Winter Running and Workout Tips

After a quarter century of lacing up my shoes and hitting the pre-dawn road, I would never question that running has provided me with great health, great friends, incredible physical and mental strength, and a zest for life. However, during cold, dark winter mornings my smile is a little faded and the spring in my step is not, shall we say, springy.

The truth is, winter running and walking (and basic living) is quite challenging. Hey, sometimes the truth hurts. Over the years though, I have discovered some of the best ways to make winter exercise easier and more fun. I would never want something like the weather to control my exercise or yours. Here's a simple guide to healthy winter exercise.
  • Protect those extremities first. Keep your hands, ears, nose and for men, the genital area protected. The extremities are the most exposed to cold and wind and the most susceptible to frostbite.
  • Become a well-dressed runner. In cold weather, the secret is to layer lightweight garments so the clothing works together to keep you dry and warm. High-tech materials like polypropylene and polar fleece are designed to keep body temperature steady, while wicking the moisture away from your skin to the surface layer of clothing. Because these fabrics "wick" rather than absorb moisture, your clothes don't get soggy and heavy as you sweat. Obviously, this means you need to ditch that old pair of sweats and oversized cotton t-shirt. Aim for a balanced approach to dressing that will leave you warm, but not so hot that you start sweating a lot.
  • Dress flexibly. Put on your hat and zip up your jacket when you're heading into a cold wind. Take the hat off and partially zip down the jacket when the wind is behind you. The difference can be dramatic.
  • Protect your torso first. Your legs need much less protection than your torso. Cold feet usually occur at football games and before marriage, not when you're pushing the pace.
  • Don't take chances. Don't tempt fate by trying to run hard and fast in difficult weather. Sometimes the ice and snow coupled with the dark can make for a deadly combination. Take your workout indoors, or simply take the day off.
  • Find a friend. It's much safer and more fun to train with your friends in the winter. Everyone has trouble leaving a nice warm bed. But, if you know that someone is waiting for you, it's much easier to get motivated. It is also much safer in case someone should get in trouble.
  • Watch out for cars. Remember, any weather that makes conditions more hazardous for cars makes things much more dangerous for you. When running in rain, snow, or ice, you must be especially alert and cautious. Be sure you wear reflective gear.
During the winter, one of my all-time favorite thing is to throw my running clothes in the dryer for three minutes before I head out on a blustery morning. Right when the warmth from the dryer fades, I'm already a mile into my run. I'm warm, and yes, there is a nice spring to my step, especially during the first snowfall when I'm the first footprint of the morning.