Running is a classic exercise that just about anyone can do. While some people are content with treadmills, others only want to experience the joy of running outside, which can be hard to do as the weather turns colder and the sun sets faster. It’s not as easy to leave your home to run when it’s only 25 degrees out and you can’t see the road in front of you. Cold winter running requires special preparation — and some good winter running clothes.
Winter running is very different from summer running; it’s colder, darker, and can be rougher on your body. Running in temperatures lower than 30 degrees — and not wearing the right clothes to do so — can increase your risk of catching a cold, and it can also cause your muscles to lock up and become strained. When this happens, it can cause serious injuries. If you prepare correctly, however, then winter running can be a breeze. By adapting your routine, clothing and gear for the new season, you can keep yourself safe and healthy while running outdoors.
What to Wear
Layers. Layers. And more layers. Layering is the key to staying warm when on a cold winter run. To be optimally protected in winter weather, follow the layering principle; this is a three-step layering system that protects your body from the harsh cold. First is the functional layer, which should be made of synthetic fiber, merino wool or a blend of the two. This layer will keep you warm and dry and ensure that sweat doesn’t stay on your skin (that causes you to cool down). The second layer is for heat regulation. This layer should be a long-sleeve shirt that keeps heat close to your body. The thicker the material, the more it insulates, so use the temperature to decide how thick this second layer should be. Finally, your last layer is a jacket that protects you from rain, wind or snow. Wearing a vest or jacket made of wind-proof or water-proof materials will ensure you can still run in any blizzard or storm (but we don’t advise that you do so!).
Wearing the right clothing is essential to running in the winter, but it’s also important to have the right accessories. To protect yourself from the bitter cold, you must cover up more than just your upper body. Keep your head and hands warm by wearing a beanie and gloves. For your head, you can wear a hat, a band that covers your ears or a special running cap made out of functional fibers that drain away any perspiration. For your hands, be sure to wear gloves or mittens — or even mittens over gloves for those really cold days.
Your usual running shoes are also probably not the best option for winter running. Ideally, you want to run on a clear path, but if that’s not possible, you’ll need to change up your shoes. Wear shoes with excellent traction and protection. Good winter running shoes will also include higher absorption, higher moisture protection and a good grip on the outside. If you don’t want to invest in a new pair of sneakers, you can buy winter traction devices that go over your sneakers and give you traction on any slippery surface. Some manufacturers even offer running shoes with steel spikes or screws. Also, wear a pair of warm, comfortable socks so your feet stay dry and protected.
What to Bring
Clothing isn’t the only thing that matters when running outside in the winter. If your hands tend to get cold even with gloves on, be sure to bring some disposable hand warmers, which can be easily found at your local drug or hardware stores. Another accessory that can be helpful is sunglasses. When it’s sunny, ice or snow can be very reflective, so sunglasses can help keep your eyes protected. Sunglasses can also block high winds or potentially blowing snow. If it’s dark out, it’s super important to wear a lot of reflectors! A simple reflective vest can do the trick, but you can also buy light-up belts or sashes, clip-on lights or even headlamps. In the dark or on days when the weather is bad, drivers don’t expect to see runners, so protect yourself, and others, by investing in some light.
Although you might not sweat as much when it’s cold, you’re still losing fluids, so it’s important to stay hydrated on those long outdoor runs. While you won’t need as much as you would on a hot summer day, ensure you’re still drinking as much water as you would on an average day. Also, ensure that you’re drinking liquids before, during and after your run. If you don’t want to carry a water bottle around while running, consider a running waist belt with slots to hold your water bottle.
What to Do
The cold can be a shock to the system, especially if you’re a morning runner. Before you go out, be sure to incorporate some dynamic stretches in your warm-up. Dynamic stretches involve sports-specific motions, often those that replicate the activity you’re about to do. Consider leg swings or lunges to get your joints moving, your muscles loose and your blood pumping. Dynamic stretching also improves blood flow, which can increase your muscle temperature and flexibility; this is important since the cold air can cause your muscles to tense up and decrease blood flow. Taking the extra time before your run to warm your body up and loosen your muscles will only help when you finally get outside. It’s also recommended that you do your stretches inside, not outside. Getting ready in a warm environment will do a better job of getting your muscles ready and your blood flowing.
Another thing to pay attention to is how you’re breathing. There is a correct way to breathe while running, especially while running in cold weather. According to Owayo Magazine, avoid inhaling dry, cold air through your mouth. It can cause a burning sensation in your lungs as the cold air will make your respiratory tract and mucous membranes cooler and could result in an uncomfortable dry cough. If you’re worried about your breathing, try wearing a thin cloth as a mask; this will make the air you breathe warmer and moister before it hits your lungs.
Are you a winter runner or someone who stays on the treadmill? Tweet us @VALLEYMag to share your thoughts.