I have had a lot of interest in my winter running - questions about how to go about it, what to wear, when to draw a line, etc. I've also been told I'm insane, so let's just acknowledge that minor detail and move on, lol. I've wanted to write about the logistics as a sort of response to all those questions, but just always had something else on my mind to write about. I currently have very little on my mind - like seriously, it's a blank canvas up there... quiet as heck. So in light of that, and just looking for an excuse to write, here we go! :-D
I'm convinced that running in the winter needs to be something you immerse yourself in as the weather starts to turn. I've a few friends who suddenly decided to give winter running a try, and although they're great runners, they were quickly overwhelmed by the elements and refuse to go out again until the thaw. I don't know how I would have responded to the cold had I not begun running outdoors at the end of October, as the winds changed. I can say for certain that I never would have attempted to run those few weeks ago during round one of the great Polar Vortex, and had I, well... I'm sure it would have turned me right off of the notion of winter running. Instead, I went into the winter relishing the challenge, to overcome the elements as I pushed my limits beyond anything I've ever done. As the weeks introduced lower temperatures and new challenges, I simply made minor adjustments, and just kept going. January has given the most challenging conditions I ever could have imagined, but with a foundation of facing these conditions under my feet, I've simply kept on going, inching my way ever closer to half marathon distance. So for starters, I'd say if you've got aspirations for running in the winter, then pick a day when you feel relatively comfortable in terms of the outdoor temperature, and go from there. Challenge yourself a little, of course, don't just say that your comfortable temperature is summertime weather, lol, but pick a day that you feel like you could conquer the chilliness. In reality, once you start running, and as long as you're wearing the right clothes, the cold will barely bother you. When the warm blood starts pulsing through your veins, feeding your muscles as they submit to your demands, you'll find plenty of warmth to keep you from being bothered by the cold. Make sure though that you lay out a route that brings you back to your starting point - be it your house or your car. As long as you're running, you'll stay warm, but when you stop, your sweat will become your worst enemy. Don't get caught far from your starting point, plan it out.
The next most important topic is the gear. It's ALL about the gear, lol. I swear that the prospect of researching what to wear, and then buying new threads, was half the fun initially for me. Depending on your climate, you'll find generally that the colder it is, the more layers - and the right kind of layers - are required... the warmer it is, the less layers. Also be sure to wear clothing with reflective strips on them - never forget the human element and the danger of running near and with traffic. Find routes that keep you on the sidewalks, or on streets with less traffic (if possible).
For starters, I get asked what I wear for shoes. I wear my running shoes, plain and simple. Every winter runner that I asked told me the same thing, that they simply run in their regular shoes and that they work just fine in all conditions. I had read about some attachments you can buy, with micro-spikes for better traction, and the experienced runners all said the same thing: they just don't bother with them. They said that unless it's all snow, then the spikes don't react well with the hard surfaces of ice, asphalt, and cement. The key is to simply understand that you'll have to pay attention and change your stride and footing depending on the surface. You'll have to tighten up your stride and rely on your groin muscles more - sufficed to say, my groin has been worked pretty heavily this winter... wait... that didn't sound right... :-D Moving on, lol.
The three L's of winter running clothes: location, location, loca... wait, what? no, that's not right... layers, layers, layers! The trick is to wear clothing that is as light as possible, making it easier to run, but also clothing that will wick away sweat and breathe it out into the air. You also want clothes that will resist the outside elements, like rain and snow and wind. Staying dry in the winter is a must. You won't stay completely dry, mind you, but as dry as possible is what you're aiming for. When I started outdoor running at the end of October, I simply wore the spandex moisture-wicking layer, and the running jacket as a windbreaker and to keep me dry from any rain and snow. If it were warmer and not raining, I would have left the jacket and just ran with the spandex layer. The jacket and the spandex layer I bought cheapy-cheapy from Old Navy, both on sale. These layers aren't crucial to spend money on, in my opinion, as they're fairly simple creatures. As the temperatures dropped, I invested in a thermal sports layer. Also able to wick away moisture, this layer included a thermal fleece-like lining on the inside, but spandexy on the outside. You don't want anything too loose fitting for shirts, as you want to seal out the cold air as much as possible. The jacket layer can be a little loose to allow the under-layers to breathe (my opinion). These layers have supported me through some severely cold weather runs, with my body feeling warm and happy so long as I was running. These layers would not be enough otherwise, your body heat - captured within the layers - is a big part of the equation that keeps you mostly toasty. If you needed more layers, then I would suggest that it might be too cold for you to be running, and that you should draw a line there. You could look to add another under-layer, or consider a warmer jacket, but extra weight from clothes is something to always keep in mind - as it will affect your endurance and your pace.
The Bottoms: (tee hee, he said bottoms...)
The same type of rules apply to the bottoms. I wear a spandex wicking layer, and then a thermal layer for colder temperatures. I had thought about track pants, but then an experienced runner told me if they got wet, they'd start to weigh a ton. If they were your only layer apart from the spandex layer, then you'd also start to you get really quite cold. So again, I spent nothing on the spandex layer, but a pretty penny on the thermal layer. You want something light, with a weatherproof, wind-breaking material on it's exterior, and then a warm fleece-like lining on the interior. You could probably find an extra layer to go between the spandex and the thermal layer, but thus far I've had no need for that really. There was the one day, where the wind gusts were over 30mph, and it was close to -30 degrees Fahrenheit, that my legs started to feel the cold, but that's an extreme case and I won't be running in conditions that severe ever again. So in theory, this combination should see you through some very cold running.
For the most part, I just wear a single layer for socks. A pair of tight fitting, moisture wicking sports socks. My feet are usually chilly when I start running, but after ten minutes, I think from all the blood flow that's going down to them and my body just naturally heating up, my feet feel fine. I wiggle my toes sometimes to mentally feel like I'm warming them up some, but they generally just take care of themselves. In colder weather, I'll throw a pair of athletic, breathable, ankle socks underneath the normal pair. I did this last night actually for the first time. It was the second coldest day I've ever been out running, so I took precautions having learned valuable lessons from that extremely cold run I had a few weeks ago. Worked like a charm! My feet were completely warm the whole time, even despite running through a foot of snow for a few kilometers at one point... which was brutal for other reasons, lol... think "running through sand" and you'll understand... brutal. :-D
The Balaclava: (Try saying that ten times fast... kind of hurts your tongue a little...)
In the warmer weather, you won't need anything. Then, as it gets cooler, maybe the hood from your running jacket will suffice. Finally, as the weather dips below freezing, you'll thank yourself for wearing one of these puppies. Once you don your balaclava, you'll officially feel like a super-winter-running-ninja. Welcome to the club. :-D Breathing through one of these is different, so expect a decrease in pace as you account for elevated heart rate to carry more oxygen to your abused muscles... those poor muscles, lol. If you wear glasses, well, you won't be while wearing one of these. In the cold, they'll fog up severely. I'm lucky that my vision is adequate without my glasses, so I just run without. You'll want to figure on something though in case you need to see. Breathable sports goggles? Prescription ski goggles? I dunno, but something. You'll find that your nose will snot up, moreso the colder it gets, so think about bringing some tissues in your pockets. Pack more than you think you'll need, as some might get moist through all your layers. I ran with tissues yesterday for the first time, and it made a huge difference both mentally and in terms of comfort. You'll mess up your breathing some as you blow, so just think it through, blow through your nose on your exhales. It's not pretty, I get it, but then again reality is rarely as sexy as our imaginations. Don't let a little snot sidetrack you from owning the winter. :-D
This is an area that you definitely want to put some money up for! Your hands are one part of the body that lose heat more easily than others, and you'll want to protect them from the cold as much as possible. Initially, I invested in some thinner fleece gloves, which worked fine in temperatures just above freezing. As it dipped though, they were useless. That's when I bought the ones shown in the above picture, the black gloves. They have a fleece material with some insulation throughout the glove, but also features a wind-breaking material that can optionally cover your fingers and make it look more like a mitten (as it does in the picture. They're brilliant, and they've seen me through some cold runs. They met their match during the extreme cold from the Polar Vortex, and that incident resulted in me losing feeling in my left hand fingers until I was able to bring my body temperature back up with a piping hot shower. Having learned from that, I included a thick warm layer for my run yesterday in conditions that were the second worst I've run through - temperature-wise. I wore my red mittens overtop of the black gloves, and man oh man, it was PERFECT! My hands were toasty warm the entire time! I was really excited about that... clearly, lol.
So yeah... start early in the winter, challenging yourself as you go. Make sure you match the conditions by dressing warmer as it gets colder. And just be safe out there. There's something, to me at least, that represents the frontier of what we're capable of overcoming when it comes to winter running. In the coldest of night, as the snow falls slowly before your eyes, and you're left with only your will to overcome and a pair of legs to get you home, there's something so poetic... as your body tries to convince you to stop, and you let your veins fill with ice, silencing and rejecting the lies that you can't possibly get through it all... as you emerge from your run a new person, a person who can do anything, capable of mastering the elements... well, clearly, I very much like this.
Quick PS... if you're prone to clumsiness, don't run when it's icy out. Other than that you'll be fine... Amanda... lol! :-D