Most normal people, especially those of us in the upper midwest, hibernate shortly after the New Years Eve celebrations. This obviously makes New Year’s resolutions difficult. People flock to the gym to escape the freezing cold in hopes of hitting the treadmills and the stationary bikes only to find crowds of people who had the same resolution. Generally speaking, if you stick it out for a few weeks, the crowds will fade and you’ll be more likely to get your workout in without having to wait too long. There is another answer, though it isn’t for the faint of heart – don’t hibernate, run outside. I do know a few bloggers who cycle through the winter, but that is a level of awesome that even I haven’t been able to aspire to (the answer is actually in the gear – dressed properly it isn’t too bad). Running in the cold does take some intestinal fortitude but it’s not as bad as you might think – once you get passed the ice and snow… And the payoff is huge.
Like any other cold weather activity, clothing is everything. Dress too warm and you won’t be able to regulate your temperature – you’ll overheat, end up walking and because you overdressed and sweated, you’ll turn into a popsicle within twenty minutes. Being a popsicle is most decidedly not fun – don’t be a popsicle. The other extreme end of that is not dressing warm enough – try running in shorts below freezing and your muscles can’t loosen up – you skip the sweating part and go straight to popsicle. The ultimate trick to cold weather running – and I’m not talking about you Florida whiners, where 50 degrees (F) is cold – is to dress in a way that has you uncomfortably cold to start, but not “freezing”. Put simply, if you walk for more than a few minutes you want to start shivering a bit. A special hat made for running is a must, as are gloves but those can be rather low-tech and thin – if your core and head are warm, your hands will stay warm with less protection. For the upper body, I run in my cycling jacket – it is, without a doubt, the most comfortable piece of running clothing I’ve ever owned when it comes to frigid temperatures. For the legs, I run in tights until the temps get into the teens, then I add double layered track pants. When the temps dip below 0 (F) I add a balaclava that I got free with the purchase of a cycling magazine – it’s just a thin “tube” of material that I can wear over my nose, mouth and neck for the first couple of miles. For socks, I just run in my normal running socks for anything above 10 degrees, then I might go with a thicker wool sock.
If you find yourself facing an internal struggle once you’re dressed, you are not alone – there has been more than one occasion in which I questioned my own sanity before heading out: I won’t lie to you, starting out sucks – BAD. As far as I’m concerned it’s supposed to, that’s the only way I know I didn’t overdress. You will more than likely continue to question your sanity and have to work just to keep from turning around for at least a half mile, maybe up to a full mile. If you make it passed that first mile though, a miracle will happen: Your legs will loosen up, and your body temp will regulate and you will start to feel much, much better. I’ve found it to be this way down to temperatures well below zero – where you actually worry about your eyelashes sticking together.
After that first mile or two it’s smooth sledding until the last half mile when you start to tucker out. As you close on the finish line you’ll be sweating a little bit, probably a little sore from running on snow-covered road shoulders and looking forward to getting inside. Now is the time to keep your pace up because walking now will be painfully cold. As you round the last corner, you sprint to the finish line – and then pick up the pace to the front door.
Once inside, strip the sweaty clothes off and put on fresh, dry clothes – and marvel at the payoff: It wasn’t that bad, you survived and… You were tougher than you thought, you are committed to getting fit, your dream of finally losing the paunch is attainable because if you can run in that, you can do anything… Ah, the miracle of running. When I conquer my desire to hibernate I realize that the only thing holding me back from greater things is me. I have never, not one time in all of my years of running, regretted running outside in the winter – even if I do still question my sanity before stepping out the door.
***A few items of concern: Watch your footing, be mindful of traffic and be careful.