Tips for Winter Outdoor Running
Just because the calendar has rolled over to winter in your part of the world doesn’t mean that your running has to go into hibernation. While the weather conditions can make running outdoors in winter a challenge, there is no need to pack away the running shoes until spring.
If you have the desire to extend your fitness regime to a year round program I have a few tips to make your winter outdoor running an enjoyable and successful venture.
The obvious first thing to be aware of when considering an outdoor run in winter is checking on the current weather conditions outside? I am always mindful of the five-day weather forecast in planning my runs and I try to schedule them when the weather is quiet and cooperating. With that in mind, I try to plan on three to five runs per week during the winter months. I like to check the extended weather forecast to plan my runs ahead of time as much as possible based on my schedule and the forecast. I find that this helps to keep me motivated and always looking forward to my next workout.
Winter running involves a little more preparation than just throwing on a pair of running shoes and hitting the road. Your attire is the most important thing to be mindful of and some simple common sense will help you to be as comfortable as possible. The best advice anyone can give you for running in the cold weather is to use layers.
The most important layer is your base layer. A good base layer of CoolMax, DryFit, Thinsulate or polypropylene will help to wick the moisture away from your body and keep you as dry as possible. The one material to definitely avoid as a base layer is cotton as once it gets wet it stays wet. These hi-tech materials are designed to wick the sweat away from your body, which will keep you warm and most importantly, dry.
On those really cold days, below twenty degrees or so, you will want to consider adding an insulating layer. The purpose of this layer is to continue to wick the moisture away from the skin to the outer layer where it can evaporate. Materials that make a good insulating layer include Thermafleece, Dryline, Microfleece, Thermax and Polartek.
Your outer layer should consist of a nylon winter running jacket or windbreaker. As the wind is often the culprit a good windbreaker will help to prevent the wind from penetrating to the body.
There are some wonderful materials available today that are breathable, will break the wind, and provide a waterproof layer. Gortex is one of the best materials out there and it is also one of the most expensive. If Gortex is not in your budget there are a host of other materials that will do the trick such as Supplex, Windstopper, and ClimaFit.
By running in a jacket that is breathable, the moisture that is generated by your body while running will have an avenue to escape, instead of collecting in the clothing that you have on. This will definitely help to keep you more comfortable out there.
Protecting the Legs
While a few layers will help to protect your torso, let's not forget about the legs. A good pair of winter running tights or a pair of running pants will help to protect your legs. On those really cold and windy days, I will use a pair of running tights under a nylon shell and this has always provided more than enough protection during even the harshest of conditions.
Running tights are usually made of spandex, which is flexible and will help to insulate your legs. Wind pants are made of nylon and are better for blocking the wind. A running pant is usually made of a wicking material to help keep the legs dry and has a more casual fit. Find what works best for you and hit the road.
Head and Hands
Probably the most vulnerable part of the body when running in cold weather is your head. We lose more body heat through our heads than any other part of the body. So before heading out be sure to include you’re winter running hat and of course a pair of winter running gloves to protect your hands.
A wool or fleece winter hat will go a long way towards keeping your head insulated. You can also resort to a face-mask, neck gaiter or a balaclava, which will protect your face and neck on those especially cold days.
The running shoe industry has really capitalized on the need and desire of runners to remain active year-round. There are numerous shoes now designed specifically for winter running and a pair of these hi-tech shoes will help to keep your feet dry while out in the elements.
I have on occasion run in specialized winter running shoes and while they do help to keep the feet dry they also offer a more aggressive outer sole, which helps when running on snowy or slushy surfaces. Lately, I have resorted to simply alternating between two pairs of shoes to ensure that I always have a dry pair available.
Let's Not Forget About the Eyes
The last piece of equipment to consider during your winter run is sunglasses. You might be asking, why sunglasses? Well, if you are running on a very bright and sunny day and there happens to be snow on the ground then glare can be a problem. Whenever there is a chance of slippery conditions the last thing you want is to be temporarily blinded by the glare of the sun and to hit an icy spot. I know it’s sounds like a long shot but I have seen it happen.
Winter Running Tips
- Even though it's winter you still need to stay hydrated!
- Don't take unnecessary chances, wear a reflective vest or clothing if running in the dark.
- Avoid pot holes if running on the road.
Now that we are all geared up its time to hit the road. Everyone knows their own running areas so the only advice I can give here is to select routes that you frequent often and that provide a safe means of passage. When running on the roads please be cautious and be aware of the traffic coming towards you. If you must run on the road you should always run opposite the flow of traffic so that you can see what is coming your way. If your particular running area has sidewalks, then try and stay off the road and utilize the sidewalks if at all possible. And when running in the winter always be wary of icy conditions, which can cause a very sudden and unexpected fall and injury. Winter running definitely requires that we be much more aware of our surroundings so watch your step out there.
If all else fails there is always the trusty treadmill if you happen to own one, or you can head to your local gym. While I do not love running on the treadmill I will resort to one if the conditions outside are so bad that it is unsafe. There is certainly nothing wrong with running on a treadmill and I have found that as I get older I have been doing this more and more (Must be getting soft?). Winter is also a great time to work some cross training into your routine and a spinning workout on the stationary cycle can help to maintain your overall aerobic fitness level.
The last tip about winter running that I can give goes back to the idea that this is not the time to be setting records and doing speed work, especially when the conditions are less than optimal. I use my winter running to build up a solid fitness level so that when the weather does break I have a good running base from which to start. Save the speed work for the warm weather. Wintertime is a great time of year to get out for those long, slow runs and to enjoy the beauty of the season. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Give it a shot; you just might actually enjoy it.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Bill De Giulio