So, it turns out that December 2014 was the first December without snow in southeastern Michigan in something like 85 years. I heard a lot of grumbling around Christmas time about the fact that we weren’t getting a white Christmas, and while I have been known in the past to follow that sentiment, this year I was perfectly fine without snow on Christmas Day, or any other day for that matter. 😛
Now, everyone knows that I am a weather geek, as evidenced by the many pictures I post of my weather station. I have been known to get excited about a snowstorm or two in my lifetime. But training for a marathon last winter (the worst winter in Detroit history), completely changed my outlook on winter weather. These days, if the temperature stayed about 47° all winter long, I would be perfectly happy. Okay, that’s probably a lie. A little part of me still gets excited about big snowstorms, but the bigger part of me really wishes it would only snow on the days I don’t run. 😉
Unfortunately, our December luck didn’t last, and we are once again in the middle of a deep-freeze here in Michigan. On top of that, we’ve had snow the last several days, and it is made my drive to work pretty unpleasant. Tuesday morning was particularly unfortunate:
Nothing like a flat tire in the snow. But that’s why I’ve been a AAA member for over 25 years! 🙂
As far as running goes, it’s really not the snow as much as the cold and ice that bothers me. I’ve gotten pretty good at running in the snow, but when it’s cold (and windy especially), it is quite challenging. I know this is treadmill weather for a lot of northern runners, but with my treadmill being in the barn, which isn’t heated, it’s not always that much different for me to run on the road versus on the treadmill.
Monday morning’s run was quite impressive, if I do say so myself. All night long, I listened to the wind banging the rope on the flagpole, and I dreaded getting up for my run at 5:30. But I did, and even though I could’ve done the treadmill, I somehow convinced myself to run 5 miles on the road. It was 11°, and the winds were sustained in the 20 mph range, gusting up to 29. It was definitely an “easy” run as far as my pace goes, but I feel like just getting out there and running 5 miles in that weather was effort enough.
I dressed pretty warmly, but I will say that my legs actually got cold, which is a pretty rare occurrence. That wind coming from the northwest was pretty brutal on my way back, but I did have a half a mile at the end with a tailwind. It didn’t make up for that half mile that was straight into the wind, but it was pretty nice to “fly” for a little bit. 🙂
I don’t consider myself to be an expert in anything, but I think I have enough “real world” experience to offer some tips for winter running. For those of you who want to eschew the treadmill and be a bad-ass like me 😉 , below are some tips that I have learned over the last 12+ months of running in the dead of winter. I’ve separated them into three categories, because there are different facets of winter running that have to be overcome: the elements, the timing, and last but not least, the motivation.
1. The elements
For most of us, this is probably the biggest factor to overcome. Winter weather is harsh! The biggest thing that worked for me was to splurge on the winter running gear. If you’re serious about training in the winter, do yourself a huge favor and spend the money to get good clothes and gear. One of the best things I ever bought was a facemask. I actually bought it for my son Jamie, but I borrowed it a lot last winter when I was training.
It worked really well, until the day that I wore it when it was probably a little too warm, and I took it off. And then promptly lost it on the trail. 🙁 Poor Jamie was so heartbroken. He really loved that facemask. I bought another one this year to replace it, but it’s not the same, and I know he doesn’t like it nearly as much.
Other items I use include a fleece headband that has a hole for my ponytail (shown below):
…and also winter gloves that I borrow from Jamie when necessary, as well as texting gloves that are good for the days when it’s just slightly cold. For a long run, I’ll start out with the thick gloves, and then switch to the texting gloves when my hands warm up some. I learned that after a few runs were my hands were sweating, but then I take the gloves off and they freeze again.
I also have an under armor shirt that my husband bought me for Christmas this year that works fantastic.
I’ve been wearing that underneath my lined light jacket (it’s actually Jamie’s hockey jacket from last season, but I kind of commandeered it) and it’s the perfect weight to keep me warm but allow my body to breathe when I’ve heated up after a few miles. Last year, I wore cotton T-shirts or whatever race shirt I could find, but I’m definitely glad my husband spent the money on this nice, wicking shirt. I also like the turtleneck, which keeps my neck warm!
For really cold days (like this week), I also put a hat on. Jamie and I got hats from the Kona run last year that really work well.
Layering is the name of the game when you’re running in the winter, and I find that putting on a pair of Reebok thermal leggings underneath my sweatpants does just the trick to keep my lower half warm. Last year, I wore Jamie’s Under Armour thermals that he uses for hockey, but this year I decided I would let him keep his pants and I would get my own. Between his hockey and my running, they were constantly in the wash! 😉
One other trick I have, and it may not work for everyone, is that as soon as I get up, I take the clothes that I have laid out the night before, and I put them in the dryer for about three minutes. I have a first floor laundry room, so it’s pretty easy for me to do, but let me tell you it is worth the effort if you have to walk farther. There’s nothing like putting on fresh-from-the-dryer clothes when you’re cold first thing in the morning!
So that’s pretty much my gear. I’ve seen people using special things for their shoes, like ice spikes, but I haven’t ventured out into that yet. I’ve become an expert at finding the spots on the road that are less slippery, and it has worked for me so far. I can honestly say that in all of my marathon training last year (18 weeks worth) there was only one day when I nearly fell. It was on my long run the Saturday after we had a big warm up where all the snow melted, and then it all froze. My foot hit a patch of ice, and I did a spectacular dance and balancing act, but I managed to keep upright. 🙂 I do tend to run slower in the winter, just to be careful. Especially when it comes to marathon training, I figure that running is all that’s necessary, not necessarily running fast.
2. The timing
One of the biggest challenges in winter running is the fact that there isn’t much daylight. Because I work full-time, and I have a 40-mile one-way commute every day, my winter runs during the week have to be done in the dark. I debated a long time about whether or not it was a good idea for me to run in the dark on the road. I fully realize this is not something everyone should do or would want to do, but for me, I have found a way to make it work. If night running is something you’re thinking about, I cannot stress enough that you must put safety first. For me, that means a reflective vest, a headlamp, and of course, pepper spray. All of those items cost me about 40 bucks, which is a very worthwhile investment in my opinion. Other safety measures I take include not wearing headphones when I run in the dark, and running out and back routes from my house so that I’m never far from home. Running back-and-forth past my house three or four times in a run is not necessarily exciting, but it makes me feel better. I’m also very careful when cars come by, and I go as far to the side of the road as I can (without going into the ditch, obviously!).
I see many of my neighbors pretty frequently in the mornings, the ones who leave for work at crazy early hours. One of them that I know well saw me one morning, and I waved, and then later on in the day, he saw me at a school function. He looked at me, shook his head, and said, “You are a freaking nut!” 😉
So yes, I probably am, but at the same time there is really something amazing and peaceful about running early in the morning or at night. It is absolutely not for everyone, and it requires a lot of diligence and precaution, but it can definitely be rewarding.
3. The motivation
Sometimes, I think this is the hardest part of running in the winter. Monday morning, when I listened to that wind howling outside my window at about 4 o’clock, I just did not know how I was going to convince myself to get out of bed and go run in it. And yet, I did. Why? Because I have done it enough times that I know that there is a reward at the end that will make it worth my while. That reward includes a hot shower, extra food and treats during the day, and that great feeling of endorphins that comes about half an hour after you finished your run, knowing your most difficult effort of the day is already over and you nailed it.
I also know that if I don’t get out of bed and do that run, I’m going to regret it the rest of the day. For instance, this morning, I was supposed to run 5 miles at marathon pace (11:04), but I set my alarm incorrectly and I didn’t have time. It bothered me for the rest of the day, and I was cranky at work just thinking about it. It bothered me enough that I went home, and even though the sun was just setting and it was nearly dark, and the temperature was 10 degrees with winds gusting to 27mph, and the snow was blowing over the road, I still went out. It was a hard run with all those negative factors, but I pushed through and not only finished, but finished under marathon pace!
I felt so good afterwards, and I spent the rest of the night telling all my family how awesome I am. 😀
The truth is, probably the biggest benefit of winter running is the satisfaction of bragging to everyone you know—your family, your friends, your coworkers, strangers on the street—that you are a total hard-core badass. 😉 Because when you choose to run outside in the dead of winter–you totally are! 😀
So those are my tips for winter running survival. If you have any of your own, I would love to hear them! I’m always looking for new ideas!
Thanks for reading!