By Melanie Neading, BS, FMSC
Winter is NOT the offseason for running. In fact, in some ways it’s easier to run in the winter than through the hot, humid, sticky days of summer. You just need to be prepared for it. The key to winter running is exactly what Nike says… JUST DO IT!
The truth is, getting out the door is 90% of it. When the skies are gray, the thermometer is dropping, and the cozy blanket on the couch is calling, you are going to need a plan. Here are a couple of things to help get you out the door.
- Set days and times to run and keep them like any other appointment.
- Pick a spring race that you can get on a training schedule. Following a plan with set times and distances helps to motivate on the hard days and keeps you going when you don’t feel like it.
- Warm up and cool down indoors. This is not the time to skip them, but do them before you go outside so you can hit the road right away to rev up your internal heating system. By the same token, finish the cool down and stretching inside before you get too chilled from the end of your run.
Now that you are ready to run, what should you wear???
Winter running gear, like most things, can get a bit complicated. Don’t feel like you need to buy everything at once. Start with a really nice jacket and add pieces to it every year. The following year add some synthetic base pieces, then, add in accessories. Keep it simple. When you invest in good gear, it will last season after season.
The Jacket is your first line of defense against the elements, especially when talking about wind and rain. A good water-resistant jacket will take you into some pretty cold temps. There are many different brands to choose from as well as price points. Is the $500 jacket going to be twice as good as the $250 jacket?
Probably not, but the $50 jacket may be half as good as the $100 one. At some point you are paying for the bells and whistles and it is no longer about how warm it is keeping you. Pick a brand you like and that is reliable such as Nike, Asics, or New Balance. Then pick a style that suits you. Do you like a quarter zip, full zip, or a hoodie style with no zipper at all?
Keep in mind the ability to unzip to prevent overheating even when the temperature is low. When wearing a wind-resistant jacket, wind will not be coming in as well as body heat will not be leaving. Unzipping after the warmup may be essential to keep the body at a reasonable temperature.
The Base Layer
It is essential that the base layer is made of synthetic fibers and NOT cotton. Even in extremely cold weather, your body will produce enough heat to make you sweat. Wet clothing against your skin will chill you no matter what other layers are on top of it.
Tech material will not only wick away the sweat, it will keep it from clinging to your skin. Every brand has it’s own name for it’s tech material. UA calls it Threadborne Micorthread tech, Nike has Hyperwarm fabric, Asics has a line called Thermopolis, New Balance calls theirs the Windblocker line. The clothing materials are pretty much the same across the different brands.
Accessories such as socks, ear bands, gloves, hats, scarves, and buffs should follow the same guidelines as your clothing; tech material is superior. Merino wool is a great choice for the socks. There are many brands such as Smartwool and Thorlos that will help to keep your toes dry and warm.
Ear bands are a must in very cold weather. Since your ear is away from the body, there is less blood flow making it harder to keep warm and more prone to frost bite. Finding a good head covering combination can be tricky because you do not want to overheat. Your body uses your head to dissipate heat, so too much insulation on top could cause overheating and excess sweating.
Too much sweat equals wet and cold. Gloves follow the same rules; your fingers are far from your body, so it takes a little more to keep them warm. Some running gloves have a mitten covering that can be put over the glove and retracted if the hand starts to get too warm. Using a buff to protect your face is essential when the wind chill starts to dip to 15 degrees or below.
The buff also can be used as a mouth covering to prevent your lungs from burning in the cold, dry air. The dryness, not the cool temperature of the air, is actually what irritates your lungs because by the time the air hits your lungs, your body has warmed it to body temperature. By breathing through the material, the material will become moist and therefore moisten each breath you take in protecting the sensitive inner lining of your lungs.
Running through the winter will help keep you in shape, ward off the blues, and come spring your body will thank you. So, lace up your shoes, zip up your jacket, put your hat and gloves on, and get out the door.
Winter IS the Season for Running