Okay, so it has been a really nice fall so far until this week. Thursday, I went out for my run and it was my first below freezing run of the year. Not bad for December 7th. Time to layer up and get out there. It wasn’t so bad. But tomorrow looks like it’s going to be 21 degrees at 8:00 in the morning when I am planning to head out. In mid-January, that’s not going to seem so bad but since I’m not acclimated yet, that is going to seem like that trip to deepest Siberia I have always dreamed of or maybe not so much. I hate treadmills but the running can’t stop. So, it’s time to review the cold weather strategy, suck it up and get back out there.
Rule #1 is dressing for success. Remember the 20 degree rule. Wear enough clothing that you would be comfortable just standing around if it was 20 degrees warmer. If it’s 25 degrees, wear enough that you could just sit outside if it was 45 degrees. Layers, layers, layers! That is the key to doing it right. For me tomorrow, 21 degrees will be a 3 layer day. I’m talking about upper body layers. A long sleeved wicking shirt, then a short sleeved wicking shirt, all topped off with a running jacket of some sort will do the trick. I never wear more than 3 layers. If it’s that cold I will throw in the towel and come back another day. Time to cross train inside. Cover your head or at least your ears with a hat of some kind and cover your hands. Gloves are okay but mittens are better. Socks make great mittens. You can wipe your sweat or your snotty nose on them and just throw them in the washer with the rest of your nasty sweaty running gear. Below the waist, running tights or pants are always in style and will keep you warm. Warm legs are less likely to get injured. Socks for the feet come in different weights. I like my double layered socks made by Wright Sock. Besides being warm, they are nice for preventing blisters. How do you know if you have enough on? If you are nice and warm when you start out, you are overdressed. If you are shaking and shivering from the cold before you start, you might want a little more.
Dressed for winter success – layers, hats, gloves
Rule #2 is staying dry. Once again, layers are the key. Layers of wicking material will suck away the sweat while the air between the layers keeps you warm. If you get wet, you are in trouble. Really, I do mean potential big-time trouble like frostbite trouble or worse. So, leave the cotton shirt at home to wear after your shower while you sit in front of the fireplace having that well-deserved cup of hot chocolate. Don’t step in puddles. If there is a deep puddle, even if there is a covering of ice, stay off it. You might break through and soak your foot. Wet body parts just get cold.
Rule #3 is watch your footing. I just mentioned ice. You are way more likely to have a problem due to slipping on ice and busting your head open than you are to freeze up your lungs or watch your fingers fall off from frostbite damage. I have friends who have put screws and other homemade traction devices on the bottom of their shoes. Forget it. Just stay the hell off any ice you see. If there’s not a non-icy path you can follow, just give it up. Come back to run outside another day. Get on your exercise bike or even jump on the dreaded treadmill. Running on icy roads is just not a gamble worth taking. One more thing here. Snow and ice aren’t the same thing. You can run on snow. It gives you a little traction. If you go outside and find out once you are too far gone that the conditions are icier than you thought, try to step where there is snow and avoid any black ice spots.
Notice all the dry road and this one chose to run on the icy spot.
Cold weather myths are plenty. People look at me like I’m nuts when they ask what my distance runners do in the winter since they can’t go outside. I ask them why they think the runners can’t go outside. They just stare like I’m a slave driver. I have never had a runner come back in that didn’t work up a sweat outside. Now I do draw the line at certain temperatures. I think around 8 degrees is as cold as I have run in and I don’t ask my team to go outside below 10 degrees but I know they could if they wanted to. The myth is that your lungs will freeze up. I see that all the time in the obituaries when all those young runners die from frozen solid lungs. Come to think of it, no I have not ever seen that anywhere ever. It just doesn’t happen. Frostbite, maybe. Frozen lungs, not so much. One of my favorite stories comes from my first year of coaching high school track. It was about 15 degrees and very windy. I’m sure the wind chill was about zero. I told the girls, I am not going to ask you to go outside. You can if you want but it is not a requirement today. They all looked very relieved until Kristen, our all-state 3200 runner, looked at me and said “I’m going out”. Every single one of those girls dropped their heads in shame and then followed her. Now that is leadership. The best part was that every one of them came back sweaty. No frozen lungs or frostbitten fingers.
To sum it all up, winter running is awesome. It is less dangerous than running in high heat and can be a beautiful peaceful time to run outside. Just use your common sense, dress right and watch your step.
Total breakdown in common sense is pictured above. Who is the bigger fool? I think it’s the moron who took his baby out for a winter run in the stroller in icy conditions. If gramps frostbites his nipples he can only blame himself. If the baby in the stroller gets cold, his dad is in big trouble.
Keep running my friends!