As the saying goes, "winter is coming", so tell me, will you be the victim or the victor as we approach this cold, dark, and beautiful season? I propose that we can peacefully coexist. But how exactly do we do that? Read on to find out...
First things first. What should you wear? While the actual temperature is a common and easy place to start, weather is more complex than that. Humidity and, more importantly, the wind play a huge role in what you should wear. Therefore, I will suggest some strategies that you can use in order for you to experiment with identifying what will work best for you.
1) Wear layers that can be removed, tucked, or tied into other parts of you if you get too warm. Those layers should consist of a moisture wicking base layer, a warming fleece/thermal layer, and a wind breaking/vented layer. Depending on the temperature and wind, you might only wear some of those layers at a given time. You can also play around with short sleeves, vest, and arm warmers.
2) Protect key points on your body. By covering your hands, feet, and ears, you might be able to wear less on your other parts.
3) Stay dry. Avoid puddles and do try to wear a water resistant outer layer, ideally one with vents in the armpits and the back, so you can keep the air flowing.
4) Be visible. With the shorter days comes reduced visibility to others. Make sure your outer layers have reflective pieces and/or wear a reflective vest or some lights so that cars and other dangerous objects can avoid hitting you.
*Remember, what works best for you might be too much or too little for someone else* The more you brave the elements and experiment, the easier it is for you to know what works for you.
That said, there is more to winter running than just clothing. In the summer, we spoke about our hydration needs. This should still be on your radar. With our homes and offices being heated with dry air, we might actually be less hydrated than we realize, before we even start our run. Then once we are running, we are less likely to notice the sweat we generate, either because the air is dryer or it is getting absorbed by our many layers of clothing. Therefore, as we discussed this summer, we should still pay attention to our pee color (see the summer running blog entry for additional details on this).
Speaking of hydration, you may have noticed that the water fountains have been turned off in our city parks, therefore, be sure to bring money for the bodega or carry some fluids with you. If you decide to carry it, make sure your hands stay warm, or you can wear it on your back or hips. I have been on winter runs where my water bottle has frozen shut. To combat this you can add ice or sugar to lower the temperature at which it freezes, and of course there is no need to start with cold water.
While we can't control which way the wind blows, we often control the direction we run in. If you are thinking about it before your run, see if you can adjust your route so that you are running into the wind and then return with the wind at your back. And if you are able to, consider drafting off of someone else. You can even take turns shielding each other from the wind.
Don't slip! When it's raining, we are often more aware of where we step, but with ice, especially in the dark, we might be caught off guard. Consider shortening your running stride. Quicker, shorter steps will help keep your feet under you. You can also wear shoes with some traction, like trail running shoes, and be sure to keep your eyes open. Also, by keeping headphones out of your ears, you can stay a bit sharper and more connected with your surroundings, allowing you to detect ice and other changes to your environment.
Once you have finished your run, be prepared for your body temperature to drop. change out of your clothes quickly, have something warm to drink, take a hot shower, snuggle with your favorite person or animal.
While many of us avoid the treadmill at all possible costs, not to mention we all love the bragging rights of getting in a run on an absurdly vicious winter day, there is something to be said for knowing when to stay inside. If it's too cold, snowy, wet, or windy, go to the gym, do an exercise video at home, or climb your building's stairs. There is no shame in it.
While the days of winter may feel dark and cold, running, especially with others, can help elevate our mood and brighten our spirits. Throw on those layers and get outside, you are ready!
-Rachel Cutler has a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology from the University of Florida. She is also a Certified USA Triathlon Coach.