Winter Running: How to stay warm and enjoy this “most wonderful time of the year”.
Heading into the winter season here in Northern Ontario, let me first say that winter is NOT my favorite running season. I’m not crazy about ice, cold and snow. Our winters are long – from the start of cold rain in November to the lingering ice in April, if you live here you either must embrace the winter, or it will really stall your training and motivation. I love to run, I love being outside and I detest the gym and treadmills. SO, I have adapted and figured out a way to enjoy this sometimes not so pleasant running season and come out on the other side stronger both physically and mentally. I’ve just got to say that finishing 12km in -10C and snowing will make you feel powerful and proud of yourself in a way that 12km on a warm May afternoon never will. If you want to experience a true “runners high” and build mental fortitude, run outside on a good, cold Canadian winter day with the sun reflecting off the snow and warm on your face. Run on a back-road snow packed but with a view of the countryside covered in a blanket of fresh white powder. I just can’t say it any other way, winter running can be tough, but it is totally worth it.
Having just convinced you to give this winter running thing a try, I must also qualify this with the importance of being prepared, so here are my tips for not just surviving the winter running season, but forging thru with confidence and enjoyment.
a. We all love gear, and sometimes it is more fashion than function, however, when it comes to winter running, you will need special gear if you are going to succeed and enjoying the season
i. Base layer – very important. Once the temps drop much below freezing, a good base layer – either wool, wool-blend or synthetic is ideal. Moisture wicking is key (you will sweat even in -15). No cotton. I have a moisture wicking top and bottom layer that I wear under my running suit. One layer is all you will likely need if you buy a good quality base layer.
ii. Wool running socks – NOT wool hiking socks. Make sure to get the wool socks made for running – they are thinner and will keep your toes toasty but not so thick that you get blisters (smart wool and Balega both make a nice pair of cushiony winter running socks)
iii. Winter running suit
- I have the jacket with built in balaclava from Running Room and the matching wind pant that is lined with fleece. This set is water and wind resistant. Easy to layer under, comfortable and breathable. It’s a bit pricey, but honestly, it’s the suit I wear for ALL my runs from Dec – Feb so given the hours of wear, its worth it. It keeps me toasty and dry and the optional balaclava that folds into the hood is handy for when you start out cold on a run and as you warm up, you can just push it back and out of the way.
iv. Winter running shoes
- Absolutely the most important investment for the winter. I have the Saucony Ice Razors and they are amazing. With the upper zip gator, my feet stat completely dry, even in slush and deep snow and they seal in the heat so in very cold temps, my toes are toasty. This is the key to winter enjoyment - toasty toes. Honesty, you can fight a lot of bad weather if your feet are warm and dry! These shoes have extra grips on the bottom and perform amazing on packed snow and ice. Again, they are a bit pricey, but the investment is worth every penny.
v. Head Gear
- This one is personal preference. I have thick hair, so I find a buff that covers my ears is all I need. A toque is overkill and makes me way too hot. I do like an ear band with pony- tail opening as well, but the versatility of a buff is what I tend towards. Either way, you will need to cover at least your ears to prevent frost-bite and hold in the heat somewhat.
- Again, personal preference here – I like running gloves until the temp is well below freezing – my hands tend to get very hot when I run, so I don’t need full mittens until about -10C. However, at that point a mitten that is breathable running mitten is a must. Your hands will sweat and then freeze if the mittens are not breathable, but also weather resistant. Some running mittens even have a small panel for wiping your nose on while you run – gross I know, but in the cold, your nose will run and practically speaking, you need to wipe it somewhere!
vii. Winter Running tights
- Occasionally we will get days where its close to freezing and my winter suit is too much. I have a few pairs of fleece lined winter tights which are perfect for this type of weather. Last year I wore my Saucony wind/fleece tights, but my new favorites this year are my RunningSkirts sub-zero running tights with attached skirt. They are soooo toasty and look so cute! Winter tights can also be worn as a mid layer under your running suit for extra warmth on really cold days
viii. Top Layer
- Usually I just throw on my winter running jacket, although if the weather is nice – around freezing and not windy, I will put a top layer over my base layer and head out like that. Another option is to put a base layer under a vest to keep the torso warm. Lulu lemon, Gap, Running Room and Runningskirts all sell very lovely top layers for running that could be worn with or without base layers and could be layered under a winter running jacket. Whichever you decide, just make sure it is moisture wicking and not too thick as you will overheat once you are out running. As I’ve mentioned before, a running journal where you record temperatures and running apparel is extremely helpful when deciding what to wear and how to layer for the temperature.
- Make sure they are weather resistant – blue tooth headphones often have trouble in the cold, so you may need to go back to your cord all weather pair during the winter.
x. Lip balm
- As the temperature dips, your skin will take a beating. Make sure you are coating your lips with sun blocking, moisturizing lip balm otherwise you will end up with a nasty cracked mess after just an hour or two of running. Some people put Vaseline on their nose and cheeks as well when out in the cold wind. I don’t personally do this as I find a good moisturizing cream after I shower up works just as well.
Well there you have it! Now get out there and brave the cold for a great winter run!!