Years ago, I was at a tune up appointment with my rockstar physiotherapist Stephanie. It was springtime and I had just come back to running after hibernating for the winter. She asked me how I was keeping fit through the winter, and I embarrassingly admitted that I didn’t do much. Stephanie said that if I wanted to improve as a runner, I was going to have to either find a way to run through the winter or learn to cross train, otherwise I would be losing my hard-earned progress. So, I committed to becoming a winter runner.
I live in Winnipeg, so winter running here is no joke. We pride ourselves on our well-won frosty faces and hearty nature as we wave to each other out on the Red River trail (who knows who’s under all those layers, so you’d better be friendly). It’s cold in Winnipeg for at least four months of the year—the average temperature in January is -17 degrees Celsius, but we routinely see days much closer to -30—so you need to be willing to dive far into the deep freeze to keep moving. Here are my five tips to running in extreme winter cold: I guarantee you that nothing will make you feel like more of an invincible superhero…and you’ll be back for more.
Get psyched to head out the door. You are committed to doing this thing, but let’s be real. It feels daunting and you probably need a kick in the pants. Pick a new episode of a podcast you’ve been waiting to listen to, or your best motivational playlist. Drag a friend out with you. Tell someone you are going and give them permission to taunt you mercilessly until you leave. Whatever it takes to get you out is fair game.
Turn on your furnace. I recommend getting dressed to go out at least ten minutes before you leave the house. Pile on those layers early to get your body good and hot and you won’t feel the cold for at least the first few blocks.
Layer smart. I don’t have to tell seasoned runners that layers are key. Put those good moisture-wicking layers on the bottom to keep the sweat from freezing on your body. I usually wear a pair of technical gloves with a pair of heavy mitts over top. Make sure your last layer is a good wind stopper. I will often wear sweatpants over top of a high-quality pair of winter weight leggings and high thermal socks. A balaclava is a must, and usually a buff around the neck with a toque on top as well. Don’t worry what you look like. Function over fashion, people. Frostbite sucks.
Stop the freeze. Tech freezes fast, so keep it protected if you want it to survive the full distance. I run with Aftershokz headphones (under all the layers) and so far they have never frozen. My running partner taught me the trick of packing my phone in a single mitt inside my jacket and that usually saves the battery from freezing. Water bottles also need protection—wear those underneath your jacket to keep them from turning into useless blocks of ice.
During and after: Don’t push yourself too hard on days like this. You won’t be setting any land-speed records as you trudge through snow drifts. Likely you won’t be thirsty when you are out running, but make sure you keep hydrated with those safely stashed water bottles. Once you get back, get those layers off quick: that buildup of frost melts fast and you’ll be left wearing wet clothes. Tea is good post-run to reheat you from the inside, and bonus points are given if you drink it in a hot shower. Don’t forget to stretch—running on ice and snow demands extra from your muscles and you might find yourself a bit more sore than usual. Don’t forget to share those frosty face selfies from your run to take full advantage of the badass status you have earned.
You are officially a winter warrior!
And make sure to plan your route based on wind direction: go out against the wind, return with the wind at your back. I do so by checking the hourly conditions “slices” on The Weather Network.
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