I get this question a lot, from runners and non-runners. It’s a valid question considering I live where it snows and temperatures can be below zero. Not only is the weather a challenge, but we also have an inversion— pollution stuck in our valleys because of the cold air above the warm air.
The quick answer is yes, I run in the winter. There are a lot of things to consider when you decide to head out into the cold and if you don’t head out in the cold there are options to maintain your fitness for the winter months. Also there are many runners who use winter as their “rest” season.
Alright, so you’ve decided to run outside during the winter months and you’re going to be doing it in the snow and freezing temperatures. You have to have the right gear, especially, if you are going to run long distance. Layers. Layers. Layers. That’s the secret. You have to wear a wicking thermal base-layer. After that, keep piling things on until you stay warm while you are out. This takes a bit of trial and error because everyone is different. There is a tipping point where I won’t run outside due to the cold— if I have to wear so many layers it is difficult to get a good stride going. Usually, that means I need better running gear.
You may have to break up your run, if you are going out for more than two hours. Try to run during the warmest part of the day, which doesn’t always mean the sun is out. Cloud cover keeps heat trapped close to the earth. I also stay in the neighborhoods because the homes block some of the wind and they keep it warmer. Stay on more narrow streets too.
Ice is always a problem at some point. I have Ice Joggers, which pull over the bottom of my shoes and stop me from slipping. They are like YakTracks. Lights are an essential piece of running gear, along with a reflective vest.
Running indoors on a track or treadmill is not ideal and is really a form of torture. There is a middle road, though, you can also do some inside and some outside. If you are going to run on a track make sure and change direction or you will have aches and pains on one side of your body and cause muscle imbalances. If you’re on the treadmill, variation is key to keeping you “entertained.” Change the grade and the speed to mix things up.
Alright so you HATE the cold and snow and just cannot bring yourself to run outside during the winter, what are you going to do? If you do nothing, you will lose all your hard earned fitness. Maybe you even have an early spring ultra you are training for and you thought you could hack it this year, but it’s way too cold. Where there is a will, there is a way.
You can always run on the treadmill for 20-30 miles. Or you ca use every cardio machine your gym has for your long workouts. If you have a five hour workout, do the stair master for one, the treadmill for one, the elliptical for one, and whatever else they have.
What about resting for the winter? You still want to maintain a base level of fitness if you plan to run anything in the spring or early summer (depending on your distance). Twenty-five miles a week is a good base for a rest season. A rest season also gives you the chance to try new things, such as spinning, a cardio class, crossfit, swimming, or yoga. Rest seasons are a perfect time to bring in strength training too. If you don’t mind the snow, give snowshoeing and cross country skiing a try.
Running in the winter requires creativity and determination, but we’re runners we have that in spades.