As another polar vortex makes nestles itself across North America for a long deep slumber we all begin the ritual of bitching and moaning about the cold. We shut down all our planned activities, grab several blankets and bury our heads into our mattress as we await a spring reprieve.
However, we must not have this mentality - even though it is cold it doesn't mean you can't be outside. Exercise is incredibly important for my mental health and my ability to ward off seasonal depression. I know I am not alone in this. While escaping south for a week is a great break you still have the other 20 or so weeks of winter to contend with.
Every time I tell someone that I run in the winter they think I am crazy, but running in the winter is a beautiful and rewarding experience. There is just something amazing about running through fresh snow as the sun sets that just melts away the stress of the world.
You don't have to be the world's greatest athlete to go for a winter run, my times aren't putting me into the Olympics. It is just about going outside in the winter, taking a deep breath and taking some time to run from winter.
My goal is to teach what I have learned and the type of gear I have invested into making running in any weather a cozy breeze. So far the coldest I have tested my gear is -31C. Even in these temperatures I still work up a sweat. You will be amazed how warm you can be if you get your heart rate up.
The best way to start running in the winter is to start small. . See how you feel, dial in your gear and try again. Remember - that the first run is hard, the second run is harder now that you are sore and the third run is what gets you addicted. You got to push through those early attempts.
Everyone will have temperature limits so do what makes you comfortable, but even getting out for a run outside once a week throughout winter can really change your mood.
To help you decide what gear you need, here is a snapshot of the gear that I use and some additional tips.
I wear all my layers on any day that is -18C or colder. If it gets above -18C then I will ditch my black wool sweater.
Once the temperature rises to about -12C, I leave behind my ski gloves and just use my microfleece gloves. Even when it is -20C or colder there will be times that I take my ski gloves off for a bit to cool down, but you want to make sure your hands have the chance to stay warm. If they get cold, it is near impossible to warm them up again during your run.
You will notice that my legs only have one layer, I never find that my legs get cold at any temperature. However, if your legs do get cold, double up with a pair of wool long johns. Do not use cotton, that will only make you colder once you start sweating! The pants I have are designed specifically for winter running so they are stretchy and warm. You can get away using shell pants and long johns if you don't have a pair.
You need to hone in on the gear that works for you at different temperatures. What works for me, might not work for you but I hope this gives you at least a starting point. For example, I thought I could double layer my microfleece gloves on a -17C day and that would be enough. By the time I got back my hands were so frozen, I could barely open the door. That was a lesson learned that day.
In the beginning, it is best to start with more layers and then figure out what you can shed for the next run. Keep mental or written notes about what you wore on each day and what the weather was like to help you make decisions. You should always be sweaty at the end of your run, but you shouldn't be freezing cold. Aim to be just as hot as if you ran on a nice summer evening.
A good rule of thumb is to start your run feeling a little bit cold. You shouldn't be so cold that you are shivering uncontrollably. A small chill down your spine is the right starting temperature. You will quickly build up heat under your layers and will be the perfect temperature after your first kilometre.
Make sure you have layers with zippers so you can open them up if you need to cool off if needed.
I recommend getting a shell layer that blocks the wind. After getting mine it really improved how I felt on windy days.
I also recommend getting a FlipBelt for your phone that you place under a layer of clothing. Not only is it much more comfortable to run with, but it will also keep your phone from freezing and getting wrecked.
Focus on taking shorter strides, it will help you maintain your balance and you'll be less likely to wipe out on a hidden piece of ice. You can run in summer running shoes, but just take extra precaution.
The best piece of gear that I invested in was shoes with cleats built directly in. (pictured below) I never found buying those ice cleats that attach to your shoes to be that helpful and frankly they hurt my feet. I have a pair of Salomon Spikecross 3's that I highly recommend. Visit your local running shop and they will help you get the right pair of winter running shoes that fits your foot.
If you are going for a winter run in a less populated place, make sure you let someone know where you are going and for how long. Things happen, and having someone know where you are makes all the difference.
Make sure to buy clothing that has reflectors. It isn't also the worst idea to hang a light off you if you are running in the dark. People aren't expecting someone to be running in the winter so they won't be looking for you. Be careful in crosswalks and remember that people can't stop like they do in the summer!
If you want to listen to music or podcasts, I recommend buying wireless on the ear headphones. They are much more comfortable to wear than earbuds. I find that my toque pushes the buds into my ear, which is extremely uncomfortable, and the tangle of wires with your buff can be a pain. This is definitely a luxury item, but one I am glad I invested in. I have a pair of House of Marley - Positive Vibration 2's. They retail for $99 to $79. They are on the cheaper end, but so far they haven't failed me in any temperature and the sound quality is pretty good for something that price.
What the bottom of my cleated shoes look like.
If you think this is all crazy and that I am crazy for suggesting running in the winter, I just ask you try it once and see how you feel. I find it is easier to run in the winter than the summer in a lot of ways. In the summer the humidity makes me feel like I can't get a full breath. The dryness of the winter air is perfect to take big slow breaths to quickly slow your heart rate and get you back into a rhythm. Plus, you never have to share the trail!
By pushing yourself outside you will quickly realize that winter isn't a lion it's just a little fluffy kitten.