Winter running can be a problem for those of us who live in the north. Between the perpetual darkness, freezing temps and hazardous conditions, it’s not very motivating to run outdoors. I’ve never been a fan of winter in general, but by embracing the suck, you can make winter running suck just a little bit less. Here are some winter running tips to help you get through to the spring.
1. Know when to stay indoors
- Extreme cold
- Ice & snow accumulation
- Learn to love the treadmill
If it looks treacherous outside, don’t risk it. If you can barely walk on the sidewalk, how are you going to run for 2+ hours? Even if conditions are clear, it may still not be a good idea to run. I can handle a 2.5 to 3 hour long run in -25 C but even that is pushing it and I wouldn’t consider running in anything colder than that. Its situations like this that really got me to start loving my treadmill. Its definitely a worthwhile investment and you’ll be thankful when that first big storm hits. Last year during the ice storm, I ran on my treadmill every day for almost 2 weeks – even my long runs. I enjoyed it so much more because I was happy I was able to complete my run as planned.
2. Wear the right winter running gear
- Hat & gloves
- Running tights
- Base layer, thermal layer, wind shell
- Warm winter running socks
- Face mask, moisturizer, lip balm, glasses
This should be a no brainer. The right gear is essential to staying warm and dry – especially on long runs. When you’re buying running pants or tights be sure to check and see what temperature they’re rated for. I have two pairs of running tights: one for up to -10 C and the other for up to -20 C. A quality pair of moisture wicking socks are a must. I also have a Sugoi Thermal Tube that I can pull up over my face if its really bad out. I look like a ninja!
3. Find the best winter running shoes that work for you
- Trail shoes with warm, moisture wicking socks
- Yaktrax or other ice grips
Any shoe should work fine for winter running, but there are some that offer added protection for our northern climate. I just got a pair of Yaktrax for Christmas and I’m definitely looking forward to trying them out during the next major snowfall. A few years back, I picked up a minimalist trail shoe with some warm wool socks specifically for winter running and they’ve worked out just fine. I’ll also run in Vibram FiveFingers on warm, clear days but with the additional protection of Injinji toe socks.
4. Tell someone where you’re going and for how long
- Carry your phone
- Show them your route
- Run with a friend or group
You never know what’s going to happen, so its imperative that you tell someone where you’re going or at the very least carry a cell phone. I’ve had to use my phone twice in the past five years. The second time was particularly serious – I slipped on black ice and sliced my chin open. Without my phone I would have been knocking on random doors in Swansea. Running with a friend or a group (such as the Running Room) is also a good idea.
5. Sign up for a goal race
- Less likely to bail on a run
- Stay motivated
You’re more likely to make it out the door when its snowing if you’ve signed up for a goal race. If its too dangerous to run outside, you’ll still be motivated to run on the treadmill. I find there’s definitely a noticeable difference in personal motivation between training season and off-season.
6. Insulate your fuel/water
- Carry in pockets of thermal (middle) layer
- Use your hands to warm up gels 5min before use
- Frequently shake up water to remove ice
This one is tough because I find my water will always freeze at some point but there are a few things you can do to prolong the inevitable. Carry your (8oz) bottles in the pockets of your thermal layer. The thermal pockets plus the wind shell will give you some extra insulation. Also, if you fill the bottles only 3/4 full and shake them up every once in a while they won’t turn to solid ice (just slush). Don’t feel like carrying bottles? Coffee shops are usually pretty nice to runners and will give you a cup of water if you ask. If you’re carrying gels you can warm them up in your hands for five minutes before you plan on taking them. It makes them a little less solid.
7. Have a backup plan
- Adjust to conditions
- Alternate route if you need to bail
- Run loops / finish on treadmill
Having a backup plan can really come in handy if the conditions suddenly change and you need to bail. When planning your route, identify a couple of alternate paths as well as a point of no return. If I come to the point where I need to evaluate and decide if I need to turn around and head home I don’t want to be too far out. Another option is to run loops of a clear path or do a half indoor, half outdoor run. For example, last year during a snow storm I needed to do a 26km long run and the streets hadn’t been plowed. The sidewalk was much clearer so I ran two 5km loops (slowly) around my neighbourhood then got home, changed into shorts and ran the final 16km on the treadmill.