There’s no need to put away your running gear when the weather turns cold. Winter running can be comfortable and enjoyable. It even holds a few advantages over running in the summer. The bugs have disappeared. The danger of heat exhaustion and dehydration is minimal. Traffic is less and those annoying dogs have been secured away.
The secret to staying comfortable in northern climates in any kind of outdoor activity during the winter is to deal properly with the three W’s: Wet, Warmth, and Wind.
Perspiration is the body’s method for cooling itself off. Water on your skin will pull heat from it. This is great in the summer but is an obvious disadvantage if you’re trying to stay warm in the winter. Perspiration needs to be kept away from your body if you want to stay comfortable. When dressing for the cold, the layer next to your skin should be made of some kind of material that will wick the perspiration away from your body. Technical shirts and blends are usually good. Cotton is bad.
In addition to wearing a wicking layer next to your skin, another way to combat perspiration is to run cool. This can be accomplished by removing clothes and tying them around your waist if you heat up on the run. Dress in layers so that you can pull a jacket or sweatshirt off when exercise begins to raise your body temperature. Be sensitive to your sweat situation. If you feel sweat starting to form on your forehead, pull your toque up a bit or take it off altogether. If you wait until you’re actively sweating, the moisture will make your head feel like an iceberg.
All over your body, from your head to your feet, a wicking layer should be next to your skin. The next layer you should put on is the insulating warmth layer. This is the only layer that should vary. The colder it is, the thicker or more insulating the layer should be. You can either add more clothes or use thicker/warmer material to increase the warmth of this layer.
Clothes do not produce any warmth. They just keep the warmth that your body produces from dissipating. Wind pulls the heat from your body. Your outer layer should be a wind proof, breathable shell. If you have extra money to spend, spend it on this layer. If you have something that blocks the wind but isn’t breathable as an outside layer, your sweat will accumulate against you skin and you return to the moisture problem. The outer layer needs to be wind proof and breathable.
Three Layers =
Wicking Tech Shirt + Middle Insulating Layer + Outer Breathable Windbreaker
Believe it or not, there are some places that hold marathons and half marathons during the winter. Those who run them spend a lot of time training for them. There are some things to think about if you are running long distances in the cold. A twisted ankle 10 km away from home in the summer is inconvenient and a royal pain. In the winter, however, the same injury can be dangerous. Hypothermia is when your body does not produce enough heat to keep your vital organs functioning well. If you have to limp 10 km back home when your body is covered with sweat in frigid temperatures, you run the very real risk of experiencing hypothermia. To minimize this risk, make shorter circuits around your home in the winter and run them multiple times rather than going for a long out and back course. That way, if you are injured, you won’t be as far from home.
On long runs, it is difficult to bring water along with you because it will freeze. Have a water bottle inside your door of your home and grab a drink as you pass on your short circuit.
If it’s really cold, you may want to do your running warm up inside your house before a long run. Your body will begin to produce heat which may mean that you won’t need quite as many clothes when you head outside. Be careful not to warm up so much that you begin to sweat.
I have tried a number of different shoe attachments that are meant to add grip in snow and ice. All have had some effectiveness in preventing slipping. The problem that I have experienced is that they do not last. My running route in winter is a patchwork of snow, ice, and cleared road or sidewalk. It is the concrete surfaces that wear down the shoe attachments and cause them to break. If your route is strictly snow or you’re willing to replace them frequently then they are a good choice for you.
One thing that I have bought that has been useful in winter running is a safety vest with reflective stripes. If you are running in the cold, you are probably in an area where daylight is short in winter. Snow build-up can force you to run on roads or areas that are closer to traffic so being visible is very desirable. There are running jackets that have reflective stripes on them but if you get warm and need to take them off during a run, you’ve lost your increased visibility. The safety vest that I have is mesh with Velcro attachment straps so it adds virtually no weight and is easy to put on and take off. Besides that, they’re cheap.
When it is really cold, I alter my running habits a bit. When it is below -25 degrees Celsius, I always warm up inside for a bit. It gets the blood flowing and gets some warmth generated. Also, I don’t do any sprint repeats or hard runs when it’s really cold. You body has a wonderful system for warming up the air before it gets down to your lungs but if you are breathing really hard, it’s difficult for the air to be warmed up sufficiently and damage to your lungs is a real possibility. Another problem with running when it’s really cold is that your eyelashes freeze up. Moisture from your eyes gets onto your lashes and forms clumps of ice that can be annoying and even make it difficult to see. A little Vaseline on your eyelashes before you run will prevent this. As a matter of fact, putting a layer of Vaseline on your face will keep it a little warmer during your run.
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