Ditch your clothes—plus 4 other essential winter running tips
For a runner, taking a break during winter isn't really an option. But how do you stay safe (and warm) when the temperature drops?
Some people trade pavement pounding for treadmills during the coldest time of the year. This might be a necessity if winds are high and the air outside has fallen below zero, but cooler temperatures can also bring a magical feeling to the air. Whether you step outside before dawn and let the brisk temps push you to pick up your pace or you wait until the sun shines on the snow-capped scenery, outdoor running is possible in the winter. Simply follow these safety steps for your best winter run.
Step One: Dress to Protect
Figuring out what to wear during winter runs can be challenging. Some new runners overdress for the season. As you run, your core warms, so you should dress as though it is twenty degrees warmer outside. This means a 40 degree start warrants sixty degree clothing. Wear thin layers and shed them as you run. Just don’t expose too much or you might end up with a nasty case of frostbite and a ticket for indecent exposure.
Step Two: Lose Your Clothes
Going the distance? If your plan calls for a two to three hour run, consider how much warmer it might be at the finish than it is at the start and plan accordingly. Layer up and then shed clothes as you go, dropping items at specific places and then returning to pick them up on the way home. A nice big bush en route can hide a variety of pieces, and a friend’s front porch offers a great place for stashing clothes. (Just give advance warning so they don’t think a strange game of strip poker has taken place on their doorstep.)
You can also keep the clothes with you if you plan right. Wear gloves at the start and clip them onto your jacket as the temperatures rise. Shove a hat into a deep jacket pocket once your head starts to sweat. Of course, you can always tie an extra shirt or light jacket around your waist when you get too hot.
Overdressing can be bad, but so can underdressing, which can lead to frostbite and numbness in your extremities. Cover exposed areas when temperatures dip near freezing. Wear gloves, a hat, and even a face mask if necessary. Steer clear of cotton products and choose wicking fabrics that pull the sweat away from your body. (Sweat plus cold temps can equal big chills if you aren’t careful.)
Step Three: Prepare for Slippery Sidewalks
One of the main concerns with cold weather running is ice on the sidewalks, which is often invisible. One false step can land you on the ground with a twisted ankle and a bruised ego.
To minimize the chance of slipping, consider purchasing—or making—shoe hardware that will keep your feet grounded. YakTrax are a popular choice among runners who enjoy heading outside during the coldest of months. They fit on your running shoe and feature removable spikes that create traction against ice as you run.
Other runners prefer to make their own set of running shoes for the ice by using steel screws that are inserted into the bottom of the shoe. Care should be taken when making your own, so the screws do not push through and into your foot. Don’t plan to sneak up on anyone, though, as the clicking noise the screws make against the ice will give you away.
Don’t want to make or buy products to ice-proof your sneakers? Consider running after the sun has risen and, if possible, run on the street rather than the sidewalk. (This, of course, poses additional safety concerns, so use caution.) You might also want to seek out an outdoor—or even indoor—high school track.
Step Four: Light Up the Miles
Runners must dodge irresponsible motorists even on the brightest of days, so lighting yourself up when you run in the dark or during snowfalls should be a priority. Wear reflective clothing so cars can see you coming. Many companies make jackets, shirts, and hats with reflective material. Vests and running shoes that light up in the dark work well, too, without adding a lot of heat to your wardrobe.
Aside from clothing, accessories can be used to help you see the road and to help others see you. Headlamps are fairly inexpensive, although some runners find them uncomfortable. Small flashlights can be carried during the darkest of hours and then attached to or tucked into a hydration belt when the sun rises. Some runners choose to strap on a few glow-sticks, which can be purchased in packages of five or ten at a dollar store or Walmart.
Step Five: Plan Your Path Carefully
In summer you might run wherever your feet decide to take you, but in the winter it’s important to plan your route accordingly.
- Choose well-lit routes.
- Run on roads that offer places to stop for a break or shelter.
- Run on the road when you can, as they are typically cleared with less chance of ice than sidewalks.
- Skip waterfront runs and instead choose routes with tall buildings, as they offer protection from the wind.
- If you choose to do a trail run, carry a cell phone in case you get caught in a storm and need help quickly.
While preparation for a winter run can take longer than one in the warm summer months, running in winter can be just as rewarding. After a few lower temp runs, you’ll likely find you enjoy breathing in the fresh, cool air so much that when summer rolls around you find yourself wishing for winter’s return.