Sunday, December 05, 2010

Winter Running Tips

I've received a lot of questions about winter running. Most of you know that I live in Minnesota; land of cold winters! Most of you also know that I normally struggle with winter. I complain about being cold, I complain about the decreased daylight, I complain about the depression that sets in and the 5-10 pound weight gain that normally comes with winter for me.

Over the past few years I have working very hard at changing my view of winter. Instead of huddling indoors and complaining I began to snowshoe run, then snowboard and now ski. I didn't really enjoy these activities at first, but with repetition and a whole mind-shift process, mentally and physically, I can say that I no longer hate winter. First time ever. Baby steps finally brought me to that goal.

Not once this winter have I complained of the cold weather, the snow, the winter, shortness of daylight; none of that. I haven't needed to. I have changed my thought process. Thank god.

When I first began running, 13 years ago, I only ran on my treadmill. My children were small and I stayed at home. My treadmill was set up in front of the TV in the living room at the time and that is where I did all of my running.

Eventually I began to run outdoors-when the temperature permitted it. I didn't run outdoors in the winter at all.

I hated winter. I hated the snow, the cold, the 'Minnesota Hunch', everything. And I thought about it and dreaded it and lived the hate every single day. Man, how sad and exhausting.

As time passed and I learned to love to run (another goal I wanted to work toward and completed with baby steps-it doesn't just happen on it's own), I decided I wanted to run during the winter and I wanted to run every day. Hmmm..what would get me out the door every day,even in the winter? You got it, Topaz!

I researched dog breeds and learned that the Border Collie must be exercised every day, an hour minimum, in order to live in a peaceful fashion. I learned that they were the smartest of dog breeds, loyal to their master, loved agility, running and were a great family dog. Sold.

I decided to try snowshoe running that winter so that I could eventually take a dog running winter trail with me. Over the years, a passion was created.

We purchased Topaz at 6 months old and I couldn't be happier with him. I purchased him in April and when the snow began to fly 8 months later I was apprehensive. I had to get this dog out each and every day. It was the promise I had made to myself.

I did it. Rain, snow, sleet or hail, hot sun, it didn't matter. Topaz needed his hour exercise. During those first few winters it rather sucked. I dreaded it quite a bit as the day went on and I would soon be home from work. I would cringe as I drove home, watching the wind bend the trees, the snow flying, the bitter cold temps. I'd walk in the door and the boys would yell "Topaz is excited for you to run!" Ugh. I'd bundle up, head to the trail head, snowshoe run for an hour and realize it wasn't so bad as I headed back home.

Fast forward a few years. Topaz will be 9 next week. I finally love, yes, love, to snowshoe run in the winter.

I've learned a few things that work for me and I will share them with you. Most importantly:

1) You will NEVER feel worse after your winter run. NEVER. You will always feel better! You may be cold and wet on your drive home (if you drive to your running location), but after a change of clothing you will feel awesome. Endorphins are a great thing. Not only that, but mentally and physically, you did something that you were going to dread, and it was OK, and you stuck with your plan. That is huge, emotionally. Good going, you!

2) Clothing: Learn to dress for the weather. This is so important. You don't have to be cold out there. Today the air temperature was 3F, windchill was -17F. I wasn't cold or wet. I felt the resistance of the wind, I heard the wind but I didn't feel the wind penetrate my clothing. I no longer become cold while running. You don't have to either. I actually became a bit warm snowshoe running. I unzipped my armpits on my outer jacket and zipped down my two tops.

3) Surfaces: Ice or snow require snowshoes if deep snow, trail shoes if ice. You can't be slipping and sliding, you may injure yourself. You need the correct shoe tread for the surface condition. Some people use screws or yak tracks. I never have.

When I first began to run outdoors I wrote the temperature and my clothing as well as how I felt every day into my MDRA log book. I still use MDRA log books, I think they are awesome, but I no longer need to monitor my clothing. I know what I need to wear.

Here is what I find works for me:

60F+ Singlet and shorts. I love the compression tanks for summer running but hate compression for winter running. For winter running compression makes me feel like a running sausage.

50-59F Short sleeve and shorts. Technical fabric all of the way. Don't wear cotton!

40-49F Longer sleeve, lightweight technical shirt, shorts.

30-39F Long sleeve, mid weight technical shirt, light tights or wind pants, I normally have to add light gloves at 30F with an ear band.

20-29F Long sleeve mid weight technical shirt, winter running jacket, heavier tights or pants, gloves, fleece hat, neck gator as the temp is closer to 20, gortex trail shoes as I am usually snowshoe running at this temp, snow shoe gator.

10-19F Long sleeve thick technical shirt, lightweight technical shirt, winter running jacket, heavier tights, winter 'over' pants (when closer to 10), gloves, wind mitten, fleece hat, neck gaiter, gortex trail shoes and shoe gaiters for snow shoe

0-9F Same as above but I add wool socks instead of microfiber which I wear otherwise and may have to add a full face mask dependent on wind.

Minus 15 to 1F Same as above and I add a vest for upper body warmth, vaseline on exposed face portions.

Minus 20 and below I'll add hand warmers to my gloves and socks and my snowboard goggles.

One of the Northwoods Snowshoe Marathons was held in the below 0 range and I was not at all cold. I stayed warm and dry because of these layering techniques. The only problem I had was that my goggles froze to the top of my fleece hat when I removed them from my face. They were iced to my hat and I had a hard time pulling them back to my face when necessary! Then I knew it was a cold day, buy hey, I won that Northwoods Snowshoe Marathon and kept my first place title alive another year.

I drive each day to the trailhead, about 25 minutes each way. On the way home my sweat gets cold, making me cold. I could change before I head home but I just don't take the time. I start the car, crank the heater, remove my neck gaiter, fleece hat, gloves and mittens. Sometimes I will call home and ask Troy to turn on the gas fireplace for me. As soon as I get home I change into warm fleece. I love Horny Toad Cashmoore fleece pants and tops. I wear them all of the time as well as Patagonia RI fleece. Yummy soft! A hot cup of tea and I'm all warmed up and comfortable.

My favorite running gear that I keep grabbing for the past few years is my Patagonia winter pants and jacket. Zipper pockets, polyester soft shell so there is no swoosh swoosh swoosh while running, soft interior fabric on collar, arm pit zippers, so warm and comfortable but real light. I wear this all of the time. As I wrote above, as it gets colder I add layers. 1/4 zipper shirts are the best! When I feel to warm I pull the zipper down, letting the cool air inside.

When the temps are cold enough for two layer of pants I like Hind Winter Ready tights. Heavy duty poly fabric with a bit of stretch. Perfect. When I first began to run in the winter I needed three bottom layers, but with these items two is fine.

I wear Inov-8 Gortex shoes from November to March, normally. The tread is good enough for trail or road without adding screws or yak-trax. I've never purchased the yak trax or any of those spikes you add to your shoe. I use the Inov-8s in my snowshoes as well.

One problem I do have is freezing water bottles. Because of this I normally run loop routes in the winter so that my car can house bottles of water out of the freezing temperatures. When very cold I wrap the bottles in warm towels from the dryer and place in a cooler into my car. This usually keeps them from freezing. It just isn't worth it to me, to carry a 24 oz water bottle at below 0 temps that is going to be an ice cube before I even need a drink.

You are all set for winter running! Really, give it a try, it doesn't have to be that horrible. If you really do hate winter, you can change that. Wouldn't it be awesome not to dread winter? It is, really! I feel so great by not hating winter. Really.


Fifty K said...

Great tips. I did my first snowy trail run of the season today. I was a bit anxious about doing the whole half marathon course but I did fine. I was warm and get plugging away at it. I used to hate winter too but learned to love it and embrace it last winter.

Staci said...

This is a GREAT blog post! I hope you don't mind if I link to it from my blog!


Marmot said...

Thanks for your great winter running tips. Surely, I would love to run on winter.

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