Updated: Feb 23
I think it's fitting that I'm finishing up this article and we just got a nice fresh layer of snow outside! It's a cold, cold world out there people...at least if you live in New England like I do!
The winter months are tough for us runners...for a number of different reasons. Obviously it's cold, but it also get's dark early, it rains and snows all the time, and it's the holiday season which means it's very easy to slip into your cozy snuggie (I know you have one), pop on the TV and eat some cookies. Well I'm here to tell you...
SNAP OUT OF IT!!
Falling into this trap can be suicide for your running progress...I know, because I've been there! Taking that much time off (even a month) is disastrous for not only your aerobic stamina but for your mental stamina as well. Getting back into running after a long break can feel like starting over which makes it that much harder to slap those running shoes on again come Spring.
In this article I'm going to discuss a few ways to change your attitude about winter running, as well as the clothing and accessories that will make you look forward to those winter runs!
Let me be the first to tell you, you're not alone if you want to pack up your running shoes and call it a day when daylight savings rolls around. I feel that same way. I mean, I live in New Hampshire!! I don't know if YOU know this, but that's basically freakin Canada...a.k.a. "The Great White North"!! Two years ago I even got frostbite on my toes when climbing Mt. Washington! So yes, I understand that winter can be brutal and many of us don't consider it our favorite season.
A few years ago I was getting into a real groove with my running, but winter was rolling around the corner and I knew that if I didn't find a way to maintain my running schedule during the winter I was going to lose that aerobic base that I had been building. So, I decided to change my attitude about winter running...and here's how I did it.
(Bonus cool points if you get that reference!)
I really like winter. I know, I'm a freak. But I like the snow, I like the cold, and I just really like the atmosphere of the world during the winter time. The main reason I didn't like running in the winter was because it required so much more work! More gear meant longer prep, more laundry and more cleanup. Ice and snow meant injuries were more prevalent and I would have to run slower which was discouraging. Most sidewalks in my area don't get plowed so I was having to run in the street which is dangerous. It was just a list of crap that took away from what I actually wanted to do...run!
In order to get myself excited about running in winter I decided to do a few things to "treat myself".
I made it clear that a fast pace was not the goal. I had to take that aspect out of my runs because I just couldn't keep a strong pace and be safe, so I just decided I wasn't going to keep track of my pace and, my oh my, that opened up a whole new world of relaxing running! I would run on trails more or run downtown and forget about my time and just enjoy the beauty of my snow covered world.
"Netflix" runs. Now, I know a lot of you do this already, and kudos to you for being much, much smarter than me, but I started to run on my treadmill more and watch Netflix while I did it. I got a wall mount for a spare TV and set it up on the wall right in front of my treadmill. I would just go for long, slow runs (again, not worrying too much about the pace) and just watch a show or a movie. I would even do some of my long runs on the treadmill....shhhhhh....
Destination runs. I live in downtown Concord, NH. I work in downtown Concord. Most of my friends live in downtown Concord. I usually go to bars and restaurants in downtown Concord. I run in downtown Concord...are you starting to see the trend here? I was getting burnt out on running the same routes around my home. So...I started taking little trips; destination runs! I would drive to some trails or a runnable section of road and have a nice run, then hope back in my car and drive home. I usually don't drive to the places I run because I have a ton of runnable roads and trails around my house, I don't particularly feel good about driving my old, oil stained truck around when I don't have to, and it's just not as convenient as running out my front door. BUT, sometimes a change in scenery is exactly what you need. I enjoyed these destination runs so much I still do one every few weeks.
More group runs. Personally I'm not the biggest fan of groups runs. I enjoy the solitude of running and I don't especially like having to keep someone else's pace. On the other hand, I think that group runs are great when you're just trying to have a good time with friends, relax and enjoy an easy run. I know that I need more relaxation in my life so I try to do group runs every so often. But during the winter months, I think group runs are especially important! First, you're running slower anyways, so pace isn't a big deal. Second, committing to a weekly group run holds you accountable to getting out there at least once a week, even if you just want to hide in your snuggie! And third, you'll get great tips and tricks from the old dogs on how to stay warmer during your runs!
So, after bribing myself with some special running "treats", I did something else that proved to be super beneficial for me...
Change your goals
Like I said, I was feeling pretty good about how I was running at that time. My pace had been improving, I was able to push through longer runs, and my workouts were not feeling quite as brutal. And I wanted to keep pushing. But as part of that "Treat yo'self!" section above, I knew I was going to be dialing back my intense workouts and long runs. I realized I needed to align my goals and that meant changing them.
The goals I had set for myself just weren't attainable given the fact that I was gearing back my workouts, pace, and long runs. I needed to set realistic, achievable goals that I would still be proud to reach. So that's what I did. I lowered my volume (slightly), reduced the number of speed workouts and increased the number of fun runs like Fartleks and easy runs. I centered my workouts around maintaining my aerobic base rather than increasing speed, cadence, pace, etc. Then I created goals based on these new workout plans.
Honestly, I can't remember what my goals were that year, but they could be whatever you want as long as they are motivating and achievable. You could set a 5k time that you want to be able to run. You could set a distance you want to be able to run without walking. You could set a minimum number of cookies you want to eat in a single da....wait, no. No, those aren't the kind of goals we're talking about here. Basically, if you get creative you can set up all kinds of fun and encouraging goals for yourself.
And the last thing that I did to change my winter running experience brings us to our next section...
If you can't tell yet, I'm a bit a of a gear head and not just with running. Mountain biking, wood working, snowboarding; I just like gear. I'll also be the first one to tell you it's probably not the healthiest relationship to have, especially when you're married and have two young kids. Trying to explain to your wife why you bought a new running hat instead of diapers is not a fun conversation to have. So, I do my best to remind myself that I do these things because I love them, because I'm passionate about the outdoors and because I want to live a healthy lifestyle.
But without the right gear these experiences can become less enjoyable, so understanding and investing in the right gear becomes part of the game. That's partly why I write this blog...not only to tell you what gear I think is good or bad, but WHY certain gear is better than others. You know...teach a man to fish...
When you are thinking about running in the winter you might be thinking about how you just can't stand to pull on your damp running shoes and step out into the cold. Or how you can't put any more lotion on your wind burned face. Or maybe you've been calculating if you burn more calories shivering or running...I'm here to point out a fairly obvious aspect of running in the winter; the right gear can make it or break it!
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Getting the right gear
If you live in a place where it gets legitimately cold (Texans, you can leave now) you need to have the right gear. I know, it's kind of expensive, and you have to store it somewhere, and it takes longer to get ready. I KNOW! Trust me, I understand how it takes 25 minutes to get my 8 layers of clothing on to go outside for a quick run. But if you don't have the right gear, winter running is not only miserable, but downright dangerous!
So, let's quickly touch on the absolute necessities for winter running (I'll go into further detail below about what I prefer to wear for my runs).
A good winter hat. It doesn't have to be running specific but a good winter beanie is a life saver. I prefer Merino Wool beanies because they are super warm, wick moisture, dry quickly, AND they don't smell like a dying tuna after your first run. This is my favorite hat. I know,it's expensive, but I've run in a lot of wool hats and for me, it's worth it.
A good pair of mittens. When you get cold your body automatically begins drawing blood from your extremities to support your vital organs like your heart and lungs...this is why your extremities, like hands and feet, are the first to get cold and the first to get frostbite! I will always recommend mittens over gloves for runners because they keep your hands warmer, and because you generally do not need great finger dexterity to move those feet! Don't feel the need to splurge here, any decent mitten will keep your hands toasty. Here is the pair I use!
Pants. You gotta have another layer on your legs, shorts just aren't going to cut it. I'm not a big fan of running in pants, so I usually push it until late fall/early winter before I switch over. I can't link you to the pants I use because I still use some cheap Nike's I got a couple years ago (see below!). Plus, I mostly use leggings, we'll talk about those later.
Jacket. Again, running in a t-shirt or even a long sleeve will only get you so far. When temps start dropping, I like being able to easily throw on a light zip up jacket that will allow me to regulate my heat by zipping it all the way up, unzipping it all the way, or finding that happy place somewhere in between! Again, can't link you to a jacket cuz I'm still wearing this old thing...
Ok, so again, those are what I consider the absolute necessities. You can definitely start running in these and then figure out what you like and what you don't.
Personally, there are a few other things that I love for winter running...
Alright, I know you're all probably thinking "I THOUGHT RUNNING WAS GOING TO BE CHEAP?!?!"
The reality here is that you don't NEED to buy this stuff!
You can use any pair of winter gloves you have, any hat, any jacket, etc. You don't need running-specific stuff and you don't even need high quality stuff...it just helps! I live in New Hampshire and I walk about a mile to work a mile back home everyday. I had already invested in good winter gear because I didn't want to turn into an icicle on my way to work! I provided the links above not because I think you need to buy that stuff, they are just examples of the things that I use to keep comfortable when it's -20°C outside and I decide to go on a run.
My advice with gear is to start with the essentials then work from there. You'll realize VERY quickly whether or not you actually need some more protection from old man winter!
And that's it! No more excuses! Gear up and get out there to tackle those winter runs!
As always, thank you so much for reading!
Leave a comment below about your winter running habits, your gear, and any tips you have for keeping warm out there!