Words by Taylor Thomas of Thomas Endurance Coaching
As the weather begins to turn cold many runners head for the comfort of a treadmill. While there’s nothing wrong with training on a treadmill, the cold doesn’t have to be the reason you stay inside. Winter can be a great time to see your favorite roads and trails in a different light. It can also be a season of building, where quality miles are logged in preparation for your Spring and Summer events to come. With a little preparation, attention to detail, and the right gear you can look forward to Winter running just as much as those warm sunny Summer days.
Proper footwear is one of the most important considerations when it comes to comfort and safety in the winter. If you’re in an environment that receives snow or rain then it’s worth considering switching to a waterproof running shoe. Many manufacturers offer waterproof versions of your favorite summer shoes. Dry feet go a long way in your attitude about cold weather running. It’s also a good idea to wear thicker socks as it gets colder. Your warm-weather performance running socks might not cut it when the temperature drops below freezing.
The key to comfort in the cold comes down to one thing: layers. The most common approach to cold-weather runs for many athletes is to dress like they’re going skiing. Remember, this is still exercise, and you’re going to sweat no matter how cold it is. Invest in quality baselayers to start. Then layer wind-resistant pieces such as jackets, vests, and pants/tights. Next, think about gloves and headgear to keep your extremities warm. With all of the blood flowing to your major muscle groups, your hands are often the first thing to get cold. A good rule of thumb is that you typically need one less layer than you think you’ll need when you’re getting dressed. You will warm up!
There are a few pieces of gear that can be critical when it comes to comfort and safety in the ice and snow. Traction is one of the most overlooked pieces of gear for year-round runners. There are many companies that produce lightweight traction to fit around your running shoes. There are also options for screws that affix directly into the sole of the shoe. These “spikes” can be the difference between a quality run and coming home bruised and battered. Another great piece of gear for snowy runs is gaiters. If you’re not familiar, gaiters fit around your shoes and ankles and keep snow and debris from getting in your shoes. These can make things infinitely more comfortable.
Don’t forget to track your progress over the winter months with the
TICKR Heart Rate Monitor.
If you’re running long, and need access to mid-run fuel, it’s worth considering insulated bottles, or insulated hydration tubes/bladders so that you have consistent access to hydration and nutrition. Not only can your fluids freeze, but your gels, bars, and chews can get too hard to consume as well. Try to wear clothing that has pockets or storage that’s close to your body. Your body heat will keep your solid fuels from freezing and make them east to consume when you need them.
Winter running often means running in the early morning or evening when the sun isn’t out. This can cause safety concerns if you’re in areas where there are potential hazards. A bright headlamp is a crucial piece of gear for winter runs. There’s any number of brands and types, but just make sure it’s bright enough to actually light your path, and that the battery life is sufficient enough to last for the duration of your longest planned run. Bright colors and reflective clothing are also a good idea. Most cold-weather running gear integrates one or both of these features, but make sure you can be seen by motorists, cyclists, and other runners.
Jumping out into sub-zero temperatures to start a run can be a shock to the system. A proper warm-up is always a good idea no matter the elements, but it becomes critical when the mercury drops. If you have the option, try to perform a warm-up of light stretching and mobility work in a warm environment. If you’re driving to your run and starting immediately in the cold, remember to start slow. Allow your body 10-20 minutes to ease into your normal pace. Listen to what your body is telling you and respond accordingly.
Winter doesn’t have to be the dreaded treadmill time for runners. Whether you just want to keep your running legs tuned up, or you need to get in the mileage for your Spring marathon or ultra, the winter can be a great time to be outside. With the right preparation, planning, and gear you don’t have to sacrifice fitness or comfort in cold weather.
Taylor Thomas is the founder and head coach of Thomas Endurance Coaching (TEC) and has more than a decade of experience in the endurance sports industry as an athlete, coach, team organizer, writer, and podcast host. TEC provides expert level coaching to athletes of all ability levels and specializes in both a scientific and metrics-based approach to endurance sports. They guide athletes in a wide variety of disciplines ranging from running and cycling to mountaineering. For more information on their personal coaching and training plan options visit http://www.thomasendurancecoaching.com/. Also, listen to their top-rated podcast Endurance Minded everywhere you get your podcasts.