Here Comes Winter Running

Is it just me or did we go straight from fall to winter this year?

After the polar vortex winter we had last year, I think all Canadians (including runners) are hoping for a bit of a milder winter. This early start to the sub-zero temperatures has me worried we’re in for another tough winter of training.

Colder weather is here

When the weather first turns cold, there’s always a bit of an adjustment required for runners. Every year I seem to forget what to wear in which conditions and invariably I end up either over-dressed or under-dressed for those first few colder weather runs.

I was quite underdressed for a short run the other evening and shivered my way through the entire 5km. Tomorrow morning I’ll probably over-compensate and pile on the layers only to have to strip them off over the course of the planned 15km long run.

Winter Running Tips and Tricks

It’s probably worth going over some of the tips I’ve used over the years to at least get close to dressing properly for winter conditions.

  • Dress as you would if it were 8ºC warmer than it is. If it’s -2ºC, dress like you would if you went for a leisurely walk in 6ºC weather. When you are running, your body generates a ton of heat. The goal is to trap enough of it to keep you comfortable, but not too much that you get all sweaty. Oh, and my cut off for shorts is about 6-8ºC. Anything colder than that and I’ll put on some tights.
  • Sweat is the enemy. If you overdress, you’ll sweat and soak your clothes and that will lead to that cold, clammy feeling that nobody likes. Moisture-wicking fabrics that take the sweat away from your skin and out to evaporate are key in the winter, just as they are in the summer.
  • Give yourself some adjustability. You can always roll up a sleeve, or unzip a jacket to let some heat escape or some colder air in. That said, you do want to keep things reasonable or you risk doing a long run with an un-necessary jacket tied around your waist.
  • Don’t forget your hands. A pair of thin, light gloves is a good idea even if the temperature is still above freezing as your hands are exposed and will get cold. The dollar store is a great source for some cheap and thin gloves that you won’t mind tossing if you don’t need them.
  • The sun still shines. In fact, because the sun is lower in the sky in the winter, you’ll probably want to bring along the sunglasses to keep the glare out of your eyes (and also to give you a bit of protection against the cold). Conversely, remember that it gets darker much earlier and lighter much later so consider a set of blinking lights or reflectors if you run around dawn or dusk as it gets dark fast.

Better Cold than Hot

Not quite winter yet, but this stuff is coming

Cold-weather running can be quite enjoyable if you are dressed properly for it. I actually prefer training through the winter for a late spring marathon like the Ottawa Marathon than running those 30km long runs in the heat of summer. Invest in some good gear and take some care when gearing up for your run and you’ll have a great run.

For those just starting out, the basics would include a long-sleeve running shirt, a pair of light gloves, a thin moisture-wicking running toque, a pair of tights (and maybe eventually a pair of running pants for those really cold days). That’s about it. You can double up and wear a short-sleeve shirt over the long on colder days or add arm arm warmers (dollar store socks with the toes cut off are a cheap option too). If it’s super cold, your regular running jacket or a thin wind-breaker can add that extra bit of wind protection.

One last thing. I’ve never had cold feet on a run ever, even when they got wet with slush. I just wear my normal running shoes and socks no matter the weather. Winter or trail running shoes offer a bit more protection against slush and water coming through the top, but I’ve never found I needed that. I’ve also experimented with ice grippers and found them to be more trouble than they are worth, especially running in the city where sidewalks tend to be cleared of snow and ice fairly quickly.

How about you? Do you prefer running in the winter or summer? Any tales of epic runs in the freezing cold?