What tips do you have for a new winter runner?
December 29, 2009 12:31 PM   Subscribe

What tips do you have for a new winter runner?

I'm a fairly seasoned runner (about five years experience on the treadmill), but I have never run a race longer than five miles. I am training for my first half marathon this May which means I will be doing most of my training in the winter and I want to get outside and run on the street.

I live in Illinois so snow will be constant. Most of my long runs will be through cornfields. What tips do you have for running in the snow? What about gear? Besides a great pair of shoes, all my gear is for warm weather and running indoors on the treadmill.

I do have an iPhone I always take with me for music and safety in the event of an injury.

Thank you in advance!
posted by gocubbies to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Running in the winter is pretty miserable. You will need some gore-tex or soft wool clothes for warmth/sweat removal, traction netting for your shoes, and a balaclava or scarf.
posted by verapamil at 12:45 PM on December 29, 2009

Any/everything you wear should be moisture-wicking so that when you sweat you don't freeze. Invest in some high performance running apparel either at your local REI/EMS or running specialty store.

- Smartwool PhD Running socks
- A good hat
- Windproof gloves/mittens
- Tuck disposable handwarmers into your gloves for longer training runs (if you're like me and your fingers get dangerously numb very quickly and need extra TLC).
- Use the Runnersworld.com interactive tool What Should I Wear?: Dress to Run Whatever the Weather or their more general guide in this useful article, "10 Tips for Running in the Cold."
- Drink a hot beverage as soon as you return from a long, cold run.
- Never used YakTrax but if it's wicked icy/snowy, maybe an option?

Have a wonderful time--winter running is it's own (awesome, fun, sometimes miserable) breed of running!
posted by Rudy Gerner at 12:46 PM on December 29, 2009

(If you're dressed well and prepared for it, you'll be fine. I just did a 15K in NYC and it was frigid and hella windy and as a slower runner it felt especially cold to be out there for so long at what was essentially a jogging pace. It was still a blast and incredibly fun and only unbearably cold between the end of the race (as in post-finish line) and walking to the subway afterward. Have a great time!)
posted by Rudy Gerner at 12:49 PM on December 29, 2009

-Reflective gear, obviously - especially if you're running through farmland, presumably without streetlights.

-Under Armour or some other brand of moisture resistant clothes should be your bottom layer. Add a sport fleece (mine is Adidas, I think) and maybe a windbreaker if it's really cold.

-A good, warm winter hat, and earmuffs. My ears, at least, get uncomfortably cold before any other part of me does.

I would not (and do not) run through snow or ice. Wait until it's been cleared up. I live on the east coast where we had that blizzard a few weeks back, and people were in such a rush to show how hardcore they are, that they were running down the middle of the streets, which were full of black ice.

If you must run with the white stuff on the ground, try to stick to fresh snow rather than packed snow or ice - the former will be akin to running on sand, which isn't good for your legs, but better than killing yourself on ice.
posted by downing street memo at 1:00 PM on December 29, 2009

If you are a male, protect your reproductive organs from wind and cold: insulated briefs.

I like thermal underwear tops. They insulate much better than Dri-FIT or Capilene, but still wick moisture.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 1:10 PM on December 29, 2009

You should definately get some proper spikes or yak trax for the snow/ice. I used to have a pair of Get-A-Grip spikes. Link and they were great for winter running although they did tend to sqeeze my toes down a bit.

I now have yak trax but have not worn them running. They are pretty stable. And go on easier.

Not sure about actual shoes but I would suggest water proof if you can find them.

Found these guys just now:
You can probably google around for other winter running shoes.

One thing I remember from running on the frigid days was that I wish I had a balaclava. I still need to buy one of those things.
posted by WickedPissah at 1:35 PM on December 29, 2009

In very cold weather, you probably want something to cover your face/mouth/maybe nostrils, otherwise breathing in dry air at a fast rate might give you trouble. I use a light fleece neck warmer for that. A scarf may be better if it's under 20F. My Under Armour Cold Gear turtleneck really really helps, although I would not put it on unless it's well below freezing. I like to double up socks, normal thin running socks first and then wool socks. Windbreaker for windy days, fleece for other days. Hats and balaclavas tend to get me too warm unless it's below 25F, so I often use a fleece headband. I haven't found a real need for fancy running gloves/mittens. The cheapest EMS brand fleece gloves work fine for me and I sometimes take them off during the run.

I've kept my runs to certain routes and times such that I haven't wished I had spikes or anything, but I would consider them if my route options were limited.

Warm up slowly. Don't stray too far from your home/civilization even with a phone.

I live in upstate NY, FYI.
posted by bread-eater at 2:32 PM on December 29, 2009

I disagree with verapamil - running during winter is great. I would suggest you layer, layer, layer. get yourself a hat at a runners store (cotton wool will itch like crazy and give you rashes, so cut that out), perhaps gloves if it's gonna be freezing or below and put a light windbreaker on above your shirt. long running pants are a good choice, too. consider asking this question on runnersworld if you haven't already.

also: keep in mind snow is not a fast surface.
posted by krautland at 7:15 PM on December 29, 2009

sorry, meant to link here about snow
posted by krautland at 7:22 PM on December 29, 2009

I love running in winter. I've lived in Minneapolis for the past four years, and have run around lakes during winter every year but one. During the summer, you get more uncomfortable the longer you run. During winter, you get cozier.

My advice:

- Run first thing in the morning. It can be the chilliest time of day and feel like iced hell for five minutes, but it will light you up for the rest of the day. Sunlight is so dear in the winter and dawn happens so late that as long as you're out before 7:30 or so, you'll get a little taste of sunrise. Your soul will exult. If you have a 9-to-5 job and hate leaving work when it's dark, a morning run makes up for it every time.

- One exception to the above: definitely take at least one run at night when there's a layer of snow on the ground and a full moon. The moon is full-ish here tonight and my run was entrancingly beautiful. Those wide open fields, covered in snow, are nature's mood lighting.

- If your hands are sensitive to cold, use mittens, not gloves. In my experience, the warmest gloves the Running Room carried were no match for the wind off Lake Calhoun. But I've had a pair of triple-insulated moisture-wicking mittens that keep my hands at a nice temperature.

- If you're not chilly when you first get going, you're overdressed.

- As everyone has said, layer, and make sure everything wicks moisture. Especially the socks. You can get some mad blisters in winter if you're out there with cotton socks.

- I usually go out with one thin, skin-tight base layer (these were cheap - probably $20 for both the top and bottom) and some heavier-duty material over that. (Pearl Izumi Elite Thermal Barrier Jacket on top, and some tight reflective pants on bottom. Both of the outer layers block wind and repel water. Both of these were also an investment - probably >$200 for the pair - and well worth it. I like the Pearl Izumi top also because it has a pocket right over my chest that's the perfect size for my phone.) Note that "heavy duty" doesn't actually mean "heavy." Well-made, surprisingly thin winter running clothes will serve you even in 20-below wind chills.

- Many folks don't like balaclavas because they can feel like they're obstructing your breathing, but I love my balaclava. Your breath warms your entire head, and there's a mesh mouth-hole that makes it easy for me to breathe just fine. It functions much better than a hat for blocking wind. If you find that wind is a serious problem, augment your balaclava with ski goggles.

- A hot shower after a winter run is even better than hot sex.

- You mentioned you have great shoes ... are they great winterized shoes? So far this year I've stuck to a pair of Saucony's I got during the fall, but during past winters I switched to a pair of winterized Asics shoes that were fantastic. They were made of waterproof plastic that could sink into a snow bank without getting my feet wet, had soles so grippy I never needed Yak Trax or anything, but were still light enough that I didn't feel like they were hurting my run.

- For the most part, avoid running when the snow is fresh. Minneapolis is great about plowing the lakeside trails immediately after a snowstorm, so I can typically go out not too long after it's snowed, assured that I'll have a safe route. I say "for the most part" because there are some types of snow that aren't too scary: fluffy snow that won't accumulate, wet, rainy snow that's too warm to freeze. The former can actually be delightful to run in, the latter is annoying to run in, but probably won't get you injured.

Above all, enjoy it. I've had several of my most beautiful running moments during the winter. A chilly dawn, the snowy ground muting most of the world's noise, fields of dark grey snow slowly lightening as the sun rises, leafless tree branches silhouetted against a blank sky ... there are certainly much lesser pleasures.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 11:12 PM on December 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

Lots of good advice above ...I trained for a marathon through winter and while it was a relatively mild winter that year it still got cold. What I would suggest is to remember is that it takes a bit more to get loose when it is cold so start slower than you are normally used to. Also, you will warm up after you run a mile or two so you don't want to over dress. In theory, if you are a little cold when you start that will be ok after 5 - 10 minutes of running.

Good luck.
posted by mmascolino at 9:49 AM on December 30, 2009

Embrace the snot rocket. Seriously.
posted by Brittanie at 5:53 PM on January 18, 2010

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