Winter Running

We’re already a few weeks into winter. Really, the cold stuff hit in early December, and we’ve been hammered with some unseasonably cold lows over the last six weeks. Fortunately, we’ve had a reprieve in the last 10 days or so, and the next two weeks don’t look too bad.

Of course, we know there are more than two weeks left of winter, and it’s likely we’ll get another very cold stretch or two before the end of March. Here are a few tips on how you can handle the cold, and keep getting your runs in outside.

Stay Dry

This isn’t going where you think it’s going. Our friend Alex Hutchinson, who you might remember from the Science and the Running Machine talk we hosted a few years ago, wrote a great article in Outside magazine with a few winter running tips. While they all were useful, the one that stuck with me most was his strategy of dressing so he was “uncomfortably cold” in the first few minutes of his run. His logic falls with the fact that, even when wearing high tech wicking clothing, you can still lose heat twice as quickly once you start sweating. Within the first few minutes of his run, he warms up to the point where he’s comfortable, while he keeps his sweating to a minimum. Most people start by dressing to be comfortable when heading out the door, and start sweating like crazy a few minutes into your run. He does note his strategy isn’t for everyone, and if you’re running under 60 minutes it should be easy to tolerate heavy sweating. If you’re going longer than that, you might want to consider shedding a layer before you start your run. I would recommend testing cutting back on layers on shorter runs, just in case you get a little too ambitious.

I will add here that quality wicking clothing is very, very helpful. when you do start sweating, having gear that will move moisture quickly and efficiently away from your skin will also help you stay warm.

Stay Upright

One of the biggest hazards, and probably the biggest fear, for winter running is the snow and ice on the ground. Falling is a real threat, but even just slipping on ice or snow can lead to soft tissue injury. Traction devices like Yak Trax or Nordic Grip are great ways to keep from feeling like your running in sand, and to help you stay upright. Getting a trail shoe can help in the snow, and a shoe like the Saucony Peregrine Ice+ with Arctic Grip will help you grip ice better than standard rubber. You can also tweak your running form by shortening your stride to help minimize your risk of slipping and sliding.

Watch the Extremities

Hands, feet, and head. Those are the three areas that you need to especially watch in the winter. For your feet, you can put on a warmer sock with merino wool to stay warm. A thicker sock can help, but sometimes that can change the fit of your shoe. Going to a water proof or water resistant shoe is a great option. While they help keep your foot dry, they also keep your foot warmer since they don’t breathe as well as regular runners. A pair of mitts are going to keep your fingers warmer than gloves, but you can always layer the two if you want to get some extra protection. A wicking toque is sure to help you stay warm.

Show a Little Less Skin

Cover up as much as you can. Putting on a balaclava or a Buff will help you protect your skin, and reduce your risk of frost bite. If you have skin that is exposed, try putting a layer of Body Glide over it to add a little more protection. Touch your exposed skin frequently to help warm it up.

Wind Breaks

The wind is really the worst part of the winter. We can handle -15 pretty well. It’s the -35 windchill that goes along with it that cuts to the core. A good wind proof layer is a must in the winter. A good shell should be wind proof, so you can stay warm. If it’s insulated as well, you won’t have to layer up as much. For the bottoms, you can grab a pair of wind proof pants, and even layer up with tights underneath if you still feel cold.

Keep the Best Close to You

Make sure you have very good wicking layers next to your skin. High quality socks, tights, and base layers will move your sweat away from you quickly, helping you stay warm. Don’t forget the underwear, either. Technical underwear is a life changing thing if you’re wearing cotton next to your skin. Just try it.

It’s the Little Things

Look for the smaller details on gear that makes a big difference. Thumb holes and higher necks on shirts can help cover up those easily exposed areas. Built in wrist collars on jackets, velcro to tighten up the wrist, and an elastic cinch around the waist can help you protect yourself from the elements better. Tights that have a DWR finish, heavier panels, or windproof panels can help keep you warmer. Hats with ponytail holes make for a better fit if you have a lot of hair. Look for the smaller things that can have a big impact on the gear you have.

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