Anything to avoid the treadmill.
There are certain things to look forward to in the depths of winter. The Super Bowl! Awards shows! The fact that it’s marginally more socially acceptable to get bundled up on the couch and fall heavily into a YouTube hole on a Saturday night!
Running in cold weather doesn’t usually make it to the top of the list. For many, lacing up and tackling any sort of miles in frigid temperatures is torture. But unlike the middle of summer, when there’s really nothing you can do to avoid the sweaty misery, with the right clothes (and the right attitude) you can defeat the season and get your miles in.
“Realistically, you really can run in all types of weather,” says Rebeka Stowe, CSCS and Nike+ run coach, who also highlights the mental health boost runners may get from outdoor workouts in the winter. “There’s so much more room than being cramped up inside on a treadmill. I’m of the mind that if you want to do it, you will. I always tell my athletes just to get out there and see what you’re capable of. You won’t know until you try.”
OK, sure, pushing your mindset to get comfortable with the uncomfortable is one thing, but is running in cold weather actually safe? Heather Milton, MS, CSCS, exercise physiologist at NYU Langone’s Sports Performance Center, says yes, 100 percent.
“The one thing to keep in mind,” she says, “is that those with asthma are more at risk for exercise induced bronchospasm, or constriction of the airway,” she says. “Even those who do not have a diagnosed airway disease may feel mild effects.”Milton recommends starting off with short distances to allow your body to acclimate to the difference in temperatures.
Interested in joining the winter running cold kids? Here, experts offer up more best-practice tips to keep you safe and moving swiftly this winter:
1. Warm-up, warm-up, warm-up. This one should really be a no-brainer. Going out there without getting your blood going first and giving a little extra TLC to your muscles is just asking for an injury. “Add a few extra minutes to your warm up routine,” says Milton—she says it’s best to do this before even walking outside. “Be sure to move through a full range of motion for your hips, ankles, knees, and shoulders. Doing so will help prevent muscle pulls that could occur due to cold, tight muscles.”
If you’re too stubborn to actually take the time to get warm inside, at the very least use your first mile as an opportunity to ease into the effort. Have a quick tempo run on deck? That first mile should be at a slower pace to give your body time to get acclimated.
2. Be Bold—Start Cold. Resist the temptation to just throw on as many clothes as possible. While you’re kind of onto something with the whole layering thing, it’s important to avoid overheating and getting all sweaty—you’ll just end up cold and clammy. Pay attention to fabrics and tech specs, too, because it’s critical to choose sweat-wicking fabrics that can wick moisture away from the body and keep you dry and comfortable.
“It’s particularly important to layer smart in the winter months,” says Lindsey Clayton, RRCA-certified run coach and senior instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp. She suggests dressing like it’s 10 to 15 degrees warmer outside than it actually is. “If you’re already warm when you start, you’re likely going to get too cold on the move.”
Accessories are also crucial this time of year. Make sure your extremities—hands, ears, feet (including ankles)—are warm. “If you’re not dressed appropriately, with things like gloves and wool socks, you could be in dangerous territory,” says Milton.
3. Manage your expectations. Just like tackling any sort of mileage at altitude or in the heat, chilly miles come with their own set of challenges. You’re going to want to adjust your training accordingly, and not be too hard on yourself when your performance isn’t the same as a beautiful 45-degree fall day. “You have to shift your expectations,” says Clayton. “Be easy on yourself, and rethink the way you’re looking at your workouts.”
Stowe recommends going based on time spent running rather than total mileage. “This way, you’re getting an effort in versus feeling the stress of ‘I was supposed to hit X for my intervals.’ Give yourself an appropriate challenge so that you can still achieve success. Part of the success is getting out the door and doing it—you don’t need to beat yourself up in the process.”
4. Be wary of wet and icy conditions. If it’s truly hairy out, with snow and ice, it is best to do loops closer to home rather than going out for long straights where getting back can prove difficult, Milton says. If the conditions ever put you at risk, making it hard to keep your balance or see clearly, then it’s OK to call it. “There’s never any shame in turning around,” says Stowe.
5. Be smart with your post-game. Before quickly jetting off to the office/a date/anything else, take the time to be smart about your post-run recovery, including a cool-down. This could look as simple as walking for 5 minutes and doing some simple, static stretches.
“Your body temp will increase with running but continue moving following the run, which means you’ll want to remove wet layers ASAP,” says Milton, also adding that hydration is super important at this stage as well. “You will still sweat and lose some body fluid with warm layers.”