it’s time to get some miles in because you simply need to run. It’s then you will understand what John Hanc stated in 1,001 Pearls of Runners' Wisdom: “If you start skipping runs because the weather's too lousy, pretty soon you start missing runs because the weather's too nice!"

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