Winter Running Safety

Running safety is always something runners are aware of, particularly, women runners and their companions. Winter brings on some additional concerns some of which I’ve addressed in prior blogs such as the cold, and falling or slipping on ice. Other potential threats are the dark and vehicles.

Yes, if you’re a road runner, vehicles are always a threat. As trail runners, who aren’t used to taking cars into consideration, migrate to the road for the winter it’s important to go over some of the basics.

Reflective vests and/or other reflective attire is critical when running on the roads in the dark and winter in the northern hemisphere brings longer winter hours, which means most runners will be running in the dark at least for a portion of their run. As counter intuitive as it seems given the night running, wearing black clothes is better if than wearing light colored clothes and you don’t want to wear white. This applies if there is snow on the ground rather than no snow. It’s just easier to see a runner who is wearing black on a white background (see picture above, her legs are much easier to see compared to her torso).

Headlights and taillights are also critical not only do they make it, so you can see in the dark, but it allows cars to notice you earlier. If wearing your headlight on your head is problematic because of tunnel vision or the reflection from the snow, try wearing it around your waist or carrying a flashlight that you can move a round more.

Let’s talk about the vehicles. Running on the roads can be boring and they are even more so if you’ve been running exclusively on trails for the majority of the year. It’s very tempting to just zone out and pop in the earbuds for some much needed entertainment. The problem is it’s easy to get lost in whatever you’re listening to, which means you may not hear things around you including cars. My recommendation is if you must listen to something keep one earbud out and make it a habit to check into the world around you every few minutes.

The other threat with cars is they slide in the snow too. Once a car slides, many drivers panic and over correct causing even more sliding or they turn their wheels the same direction as the slide and make things worse. Running on the road means you need to be aware of those cars and trucks more than usual. Be prepared to high tail it out of the way at all times, but most especially on corners or curves in the road. Also, if there’s been significant snow fall or weather conditions are primed for ice (warm weather followed by an over night freeze).

If a car is sliding, don’t wait to see if they regain control, just get out of the way. This extra threat also makes it more important to run against traffic or just get up on the side walk where you can. It can be tempting and easier to run in the tracks of cars on the road, which is fine, you just have to be alert. Although, I strongly caution against this if it is not a neighborhood road and the speed limit is above 35 mph.

Even though there are extra precautions you need to take during the winter months, don’t let them scare you away from running outdoors. Running in the quiet after a snowfall can be magical and is one of my favorite road runs (even though I don’t like winter). It is also a warmer time to run if their continues to be a good cloud cover.

So layer up and get out there.

Winter Racing

From your first winter run, it becomes obvious that the cold weather impacts your performance. Depending on where you live, you’re likely to find holiday themed 5k and 10k races throughout the winter, but there are longer races out there too including a 50k and 100 miler. You can check out the Susitna 100 in Alaska here. 

Not up for an ultra in the winter, that’s alright. Even the 5k and 10k will provide some steep competition, so you’ll need to be training and that means running under the same conditions as what you’ll be racing in.

When you run in the winter, your body relies more heavily on carbohydrates and less on your fat stores. This means you’re going to need to increase your carbs-on-the-go intake while you’re running longer distances. Your muscles don’t contract as powerfully in the cold as they do when it’s warm. This means you have to recruit more muscles to get the job done. You need more oxygen in colder temperatures to produce the needed energy to sustain you through your runs because you need more muscles to help out. This extra oxygen produces more lactate, which means you’re likely to feel like you’re working harder.

Also in the winter, your body has the extra load of making sure you stay warm. Staying warm takes a lot of energy. To help with this, make sure you’re wearing clothing that’s appropriate for the temperatures. Maintaining a constant pace rather than speeding up and slowing down, as you would in intervals, is much easier on your body because it can be really difficult to warm up after you’ve cooled down. Make sure your body is warmed up before you start your run. You don’t want to be sweating, but you want to be warm including your fingers and toes.

Hydration can be especially problematic in the winter because your body doesn’t have as much of a thirst response in the colder temperatures. The problem is you lose a lot of water from not only sweating but breathing. Carrying water during the winter is difficult on long runs. I always recommend a hydration pack because carrying a frozen handheld is just not going to work. To keep your water from freezing add an electrolyte to it and make sure the tube is insulated.

Once you’ve finished your winter race, don’t stand around; get out of your wet clothes and into a warm shower or blanket as soon as you can. Enjoy some hot chocolate by the fire, you’ve earned it.

Winter Running Tricks

Here are some ideas/tips/tricks of the winter running trade to help you get through the cold months to come.

  1. Don’t want to buy Yak Trax? That’s okay. You can take an oldish pair of running shoes that still have some decent life left in them and modify them. Go to your local hardware store and buy some hex head screws or sheet metal screws (you don’t want flat headed screws). They need to be about ¼-3/8ths in length. You need a bunch of them. Screw them into the bottom of your shoe so the head is out to grip the ice.
  2. Wear ski goggles to protect your eyes from the cold and snow. A neck gaiter to protect your neck from exposure and a mask if the cold dry air bothers your lungs or makes you cough. Use a thin layer of Vaseline to protect any exposed skin, including your lips.
  3. Colleges and University campuses are great places to run because they have lots of cleared sidewalks without motorized traffic. They clear their sidewalks regularly and are usually the first to do so. They have their own maintenance crews and don’t have to wait on the city or county to clear things.
  4. Run with the wind in your face on your way out and the wind at your back on your return trip. During your run, you’re going to get hot and sweaty and having the wind at your back is much better than having it in your face.
  5. If your shoes are soaking wet when you finish your run, stuff newspaper into them to absorb the water and to help maintain their structure. Don’t put them in the dryer or the oven. It will ruin them.

Here is a guide on how to dress depending on the temperature outside. I found this at RunnersConnect.com. Runnersworld.com has something very similar. Runners World also has this nifty “What to Wear Tool” that takes into consideration your gender, temperature, wind, conditions, time of day and intensity before it pops out a clothing recommendation. Find it here. 

30 degrees:

  • 2 tops, 1 bottom. Long-sleeve base layer and a vest to keep your core warm. Half tights if you’re a polar bear.

10 to 20 degrees:

  • 2 tops, 2 bottoms. A jacket over your base layer.

0 to 10 degrees:

  • 3 tops, 2 bottoms. Two tops (fleece for the cold-prone) and a jacket. Windbrief for the fellas.

Minus 10 to 0 degrees:

  • 3 tops, 2 bottoms, extra pair of mittens, 1 scarf wrapped around mouth or a balaclava.

Minus 20 degrees

  • 3 tops, 3 bottoms, 2 extra pairs of mittens, 1 balaclava, sunglasses.

Notes

  • Wear tight clothes because they trap heat better and if they get wet, you can capitalize on your own body heat, much like a wetsuit

 

What’s on Your Feet?

running shoes

A big concern when running in the winter is slipping and falling, but if you’re constantly thinking about it, you’re going to fall. At least, that’s what I’ve found out out running trails. The more I think about not falling the more I fall. You have to let your feet, ankles, and brain talk and get out of their way.

Communication between your brain and your feet/ankles is critical, and what you put on your feet can hinder or help. What you put on your feet matters (as if you don’t know that). Take a gander at the bottom of any road shoe. smooth as a baby’s bottom right? Okay they’re not dance shoes but there’s not much to them.

Trail shoes on the other hand, are studded with nubs of all shapes and sizes. They grab and hang on to the surface beneath your feet because of this, trail shoes are much better in the snow than road shoes. Even if you’ve never run in trail shoes before, if you plan to run through snow on the roads, you should pick some up. Another benefit of trail shoes in the winter is many of them are water resistant or have Gortex uppers, which will help keep your feet warmer and drier. My favorite trail running shoes are Solomons because they have the most aggressive tread and the rubber grips well.

After shoes, theirs socks. If you’re a thin sock lover, try double layering your socks. As always, you want to have socks (and other clothing) that pulls the sweat away from your skin and moves it to the outside of the fabric or the next layer of clothing where it can dry without freezing against your skin. Personally, I love Drymax socks. They have a cold weather running sock that is multi-layered with extra protection at the toe. Here’s a list of great winter running socks.

Okay, we’ve got your socks and shoes covered, and now w’ere going to actually cover your shoes for those icy days. Let’s talk ice traction cleats, or just ice spikes. There are tons of brands to choose from now and how aggressive of spikes you want depends on the surface you are going to be running on.

If you know you’re going to be running across sheets of ice and through snow, you’ll want something pretty aggressive like Hillsound trail crampons or Yaktrax summit cleats. This is definitely what I would use on the trails in the winter.

If the ice is just spotty here and there, you’d do well with Yaktrax pro ice grips or something similar. There are lots of ones that have little spikes which are great for walking and some running, but they wear out quickly so buy extra spikes you can replace worn ones with right from the start.

When you’re choosing your spikes make sure they are easy to put on and off with gloved hands and that they are light weight. Spikes are not fun on the bare road, so you may have to pull them off if you hit a long section of road that’s clear of ice and snow.

 

 

 

 

Wind down or wind up

Oh the weather outside is frightful. It’s getting “chilly” here in the mountains of the northern hemisphere. Well that’s how the meteorologist described the 23 degrees Fahrenheit today. Personally, I’d say that’s freezing.

Many runners turn indoors in the winter months and reduce their miles for a welcome and well deserved rest season. I can’t say I blame them. It’s very challenging to get in long runs when the thermostat drops below zero.

Challenging does not mean impossible, however, and if you’re considering an early spring or runcation to somewhere warm, you’ll be doing decent miles all winter long. What’s it take to run outside on very cold days? Creativity and layers, lots and lots of layers.

Let’s start with layers. You want a good thermal base layer that will pull the seat away from your skin. After that, use a lighter middle layer. Whether it’s long sleeves and another pair of pants or a short sleeve and shorts will depend on the length of your run and the temperature. If you need more than a second set of long sleeves and pants, make your third layer wind proof, even if it’s not windy, it will hold the heat in.

Don’t forget your head, face and hands. Keep your lips coated with lip balm and you may need something similar for any other exposed skin. Use hand warmers and mittens over gloves. I do gloves, hand warmers and double layered mittens, which hasn’t failed me yet.

For your head use a balaclava and either a fleece headband or beanie. Make sure your ears are tight to your head. You want as little exposed skin as possible.

Now comes the creativity. Try splitting your long run into two shorter ones on the same day. You can also run part of your run inside either on a treadmill or indoor track. I recommend starting out doors and finishing indoors due to sweat and it being easier to unlayer than layer. Stay where the wind can’t get you, so on narrow roads or trails with lots of trees.

Winter brings a new set of challenges, beautiful glistening runs, discovering new routes or a new perspective on the old ones. We’ll talk about other aspects of winter running including footwear, other gear, and safety training in the posts to come.

Happy Running!

Do you run in the winter?

what-to-wear

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.

Does running have to hurt?

muscle-cramps-1

It’s nearly the anniversary of when I fractured my foot and I’m thanking my lucky stars that I took the time and had the discipline to rehab my foot properly so I could run this past season.

Non-runners feel entitled to comment on whether or not running is healthy. Some of the frequent comments/questions I get when people find out I’m a distance runner are, “Isn’t that bad for your knees?” “Running that far can’t be good for you.” “Running long distance is bad for your heart. People have had heart attacks at the end of races.” “If you keep running you’re going to get hurt.”

I’m guessing they get this idea that runners get injured all the time from the research which says 45% of runners get injured each year. Part of the problem with that number is it doesn’t define injured. Whenever we participate in a sport on an ongoing basis, even high school and college level athletes, we have aches and pains, which are a result of our participation in physical activities.

But what does injury actually mean? I think this is subjective to a certain extent. Runners, ultrarunners in particular, tend to push themselves beyond aches and pains. It’s what we do to get to a finish line of a 100 mile race. If we stopped when it hurt, most of us would never finish. Even when we do have more than a simple ache or pain we continue our training and continue to increase our miles.

Is this the wrong thing to do? Now I’m no doctor, so you should really talk with them over me, but I don’t think running through an injury is always a bad thing. There are some injuries where it is better to stay active and by that I mean reduce you miles and take it easy for a few weeks. There are other injuries where it is best for you to take time off running and find some type of cross training to do. I’ve always drawn the line as a fracture or more than mild soft tissue injuries.

Sometimes it can feel like we are always dealing with some type of injury or pain, which doesn’t go away when we stop running or take a day of rest. Running is not easy and runners are a tough bunch, aches and pains and even actual injuries are going to happen to all of us at some point in our running career. We need to know before hand, where our line is in the sand and how to tell the difference between an actual injury and just an ache that can be worked through.

Acute stabbing pain is not good. You should take a day off and if it continues for more than 2-3 days see a doctor. Centralized, one particular spot, pain is also a bad sign, if it continues for more than 2-3 days, have it checked out.

Swelling, redness, bruising means ice, rest, compression, and elevation for a few days. Strained muscles and tendons, means you should warm up before running hard and watch your form. Also, look into some type of strength routine for your hips. Weak hips cause a whole host of issues.

As we head into the colder months here in the western US, our race season is coming to a close and many runners reduce their miles for the winter to rebuild their muscles and give their body much deserved rest from the hard work it has put in for the winter.

Winter or off season months are the best time to add in preventative routines to your training, such as strength and stretching.

Listen to your body, think about what it’s telling you, and do what it says most of the time.