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Believe it or not, as a longtime resident of the Chicago area, winter is one of my favorite times of year to hit the roads. It’s a fabulous way to break up the hibernation and soak up a bit of vitamin D—plus, there are mornings just after a snowfall that are incredibly peaceful and breathtakingly beautiful.
That said, venturing out in freezing weather may feel uncomfortable if not approached properly. Follow these winter rules to run happily throughout the season.
Run outdoors all year.
If you run through autumn and early winter, the super chilly winter temps won’t be as shocking to your system come January. Your body will adapt better to cold weather over time. Plus, you’ll be able to maintain outdoor running fitness (which is slightly different than treadmill fitness in terms of impact force and form).
Invest in proper cold weather attire.
Winter running gear can be expensive, but it will make all the difference! I recommend having these items on hand for 30- to 45-degree weather: a breathable jacket, tights, gloves and a hat. When temps dip below 30, you may want to layer on a weatherproof shell jacket, windproof pants mittens and a scarf.
Keep an apparel log.
Dressing for cold runs is a tricky balance of wearing enough to keep you warm, but not so much you overheat. I like dressing for weather that is 10 degrees warmer than the current temp – but everyone is different. Keep a journal with the weather conditions, your outfit choice and comfort level to hone in on the perfect apparel for you.
Don’t worry about damaging your lungs! Your body has a built-in system to warm the air you draw in. It will be body temperature by the time it reaches your lungs. However, running in the cold can irritate the airways, causing coughing, chest tightness or shortness of breath. Wearing a neck scarf helps prevent those symptoms—but for less fit runners or those suffering from asthma, it may be more comfortable to run inside on very cold days.
Run in the sun.
If possible, run during the daytime to absorb that needed sunshine and vitamin D we need in the winter. You’ll get your miles in during the warmest time of day and come back with a smile on your face. If you do run in the early morning or evening, run with a buddy, and always wear reflective clothing so you’re visible.
Warm up thoroughly.
Properly heating up the muscles before you step outside will help prevent soreness and strain associated with running in the cold. One of my secrets is to take a pre-run hot shower. This works well for those long, cold weekend runs. Just make sure your hair is completely dry before venturing outside! You can also warm your body by performing dynamic warm-up exercises indoors (jumping jacks, high knees, and butt kicks). Your dog might think you’re nuts, but you’ll feel like a million bucks as you head out the door toasty and ready to tackle the roads.
Relax on snow and wear traction.
The safest way to run on snow and ice is to shorten your stride, keep your feet low to the ground and maintain a relaxed posture. You’ll reduce the risk of slipping and straining a muscle. When running on snow, choose fresh snow one packed, and consider wearing a traction device like Yak Trax. Keep in mind there will be days where it makes more sense to run inside. Hit the treadmill when it’s dark and icy, if there is dangerous wind chill or when you’re not feeling 100 percent.
Mix up your routine in the winter to include a variety of activities. Snow-shoeing and cross country skiing are great supplements for your running routine. Complement the colder, high-intensity outdoor activities with warm, strengthening indoor activities, like hot hatha yoga, Pilates or a workout at the gym. Mixing up your routine keeps the body guessing and burns more calories, keeping you in shape and motivated throughout all the seasons.
Jenny Hadfield is the co-author of Running for Mortals and Marathoning for Mortals. You can find more of her training programs, tips and running classes at coachjenny.com.