This week’s blog post is from one of our lead running coaches in our =PR= Training Program, Laura Mattis. Laura has maintained her workouts despite the bitter cold, and here she offers her best advice to keep you running.
I’ve run in all types of weather including cold, hot, rain, wind, sleet, hail, and snow. But last weekend was the first time I’ve ever run in sub-zero temperatures with wind chill and high winds. While one’s first inclination is to stay in, run another time, or take the run to a treadmill or track indoors, a few things motivated me to stick with our plan to run as scheduled this past frigid Sunday. First, I’m the lead coach for the PR Tyson’s location Cherry Blossom 10-mile training program. If anyone needs to be there for their runners, it’s the Coach. I am always happy to be there for other runners! Second, a fellow coach who I hold in the highest regard, taught me a few things about running in bad weather – how will you know what it’s like, or how can we be prepared if it happens on race day. Weather happens, and what Mother Nature (or old man winter) sends our way, we can’t control. However, when we approach it with a positive mindset, and the right clothing and gear, running in frigid conditions is do-able. Some of my best, and most memorable, runs happened in weather I had not planned for. So, as it’s cold and snowing here again in the Washington DC metro area, here are some things to consider when preparing for a run in frigid temps, wind, snow, and ice.
First and foremost, you want to make sure you are fully covered, head to toe. You will want to minimize any exposed skin to avoid frostbite and stay warm. I find that peoples’ faces, eyes, hands, and ankles are often overlooked or forgotten. In these sub-zero wind chill temperatures, accessories are key and can make or break your run. Secondly, layer, layer, layer! You can always take off a layer if you get warm, but if you don’t have enough on, your run can be ruined, or miserable at best, and that’s no fun.
Up top – Tanks, Shirts, Pullovers, and Jackets
When running in the cold, layers are key. While we start off cold, our bodies will warm up quickly. Wearing multiple, thin, breathable layers that keep us dry is essential. You can always take off a layer, but if you are underdressed there is nothing to add and you can also put yourself at risk for getting sick or frostbite. A thin tank, under a thin short-sleeve or long-sleeve shirt, under a pullover, under a jacket to protect you from the elements, should keep you comfortable during these frigid temps. For a less severe cold-weather day, you will not need all of these layers, but you will still need a few. Again, as you warm up you can always shed a layer while you run.
For your bottom – Tights
Keeping your legs and muscles covered and warm will help protect your skin and prevent injury. Tights keep your legs warmer than wider legged pants because wind cannot get in/out. For colder days, consider wearing a fleece-lined or a thicker pair of running pants. You may also want to consider wearing 2 pair of pants for extra warmth on a frigid weather day. An often overlooked area when it comes to your legs is the ankle area between your socks and pants. More on socks below, but be aware of this tiny area of skin that needs to be equally protected and covered.
Our body’s perception of temperature is often dictated by how our extremities feel. If your fingers are cold your body will also think (and convince you!) it is cold. When running in frigid cold weather, it’s really important to make sure our fingers, hands, head, face, and ears are covered and/or protected. Mittens keep fingers warmer than gloves. My favorite pair of gloves have a mitten cover that you can wear over the gloves or tuck in a pouch on top of my hand. It’s also like wearing 2 gloves without the bulk, and my hands stay warm. You might also want to use hand warmers in your gloves.
Keep your head (and ears!) warm with a hat while you run. As you run longer, your head will warm up and will start to sweat, making your hair wet. If you take off your hat during your run, it will feel even colder with wet hair. So, opt for something that is going to keep your head warm, wick away wetness, and yet still be breathable.
Scarf or gaiter
It’s important to keep your neck warm. In cold weather it can be hard to breathe while running; the cold air can constrict and tighten your chest and lungs. Having a scarf or gaiter to pull up over your mouth and nose while running can help you to breathe during your run, and stay warm. It’s also a great way to keep your face covered so as not to have exposed skin at risk for frostbite.
Wear the right socks to keep your feet warm and dry. Merino wool is soft and breathable, and also wicks away moisture. Cotton socks retain water (whether your foot is sweating or you unexpectedly step in snow or a water puddle), and can also cause blisters. For the frigid temps, you might consider wearing 2 pairs of socks, a thin pair of dry-wicking ankle socks underneath a taller pair of socks that will fully cover your ankles.
Wear a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes and face from the sun and reflection off snow and ice that may hurt your eyes or impact your ability to see ahead. In this cold weather we’ve been experiencing, it’s another way to keep our exposed face and skin protected. Sunglasses will also relieve you from having to squint, thus allowing your face muscles to be relaxed. Remember, our body gets a lot of cues from our head. If your face is relaxed, your shoulders and carriage can be relaxed, and you can focus on your breathing, form, and enjoying your run.
Which of these tips are a must for you? What are your lessons learned from trying or not trying any of the above apparel or gear when running in the cold?
All the best, and happy running!