Winterproof your running

We all know how important it is to tune up your car for the winter season, right? Or to winterize your home before the cold and snow arrive (e.g. put plastic on windows, seal any drafts, maintenance check the heater, etc.). So why not winterize your running?

Now that we are in between seasons (or most of you are!), it is the perfect time to learn or remind ourselves of the critical behaviors and skills to keep ourselves happy, efficient, and motivated running machines throughout the long winter ahead. Based on the accumulated experience, we have compiled a list of time-tested tips to help you be all the runner you can be this winter! Here are twelve terrific tips to make winter running a (cold) snap!

Get "gear ready" before the really nasty stuf hits - All too often, runners wait until the first big blast of frigid temperatures, or a big dump of snow, to go search for their thermal tights, base-layer tops, running gloves, mitts, headbands, wind-briefs, winter running socks, etc., and invariably can't find the stuff, or remember then that they were going to replace some of that stuff after last season, right? Sometimes that leads to skipped runs, and/or less enjoyable first winter run efforts. So consider your running goals for this winter spring, assess your anticipated gear requirements, and make a quick trip to the running store to fill in the gaps. Then create a space at home (closet, laundry room rack, box system) where you have everything you need organized and ready. This way, no matter what the conditions are, when the mood/opportunity (or "responsibility"!) to run hits, you do not have to forage through a mess of worn out or lost gear before you get out there!

Plan your run, run your plan - If at all possible, attempt to run into the wind when you start, and with the wind as you finish. This stops sweat from freezing up on you and chilling you down as you progress into the later stages of your runs. This also prevents wind from adding to the challenge of cold condition running, by letting you "cruise" home with the wind at your back especially helpful on longer or faster runs when your energy may be lagging late in the run. Also, try to run loop-shaped courses (with "cut short" options), as opposed to "out-and-back" routes. That way, if you ever have to stop mid-run (i.e. muscle pull, ankle sprain, stomach cramps, etc.), there is less distance between you and home-safe-home!

Be bright, be seen - It is especially important to be seen by drivers in the winter, due to the darker conditions, poorer visibility, and slippery roads. Make every effort to stand out by using reflective clothing, vests, or arm/leg bands, flashing lights and/or headlamps, and never assume you have right-of-way in intersections, driveways, or parking lots.

Take "extremity" measures - When running, your head, hands, and feet will feel the effects of very cold weather much sooner than the rest of you. Up to 40% of body heat is lost through the head, so cover it up with a breathable, synthetic running cap or headband. Also, ensure you wear a good pair of synthetic running gloves (or mittens if it is really cold) which are relatively light weight and more breathable than "regular" gloves. Wear socks, and go with a little heavier weight than you do in the summer for some extra warmth, and make sure to get the "crew" cut, not the ankle/mini-crew, to ensure no skin is exposed directly to the elements if running tights/pants ride up.

Beware and prepare - Bring cell phone, or coin(s) for telephone calls, money for cab fare, tokens for buses/subway, and I.D. for emergency information. The extra clothing you wear in the winter gives you extra places to carry these things, so there is no excuse not to bring them, especially during cold weather, when the likelihood of needing them, and the risks of not having them, are higher than ever. It is also a good idea to inform another person of your route and expected run length as you head out, so that he/she knows when to push the panic button, and where to start looking for you!

Do not be slip sliding away - Many runners worry too much about icy conditions. Obviously, if the roads and sidewalks are completely covered in sheets of ice, it is best to retire to the gym's treadmill, or put your run off till the next day. But most of the winter we are faced only with icy patches and sections of rough footing. For ice patches less than ten metres in length, the best thing to do when you run across them is... nothing. At least, nothing different. Keep your direction, speed, cadence, and stride length exactly the same as just before you hit the icy section, and you can cruise right across it on your momentum. It is only when you suddenly change your speed, rhythm or direction that you end up with a bruised torso. With rough footing (snow, slush, uneven surfaces), it is best to slightly shorten your stride for balance early, hold your arms out from your sides (hands splayed at the ready) and attempt directional and speed changes gradually and cautiously.

Run social, run safe - Running with others is still the best way to ensure your safety and enjoyment of winter runs, especially, but not exclusively, for women. Also, when the conditions are absolutely fierce, it is just nice to know that someone else went through what you did! Make an effort to join up with training group or running club... you just may find that it is not only safer, but more fun too!

Use intensity as your guide, not speed - When the footing gets poor due to snow and ice cover, runners lose up to one minute per mile (40 seconds per kilometer) of "ground speed" at a given effort level, regardless of their normal running speed. Faster runners transfer more power/force through each foot plant, so they slip more on each stride, losing more speed than slower runners, who lose less of their speed proportionately, but about the same "seconds per mile" speed loss. Thus, it makes little sense to attempt to maintain the same running pace as you would on clear ground. So either use your well-honed sense of intensity to moderate your pace, or invest in a heart rate monitor, which will do it for you! As well, in complete or nearly complete snow coverage conditions, make sure, especially on longer runs (over 10 miles / 15 kilometers) that you shorten the actual distance you plan to run, since otherwise you will end up running much further/longer that you or your training plan called for (i.e. on a 16 mile run you could end up running 16 minutes longer than you would have on a clear footing day... that is like adding 1.5 to 2 miles more to your run than you'd planned... and in awful conditions to boot!)

Have a Plan B! - It is very unrealistic to presume we won't get hit by some rough weather stretches over the course of a 4-5 month winter, so no matter how "hardy" you are, and/or how much you pride yourself on being able to run through "anything", it just makes sense to build in some options and flexibility to your winter running plan. If you do not own or are not willing or able to buy a treadmill, get a membership to a fitness club that has a good supply of high quality, well maintained treadmills, ready and waiting. Even if you are not an active aerobic trainer, or do not regularly do strength training as part of your overall fitness regime (which are two more great reasons to invest in fitness club membership), inquire about a "three month trial membership" for the roughest winter months (i.e. January to March). This way, you will have the option of switching over to a treadmill for key intensity workouts, steady state runs, or even (once in a blue moon, for sanity's sake!) the odd long run, when the weather outside is too dangerous or depressing.

Water, water everywhere - During the winter, many runners forego the rehydration rituals they employ so diligently when summer running... don't make that mistake! You are often still sweating as much as in the summer for a variety of reasons (hard effort, one too many layers), so maintain your regular drinking frequency... especially on long runs. Extra tip: on very cold days, make sure you fill your bottle with room temperature water (or even lukewarm), since cold water will often freeze the spout and/or cap of your waterbottles within 30-60 minutes. Also, drink early and drink often, not just because your body needs it, but because the more you use your bottle, the less chance there is of it freezing shut! Similarly, with gels, do not pull them out of the fridge before you go, leave them out overnight at room temperature, so they do not start to thicken up in the cold.

The great cover-up - In very cold conditions, make sure to cover exposed skin (cheeks, forehead, chin, around eyes, etc.) with petroleum jelly, and/or wear a balaclava - just remember to remove it before stopping at any gas stations or convenience stores! (Trust us on that... funny thing happened one late night run we did years ago... but that's another story).

Less is more - The great majority of runners, even experienced, technically savvy, post-synthetic revolution runners, tend to wear too much clothing (and/or too many layers) through the winter months. We must learn to gradually test the limits of these space-age super-fabrics that we spend a good deal of money on, and trust that they will do what they purport to do thermally regulate our body temperature by transferring moisture away from our skin, because guess what? They do! The more you try this, the more comfortable you will be, the less money you will spend on apparel, and the less wash you will do after every run!

Credits - would like to thank the Marathon Dynamics ( for the authorization to reprint the article "Winterproof your running".

Since September 7, 2007 - © Aerostato, Seattle - All Rights Reserved.

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