We are right in the middle of winter, a time when many of us decide to go into hibernation mode. It’s so much harder to stick to an exercise routine in the winter, and just the thought of getting out from under our warm bed sheets to brave the cold is enough to make anyone second guess their reasons for doing it. And if you hate treadmills as much as me, it makes going for a run that much more challenging.
If you hate treadmills, but hate missing your runs even more, then why not get out in the freezing temperatures and get at it! Who says you can’t run outside all year round. Running outside in the winter can be a very rewarding experience: providing you with ample bragging rights and plenty of interesting stories to share with your fit-minded friends. Running outside in the winter can add an exciting twist to your normal routine, and provide an additional set of challenges that are sure to spice things up a bit. Think you’ve mastered that hill-of-death? Try running it in 10 inches of freshly fallen snow. Think you’re legs are conditioned? Try walking or running when every step you take feels like you are working twice as hard but going half as far. Hate when sweat gets in your eye? Don’t worry, it’ll freeze on your eyelashes before it ever gets that far.
As exciting as it can be, many people refrain from trying it because it seems so dangerous. While it does come with its own set of risks, there are ways to minimize these to ensure you have the best experience possible. Below are some of my winter running tips, which are things I’ve come across in my 7 years of winter running. They will help keep you safe, and keep your winter running adventures enjoyable.
- Keep to a familiar route. In normal spring/summer weather, those surprise tree roots or divots in the ground aren’t too much of an issue. But when the ground is covered in a layer of snow, you may not always catch them before it’s too late. Stick to a route you are familiar with so that you know when it’s safe to book it, and when you should watch your step.
- Tell someone where you are going, and when you plan to be back. Always make sure someone else knows where you will be. Sometimes it will get icy, and the last thing you want is a decommissioning slip and no hope for rescue. Sticking to a familiar route will help–in the event you forget to let someone know where you are, and you don’t make a timely return, they will know exactly where to start looking.
- Dress as if you had to walk home. Most people will tell you to dress so that you are a little chilly when you start your run, so that as you get further into it your body will warm-up. This is fine and dandy, until you roll your ankle or otherwise have to stop running before you finish your route. Dress as if you had to walk home, in case you actually have to. Unless you’re training for a marathon by running extended distances, you won’t have to worry about overheating. Conversely, wearing shorts when it’s 12 degrees isn’t smart. I also recommend wearing a windproof outer layer, because cold wind sucks when it splits right through your clothes.
- Run opposite traffic. You should do this anyways, but especially in the winter months. If you are running in a neighborhood, many times (immediately after a snowstorm) the only clear path to run will be on the street. In this situation you want to run opposite traffic, so that you will be closest to the cars coming toward you. In the winter drivers’ visibility can be affected. This way, if a car loses control in front of you, then you will see it coming and can act accordingly. If a car loses control behind you, it will be far enough away (on the other side of the street) that you will have at least some warning and can get out of the way. If you run with traffic and a car loses control behind you, you may not realize in enough time to make a safe escape. For this same reason I would recommend turning down your music a bit, so that you can be more aware of what’s going on around you.
- Cover your mouth and nose. It’s true that as the temperature drops, it gets harder to breathe. Wearing a mask or scarf to cover your mouth and nose will help heat up the air you’re are inhaling, making it less uncomfortable to breathe. My personal favorite is a balaclava (pictured above)–a mask that covers everything except for your eyes. If you’re running in extreme temperatures (i.e. -20℉) then you want to cover as much skin as possible. Generally this is when I bust out a pair of ski goggles to cover the parts of my face not covered by the balaclava. If you are running in these extreme temperatures, you can also put a small amount of Vaseline on any exposed skin to protect from wind burn and to help insulate the skin.
- Pay attention to the wind. In the summer months this isn’t a problem, but in the winter you want to pay attention to the direction of the wind. Although running into cold wind sucks, it’s even worse at the end of your run when you are sweaty. Always start your run against the wind, so that you can end it traveling with the wind when it won’t seem nearly as bad. Screw this up and you will be miserable, trust me.
- Don’t get stingy with gloves. Most of your blood while running will be prioritized elsewhere, and in the cold this can get very uncomfortable for your hands. Make sure you invest in a good pair of thermal and windproof gloves or mittens. Nothing ruins a winter run quicker than numb fingers before you finish your first mile.
- Watch your turns. In my 7 years of winter running I have only fallen twice, and both times was while taking a sharp turn at an intersection. If you are running and are forced to take a turn, be sure to take them a little wider than usual. This will help ensure you keep your balance and don’t go down. And if you slip while taking a turn, more than likely you are going all the way down.
- In deep snow, shuffle your feet. The difficulty of running in snow is that you feel like you are working twice as hard to go nowhere. Every step you take you sink into the snow, which dissipates much of the energy normally used to propel you forward. If the snow is deep enough to cover your entire foot, then shuffle your feet through the snow instead of pulling your foot completely clear of it for every step. Simply lift your feet only a inch or so off the ground as you move through the deep snow. This will help ensure that the force you need to propel you forward actually makes it to the ground, and doesn’t get absorbed by the snow.
- Slow down when necessary. If you come across some ice and feel like you should slow down, then slow down. If you have to take your turns wider and it slows you down, then that’s okay. You aren’t trying to break a personal record in the winter anyways, you are just trying to get by until spring comes (and trying your hardest to avoid the treadmill). There’s no reason to risk injury because you don’t want to slow down. Running downhill can be especially treacherous, and often times you might find yourself walking part of the way down to avoid falling. Safety first!