Cold Weather Running

With fall only a few short weeks away, and mornings here in Calgary already getting rather chilly, it’s time to get prepared to run in colder weather and shudder the winter. Are you brave enough for running in Canada’s often harsh winters? Let this piece help you get prepared.

Just because winter running can be challenging and brutally cold, doesn’t mean runners should hunker down inside and hit the treadmill for all their kilometres. If you’re an outdoor person, there’s no reason why you can’t take your cardio and training on the pathways and trails, even when the temperature inevitably drops below zero.

Speaking from experience, winter running can be addicting and exhilarating. Practicing your stride and listening to your breathing in cold weather will leave you a faster runner come spring and summer race season.

YYC Fitness spoke to ultra-marathon runner Kara Leinweber and YYC Run Crew member Meredith Bly to glean information, tips, and running must-haves for the winter.

On why they brave the cold to rack up miles, “Mentally it’s either outside or the monotonous treadmill. Outside is always better,” Bly opined. It can be quite peaceful in the snow with the sun upon your face. When you’re running in the heat you can’t really make it any cooler out, versus winter you can always add a layer. While it can be difficult to force yourself into the cold, the opportunity to breathe in fresher air than any other time of year, that crunch you hear with every step, seeing your footprints imprinted on the ground and the odd looks people give you are surely enough motivation to get outside. 

If you are running outside in the winter you do need to take some safety precautions and ensure that you have the right gear. “Make sure to look out for ice! Black ice is all over the paths so buy cleats to go over your shoes or stick to the snow and make it a tougher work out,” Bly said, adding she always tries to leave time to warm up because getting your muscles to warm up in the cold is hard. It’s also important to have your phone on you when running in the cold, as the potential for injuries/accidents is highly increased when running in the dark and on snowy paths and trails.

To keep warmth in and slush out, run in shoes that have the least amount of mesh. Wear socks that wick away wetness but keep your feet warm. You want to be warm without sweating so much you get a chill. Often, the rule of thumb is to dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer.

For clothing, layers of technical fabrics to wick sweat, with zippers at the neck and underarm area to vent air as you heat up are a good choice. Merino wool is light and does a great job keeping you warm. Be careful of doubling up on socks, as you want to make sure your feet can wiggle around to keep movement. Another factor to keep in mind with winter running is that with limited daylight, chances are you’ll be running in the dark. Wear reflective, fluorescent gear, and don’t be shy about lighting yourself up like a Christmas tree.

Here’s some numbers to keep an eye on when and how to layer up:

-1°: Two tops, one bottom. Long-sleeve base layer and a vest keep your core warm. Tights (or shorts, for polar bears).

-10°: Two tops, two bottoms. A jacket over your base layer, and wind pants or shorts over the tights.

-20°: Three tops, two bottoms. Two tops (fleece for the cold-prone) and a jacket.

-30°: Three tops, three bottoms, two pairs of mittens, one balaclava, sunglasses. Strongly consider staying inside. Such frigid temperatures can affect breathing and could do more damage than good.

Leinweber’s favourite gear is Arcteryx pants, waterproof gloves, a buff for neck and face coverage, and like Bly, merino wool socks. You’ll learn your own preferences as you run.

Your winter outdoor running regime will also need some tinkering. Winter running is more about maintenance miles than speedwork. For Leinweber that means running 3 days a week instead of 5 or 6. For long runs, if you can’t run in the middle of the day when the temperatures are warmest, it may be best to run twice a day, five kms in the morning and five in the evening: That’s better than doing one long 10K run where you might get very cold toward the end.

Running in the cold isn’t for the faint of heart. A level of fearlessness is vital to make it enjoyable, particularly on the colder days when there aren’t very many hours of sunlight. But there’s just something special about lacing up and hitting the pathways with your best running friends in those cold months. And running in the cold just makes those spring runs feel so rewarding.

Above photo from DaveBlogs007

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