A few weeks ago I blogged about an interesting way to make your treadmill runs a little bit easier. But for some people, the treadmill just won't cut it—not even during the coldest winter months. I've spoken to a lot of friends and experienced runners in the last few weeks who want to keep pounding the pavement outside, but know that it's going to be a challenge. Here are some of the tips they're using to get going.
1. Follow the 20 degree rule
The main thing to remember when you're dressing for frigid temperatures is to dress as if it were 20 degrees warmer than it really is outside. So if it's 30 degrees, don't bundle up in a huge winter coat and wool hat and gloves; wear a few light layers with a windbreaker jacket, and breathable hat (or earwarmer) and gloves. Your heart rate is going to be up and you'll be radiating a lot of heat, so if you keep it all inside you'll overheat and tire out quickly.
2. Wear wicking fabrics
These synthetic materials are designed to pull moisture away from your body and dry quickly: Think about how much faster a swimsuit dries than, say, a big cotton sweatshirt. Wearing wicking materials as a base layer, as well as wicking hats and gloves) will keep sweat from clinging to your body—which is good because wind plus sweat could make you cold and even sick on a long run. Every company has their own patented wicking formula, so look for clothing advertised to keep you dry and cool.
3. Warm up first
The hardest part about running outside in the wintertime, I think, is the first couple of minutes after leaving the nice warm house, before you've really picked up speed. But if you get your blood moving before you walk out the door—by running up and down the stairs a few times, doing 10 minutes of yoga or a few push ups or sit ups—it will be a lot easier. Plus, it's a good idea to stretch before heading out anyway, since it's easier to strain or pull muscles in the cold.
4. Start out into the wind
If you are able to switch up your route a bit, try mapping the first half of your run against the wind. It will be tough at first, before you've really gathered any momentum, but it's still easier than trying to run into the wind at the end of your run, when you're tired and sweaty. Spend the second half of your run with the wind at your back so it can push you home.
5. Protect your face
It's easy to forget in the wintertime that we still need to protect our exposed skin—our faces in this case—from the sun, and also from the wind. Carry a tube of chapstick with you, wear sunglasses if needed (especially if there's white, reflective snow on the ground), and wear a daily moisturizing lotion with SPF.
My favorite winter running gear
- 180s Ear Warmers with headphones ($40 to $45) wrap snugly around the back of your head and plug into an mp3 player.
- The Lucy Tech Skull Cap ($24) is light, breathable, and quick-drying. It fits securely over your ears, and even has a ponytail hole in the back to ensure a great hit.
- Smartwool socks (about $12 a pair) will keep your feet warm and protected from the elements—a must, since running shoes are typically so meshy. But these aren't your grandpa's wool socks: They're fitted tight to the feet and are thinner than most types of wool, so they won't bunch up and give you blisters, and they're specially designed to conduct moisture away from the body.
- Brook's Thermal Visibility Pant ($88) will keep you warm and dry, and its reflective detail will make sure that you're seen by passing motorists. Because it gets darker so much earlier in the wintertime, always wear something reflective if you're running in the afternoon or later.
- The Nike Thermal Running Jacket ($120) is a great outer layer since it can be unzipped halfway to allow for ventilation if you start to get too hot. It also has an interior pocket to hold your mp3 player.
- 180s UltraLite CRG gloves ($25) have a retractable windproof mitten shell that you can wear when first starting out your run. When you get warm enough, you can pull back the shell and let your fingers breathe through the mesh glove. The gloves also have a fabric pod on the index finger that lets you scroll through an ipod click wheel without taking your gloves off.
People with breathing disorders such as asthma may find that it's just too hard to run outside in the cold—but for some of us, we just need some practice and the right gear. Give these tips a try, and let me know if they help…or if you have any of your own. Stay safe and dry, and have a happy holiday!