Every year, runners face a daunting question: do they gear up and tough it out through the winter, or head to the gym for some calisthenics inside. In mid-November, choosing to run outside may not have been such a difficult decision.
As the frost and sleet of early December set in around much of the country, however, there’s a weekly temptation to hang up the proverbial outdoor sneakers and seek solace in a heated cocoon. With Jack Frost marshaling his winter forces just beyond the horizon, here are five tips to help you prepare for the coming cold.
Like a golfer swinging a vintage set of wooden clubs, a runner without a good, solid pair of modern shoes is stacking the deck in winter’s favor before they even get out the door.
Even if you already own a pair of quality shoes from the summer running season, don’t be so quick to assume they’ll translate well to ice-covered sidewalks and trails. The same top-shelf shoes that got you through that brutal July marathon may be riddled with mesh panels, an inviting target for sidewalk slush and road salt over the coming months.
Do your feet a favor and invest in a new pair of winter running shoes with little or no mesh paneling. While you may not want to go all the way to a fully waterproof product, due to its lack of breathability and tendency to retain moisture, a water-resistant model may be just the ticket.
While you may not lose as much heat through your head as had once been the conventional wisdom, it goes without saying that your eyes, ears, and throat are vital to your performance during outdoor runs.
We’re all guilty of having been somewhat cavalier with our gear (or lack thereof) at least once in our lives, but winter is not the time to test your body’s limits. Instead of putting your immune system through the wringer, don’t leave home without a hat on your noggin, or at least a pair of earmuffs in your pocket.
On especially bitter days, consider digging a neck gaiter out of your ski bag. When the wind and sleet are pounding hard but you don’t want to phone it in for your run, pull a gaiter over your mouth and ears so you can keep breathing easy.
There’s no glory in getting injured because you weren’t prepared for conditions, or worse, didn’t think about your own safety on the run.
Running in the winter means you’ll have significantly less sunlight than you would during a similar run during warmer months. Whether you prefer an early-morning jog or an after-work workout, chances are you’ll be sharing the trail, sidewalk, or road with others in a fairly dark environment.
To make sure you are clearly visible, pick up a reflective top. No longer solely the domain of road construction crews, you can find all sorts of stylish apparel with reflective tape sewn into panels and seams. For bonus points, consider a clip-on flashing light to adhere to your back. It’s hard enough for a car or other motorized vehicle to see you when you’re coming at them, much less when they’re overtaking you from behind.
You don’t need to be the sharpest tool in the shed to know that cold weather and cold muscles increase the risk of injury. Save yourself a trip to the doctor (and a few weeks recovering on the couch) by allowing time for a thorough warmup before you exercise.
It’s particularly tempting in the winter to start jogging as soon as you hit the pavement, but in this case, it pays to slow down. Loosening your limbs or taking a slow lap around the block can pay big dividends later in the day if it helps keep you limber and healthy. Remember, there’s no quicker way to ice your winter running goals than by diving into a run too quickly and going down with a pulled muscle or worse.
With all the talk about the coming depths of winter, it can be easy to forget how unique and enjoyable running in the late fall and even early winter can be. As the leaves begin to show deeper shades of orange and red, there is no better time to lace up a well-loved pair of running shoes to hit the trail and see where it takes you.
Make time this weekend by getting up before sunrise so you can be ready to run by the crack of dawn. If you’re interested in catching the sunrise from somewhere more scenic, check with your local running association for maps that point you to the best vistas in town. Whenever you decide to run, stay safe and enjoy the journey!