Take It In Stride: Winter Running? You Bet!

For many runners and walkers, winter signals the time to tuck away their gear until spring. But this need not be the case.

I hear two common reasons for not running in the winter: it is too cold and it is too dangerous.

“You’ll freeze your lungs!” Not true.

If you ski at -25°C, you can run at -25°C.

Here is some advice from I’ve gleaned from the likes of Tom Ullyett, Don White, Glenda Koh and from my own winter running experiences.

What to Wear

My top layer is a specialized winter running suit that I purchased locally. It has a jacket and pants with wind blocking exteriors and lined interiors. But whatever you use, just make sure that the material breathes so it doesn’t trap moisture on the inside.

I’m a big fan of merino wool products as a base layer. I wear merino long johns, shirts, neck warmer, socks and hat. When it starts to get really cold, I’ll add thicker long johns and a thicker sweater on top of my base layer.

For male runners in particular, “wind briefs” are a great idea to ensure you don’t freeze a certain extremity.

My headgear is one or two layers of hats and my neck warmer can be pulled up to cover my mouth and part of my head. I also let my facial hair, or what passes for facial hair, grow in during the winter for extra warmth.

I layer my hands with a thin shell for mild to moderate cold followed by a two-fingered glove underneath the shell as it gets colder. For more extreme cold I’ll grab an old pair of mitts as the top layer. Make sure they aren’t too tight at the wrist as you want the blood flow to be unimpeded.

On my feet I’m a minimalist runner, so I wear the toe shoes called Vibram Five Fingers as much as possible. I wear these with wool toe socks underneath up to -20°C. At that point, I switch to mukluks or running shoes that allow for a thick sock – you can use duct tape to block holes and keep snow out.

Slippery conditions can lead to a wipeout. But you can wear products like cleats and coils that go over your footwear.

For safety around cars, my suit has reflective piping but I add a set of very reflective and very bright suspenders on top. A headlamp, particularly with a flashing red light option, is a great idea. Assume drivers won’t see you and keep an escape route in mind.

The Rewards

Despite the extra preparation needed, some of my best runs have involved crisp, clear and cold days where the trees are crystallized and the scenery is divine. I also reward myself at the end of a run with whatever sweet treat or hot beverage I desire, usually at a local coffee shop.

Winter running also helps build mental strength and fortitude. If you are dedicated enough to make it through the dark and cold, you’ll easily meet your goals in the sun and warmth that follows.

Use your outdoor runs as a great cardio base builder. I once tried a speed workout at -30°C and my body and lungs complained. Since then, I do most of my outdoor winter runs at an easy to moderate pace.

Drink a hot beverage before your run. This will help get your core warm before you head out the door. Also, consider a thermal container with warm water to make sure it doesn’t freeze. I also read that you can add a tiny drop of scotch to the water mix to keep it from freezing. Be sure not to add too much and don’t waste your best single malt.

Don’t Give Up

I find about 10-15 minutes go by before my feet, hands and body get nice and warm. If you are well into your run though and still feel cold, you likely aren’t wearing the proper amount of clothing and risk frostbite.

A great idea is to start your winter run with a short loop that brings you back to your home or starting point. This allows you to test how you feel and then add or subtract layers if necessary before continuing on.

Finally, bring a cell phone and a bit of cash just in case you need a contingency plan.

Join Others Doing the Same Thing

Every December, Athletics Yukon hosts a Winter Solstice run up Grey Mountain. We dress in festive colours and have hot beverages at the end. This year’s event is on Saturday, Dec. 15 – athleticsyukon.ca for details.

Until next time, keep putting one foot in front of the other towards a healthier and happier life.

Ben Yu Schott lives in Whitehorse with his family. He writes a monthly running column, Take It in Stride, for What’s Up Yukon.

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