The first serious snowfall has inspired me to share some of my thoughts on winter running.
I love winter running. The snow falling from the sky and covering the trees is beautiful, and with snow on the ground and the leaves off the trees you can see the contour of the land much more vividly than in the other seasons. Snow can also make a wonderful surface to run on.
I also love running in the winter because I run better when I don’t overheat. Of the six 100 milers I’ve finished, my fastest one was by far the coldest one, the Creemore 100 Mile Challenge this December in Ontario. I had very little of the stomach issues, exhaustion, sleepiness, and blisters that normally plague me in a 100 mile race, and I attribute that to not overheating.
The important thing in cold weather, of course, is to dress right, at that’s the tricky part. You need to dress warm enough, but you don’t want to overdress because if you overdress you sweat more, get chilled from sweating, and you risk becoming dehydrated just as you might in hot weather. If you can tolerate feeling just a little chilly most of the time, you won’t sweat much, and you will likely have a good run. The key is to be able to adjust. Wear layers that you can add or subtract. Wear clothes with zippers that you can open or close. I even like to wear two hats, because adding or subracting a layer on my head can make a huge difference. As you warm up from running, or the sun comes out, or you get into an area where you are sheltered from the wind, the temptation will be to bask in the warmth, but the best thing to do when you start to feel warm is to open a zipper or take off a layer to cool off. If you can stay cool and minimize sweating, you can better control your temperature, and you will be better off in the long run (pun intended).
When you dress in layers it helps to think about the function of each layer. The inside layer should always be of a good wicking material to move the moisture away from the skin. The middle layers are added insulation, and the outer layer should always be wind resistant and, if you expect to get wet, water resistant.
Even when you maintain your core temperature, the extremities may get cold, and there it’s good to wear layers as well. To keep my toes warm I like to wear two pairs of socks, a thin wicking liner sock inside a thicker wool sock. The liner sock helps wick the water away from the skin while the wool insulates well even when it’s wet. At times it’s impossible to keep the feet dry, but with the right socks you can keep them comfortable. For the hands I like convertible mitten-gloves, gloves that have a flap of material to pull over the fingers. The alternative that might be even better in very cold weather is to wear mittens over gloves. Mittens insulate much better than gloves, but sometimes you need your fingers free to open zippers, unwrap food, or tie shoes. So I recommend layers everywhere.
Winter can be a great time to run if you dress right for it. Of course, every individual is different, so you need to experiment and find what works for you. And don’t forget to look around and take in the beauty of the winter wonderland!