When I peeked out my window this morning the world was blanketed in sparkling white! A winter wonderland!! About 4 inches of fresh powder had dropped onto Boise before I left my cozy bed this morning! Like a small child, I couldn’t wait to get dressed and get outside to play in it too – only these days, I have less snowball fights and spend more time running or trying to look like I’m running in the white stuff!
Most devoted runners who live in areas where low temperatures, snow and ice are part of the winter training experience learn to find creative ways (or extreme courage or extreme insanity – you take your pick) to deal with such challenges. I’m currently training through my sixth winter as a runner and looking back at my log books has shown that I usually get some of my best mileage (though I must disclose – not always my fastest miles) in during these tricky, frozen months!
Here are some tips to keep you training hard through the winter months until that blessed day arrives when you hear birds singing, see flowers blooming and you can finally bust out the shorts to show off those sexy runner legs you’ve kept fit by keeping up your winter training miles while your less-hardy competitors were sipping cocoa by the fire and getting soft (don’t let that be YOU!):
1. Assess the situation. If you live in an area where it’s -30 then you’ll have to be smart and factor in that frostbite can happen in just one minute with exposed skin in those frigid temperatures. If there’s heavy fog (making visibility low), and the roads are covered in black ice, it might not be a good idea to go running on the roads since the risk of a car sliding into you are higher. If you’re 20 miler is on the schedule and you look out the window and notice that golf-ball sized hail is coming down hard, it’s probably a good idea to postpone the run until conditions are more favorable. If, however, conditions are chilly, but you have the proper clothing and equipment (such as a headlamp and reflective gear for training while it’s dark outside – which is more common during the winter months when the days are shorter) then there’s no reason you can’t keep right on logging your miles and getting in your endorphin fix for the day! Woo hoo!
2. Get the right gear! When the temps dip below 40, I like to wear a long sleeved, snug-fitting base layer like the Under Armour ColdGear shirt.
For 40 degrees, this might be all I need on top, but if it’s between 35-40, I like to add a thin jacket over the top like this Brooks Nightlife Jacket.
Here’s a photo of my pacer, Derek and I both wearing the Brooks Nightlife jackets at the finish line of the Antelope Island Buffalo 100 mile run in March where temperatures dipped very low and the winds were high this past year. The Brooks jacket did well until it dropped below 25 degrees, then I needed to put on a warmer jacket for the middle of the night, below-freezing temps.
This type of jacket is great for keeping the biting chill out when it’s windy out and the best part is it’s so light-weight and thin that you hardly notice it’s there and it’s easy to stow in your hydration pack’s pocket if you change your mind while you’re out and don’t need it. It’s my go-to jacket for bringing “just in case.” It also has great reflective features keeping you safer when out in dark conditions and it has a small, zippered pocket (on the back for the ladies’ model and a the breast for the men.) It even has a hood that can be adjusted to pull snug around your face if the weather really gets bad, which feels great to keep the ears and lower part of the face warmer! I’ve used mine in many mid-long distance training runs and at many ultras and have lots of good things to say about it.
When the temps are in the 10 – 35 degree range, I prefer to wear a warmer jacket over my ColdGear top. Something like this usually makes me feel comfortable and cozy without feeling too hot. The jackets in my closet that fit this category are thicker than the Brooks Nightlife Jacket.
I don’t personally own one of the Pearl Izumi jackets, but I have seen a number of friends use them in all sorts of bad weather conditions with positive feedback. My own closet consists of similar jackets from Wal Mart’s Danskin Now line (that cost me about $20 each) and an Asics thermal jacket that I was given as a prize for winning a local 2 mile race last year. I look for a thermal inner lining, a high neckline that zips up and zippered pockets as well as reflective accents making the runner more visible in low light conditions.
To keep my ears and head toasty, I like to wear a knit cap or a beanie. I have several inexpensive Wal Mart $2 knit hats that work just fine for most weather conditions and with such an affordable price, you can buy them in several colors to keep your winter wardrobe more fun! My favorite winter hat is one I earned from finishing the local Foothills Frenzy 50k. It’s from the company Bondiband and here’s a photo of me with two of my pals at a local 60k we did a few months ago and it kept my ears toasty as always and looked stylish!
That pretty much covers the upper half of my body for running in temps between 10 – 40. If the wind is crazy or there’s hail or blowing snow, I might also wear my sunglasses to protect my eyes or add a scarf around my lower face for more protection, though that’s something I rarely need to do in southern Idaho typical winter weather.
For the lower body, I’m comfortable wearing shorts or a running skirt like a TStarRunning skirt until temps dip below 30. Below that temperature, I prefer to wear tights. I own a few pairs of Danskin Now tights from Wal Mart that I purchased years ago for about $10 each. Unfortunately, they no longer sell the types that I wear (the form-fitting, tight-legged ones with reflective touches.) A similar pair of tights for winter running would be the REI Women’s Fleet Running Tights as pictured below.
Some of the other accessories you will need to stay warm and comfortable for your winter running are gloves, running socks, good shoes (sometimes used with traction devices like Yaktrax, Kahoola spikes or fitted at home with sheet metal screws (my own personal way of dealing with the ice at a low price! – Keep at eye on my blog later this week and I’ll share how to make your own at home for under $5) and a headlamp and clip on light for running in the dark. Below are some examples of the products I’ve used or that are comparable to ones I use for these winter conditions that I think you’ll like.
I also own a few other pairs of running gloves such as Nathan and Brooks that each have features I find useful. The Nathan gloves have a band of blinking lights on the outsides of the hands for winter running and the Brooks gloves have special features added to the thumb and pointer fingers making them useful for answering a cell phone during a run without removing your glove, which is a practical feature for a mother of 5 who sometimes needs to take a call from the kiddos when I’m running. When the temperatures are below 20, these gloves are not quite warm enough on their own for my super chilly hands. In those times I either pop in a couple of hand warmers to keep my fingers from feeling painful or I choose to wear my much thicker Thermolite gloves (the types I’d normally use when having a snowball fight with the kids or on a winter walk where I’m not generating as much body heat!) Though I do sweat more in gloves with such a thick thermal lining – it’s worth it to feel my fingers at times. On a really long run, I might start by wearing the thick gloves and then put them in my Nathan Hydration pack zippered pocket once it warms up and then wear the lighter gloves. I also have had success wearing the $1 Wal Mart knit gloves for temperatures between 30- 40 as a less-costly option when the temps aren’t too crazy cold.
You can wear any running shoes for winter running, but you’ll likely prefer to have more tread if conditions are snowy or icy. I prefer Brooks PureGrit 2 Trail Shoes at my preferred shoe year round on the trail, but during the winter, I use them on the roads as well. Watch for the new Pure Grit 3 trail shoe to come to a running store near you in the summer of 2014.
If you’re like me and you fear the ice (with good reason), you’ll want to do something more aggressive. Just this past week I neglected to put on traction devices before an early morning run and when I hit a stretch of ice at a high speed, I very quickly found my feet flying out from under me, heard myself yelping and then I was lying flat on my back in some pain since I landed hard on my tailbone. It all happened so fast! Another friend of mine just slipped on ice yesterday and broke her wrist. It happens. Please slow down and make careful choices about where to run and how fast you’ll go when conditions are sketchy. Last year I slipped on black ice on a trail run and pulled my soleus muscle in my calf and couldn’t run for 6 weeks. That totally sucked and it was preventable. Again – I wasn’t wearing traction devices of any kind and had assumed I would be ok. I fell. Sometimes you’ll find (as I did in those two runs where I got hurt) that it’s hard to tell if you’ll need anything for traction or not. I ran successfully for over 31 miles on Saturday over many icy patches, the week before I did the same and the day before that I ran a reasonably fast 10k on solid ice – all without any issues. It only takes one misstep to cause an injury, though. My new motto is: Better safe than sorry!
Though some of my friends have had success with Yaktrax or Kahtoolah Microspikes which strap onto shoes and range in price from around $30 – $70, I’ve had good success in the past with having my husband use his hand drill and putting several sheet metal screws in the bottoms of my shoes. It sounds crazy, but it works really well. I’ll do a blog entry later this week on the “how to” and show pictures describing the process for those who’d rather make their own traction devices for under $5!
Here’s a photo of an older pair of my shoes the last time my husband turned them into “screw shoes.”
My favorite head lamps have always been from the company Black Diamond. I own the Storm and the Spot. They cost between $29 – $59, the Spot being the less expensive option. I like them both, but prefer the lighter weight of the Spot and like that it only takes 3 AAA batteries instead of 4 like the Storm, though I still use both regularly for my early morning runs and long distance ultra marathons. I’ve had many people comment that I have the brightest light in the gang when they see me coming. I also find that using the Lithium batteries gives a huge boost to the power of the light and I like to splurge on those for races.
I hope these tips will help you to keep on training outdoors as much as possible during the cold weather months! I am not a sponsored runner and none of the brands I’ve shared here have paid me anything or given me any product in exchange for me to suggest their products to you on my blog. I simply wished to share my own experiences and what has worked for me in the hopes that you, too, can enjoy training like a beast even in the worst of weather!
Christie “Marathon Mama”