Tips for winter running and outdoor activity
Winter running is one of the most enjoyable and serene experiences for the senses. On some days you may be one of the few outside and there is a mystical silence. This is even better after a fresh snow fall when you cannot even hear your footsteps.
If we followed the advice of many we might never go outside: “it is too cold, it is too hot, it is too wet, it is too windy, it might rain, it is slushy out, its getting dark”. So if this is your mantra, there is always the treadmill. One of the appealing things of outside activity in conditions not considered ideal is the appeal of play; in play there is an attraction of adventure and fun, as well as the constant improvisation. Every winter outdoor experience has these components, and the experience makes one want to go out and do it again.
If you want to get out and stay out here are some time tested tips experimented on by myself and others for decades. I spent 2 months one winter in Nome, Alaska and ran almost every day on the Iditarod trail. Fully layered and bundled except for a little peep hole to see through, but as long as I started into the wind, all was warm and well.
Best old school advice comes from guru Running author Dr. George Sheehan (written circa 1980). He mentions that exercise physiologists determined that wearing clothes suitable for 70 is acceptable clothing for -5 (F) while running. This does not apply to walking which generates much less heat. Dr. Sheehan also mentioned wool mittens over gloves and layers. He also swore by turtlenecks to keep the neck arteries warm and he wore an asthma mask. This was before the nice tech fibers, synthetic wools, and even Gore Tex. Dr. Sheehan ran a 4:47 mile at age 50 over 30 years ago so he knew what he was doing.
So here is the top 10 list of essentials for winter running
1. Have the right attitude for winter running, this is attitude of playing.
2. Have a good upper body wicking baselayer. If less than 20 use a turtleneck or zip turtle neck. Definitely no cotton anywhere on your body.
3. Add a windbreaker on top and if less than 10 consider another nylon or fleece vest. This does not have to be expensive gear. My winter favorites are over 10 years old and have been through the wash 100’s of times.
4. Tech fiber running pants are comfortable from 0 up to 60. I prefer loose fitting so you can feel comfortable finishing your run at a coffee shop without being too revealing.
5. Use compression shorts (bike style shorts) under the running pants. Consider compression calf socks or sleeves too for extra warmth and support for muscles
6. For men if you are in the true arctic zone consider a wind brief (no explanation needed)
7. A little Vaseline does wonders for the face/cheeks if 0 range
8. A particle mask (Home Depot variety) works great to warm and humidify the air for comfort. Get a higher quality one that will not collapse against your face.
9. For feet have a water resistant shoe with synthetic socks or good quality wool for really cold days.
10. Finally a good quality thermal or wool cap (with non wool lining for itch protection) and mittens.
Here are a few tips on safety:
1. For traction on snow and ice drill some sheet metal screws into an old pair of running shoes, use track spikes, or try Yaktrax.
2. Stay visible. For dark runs use a headlamp, reflective gear, and run into traffic.
3. Look for safe places to run with stable footing (beware black ice), clear shoulders or sidewalks, good lighting, and low vehicle traffic. I love looping around the historic section of Charles Town after shifts at Jefferson Medical Center, even after dark. In Shepherdstown the routes through campus areas are the safest as well as the Canal.
4. Your body cools fast if you are wet and if you stop or slow down. So do not overextend or go on route where you can get lost.
Here are a few ways your body works differently in the cold:
1. Cold muscles are inefficient. As muscle fibers near the surface cool blood vessels constrict and hemoglobin does not deliver oxygen efficiently.
2. Nerve conduction slows and your fascia springs are not as springy. Any winter outdoor exerciser has experienced the “herky-jerky” feeling.
3. Your body uses more glucose and glycogen to keep warm, especially if there is any shivering. So your endurance may be hampered.
So the a couple simple countermeasures are to overdress a bit if in doubt, maybe warm up a bit inside, and do not worry about your speed or pace.
Snow running is a great opportunity to work on your running form and agility too. You are forced to keep your feet under you (no overstriding), shorten your stride, and stay balanced.
Finally if it is cold outside we often need a nudge from others. When I commit to a friend for a weekend morning run we both benefit from the partnership, because alone it is easy to stay in. A cold weather running/walking group Two Rivers Treads starts this week Wednesday at 5pm. Call the store 304-876-1100 for more. All ages and abilities welcome. Distance 1-3 miles.