Keeping warm, safe and healthy while running in the winter.
November 14, 2005 6:32 AM   Subscribe

How do I stay warm, safe and healthy while running during the winter in New England?

I've recently taken up running. I really enjoy it. I've been working on losing weight and running has helped tremendously. I'd like to keep it up through the winter, but I know that's going to be difficult for me.

I remember running in high school during the winter - my throat would get really cold and it'd be tough to breath. I'm also concerned that, because I like to run in the early morning, I'll be dodging ice patches in the dark.

Does anyone have any specific suggestions for me with regards to attire and safety equipment? Are there specific running shoes that'll be better on the occasional patch of ice? Is there a type of shirt or gator or something that'll go over my mouth to make breathing easier? Also, am I just being stupid? Will I just be asking for illness (cold/flu) if I choose to run during the winter?

A side question: If not running, what do you do to keep fit in the winter?
posted by soplerfo to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Answer to the side question: Cross country skiing. Staying warm is sort of an issue there too. I wear a long sleeve capilene top and usually shorts with long capilene underwear, and usually a fleece vest while actually skiing. When stopped, I layer up on top, and add a fleece cap immediately. I usually only stop for 10 minutes or so at a time, so as not to lose a lot of heat. Sweating is not really avoidable but a thin layer of synthetics allows it to evaporate, rather than build up and soak you. The key to staying warm is staying dry.
posted by jimfl at 7:02 AM on November 14, 2005

Go to EMS or REI and get yourself around 6 cheap polypropylene layers for your torso and a couple for your legs. You'll get to the point that you'll be able to pinpoint exactly the number of layers you'll need based on temperature and conditions.

I don't run regularly myself, but I do ride a bike long distances through the New England winter, and many of the challenges are the same.
posted by killdevil at 7:05 AM on November 14, 2005

Competitive Running has an article with winter running advice.
posted by probablysteve at 7:06 AM on November 14, 2005

I run outside year-round.

Reflective gear and a flashlight/headlamp if you're running at dawn or dusk or night.

Definitely plan to wear something to cover your mouth on the coldest days. The cold air hurts your lungs when you're breathing hard, so having a layer of warmed air near your mouth and nose really helps.

Your nose is going to run a lot, so be prepared for that.

Cover as much skin as you can. Make sure your gloves and sleeves are long enough to cover your wrists. Cover your ears and forehead and face as much as possible.

They do make these sorts of spikes you can attach to your shoes for running on packed ice and snow. I've never used them, but they strike me as a good idea.

You might see if there's a running group near you. I run with a group once a week, which helps keep me motivated. We run between 3-7 miles. Many of the group members are very accomplished and experienced runners, and they are a great source of tips and tricks and practical knowledge.

Finally, since I work out in other sports as well, I joined the Y. It's only $33 a month after a one-time $60 membership fee. For that you get a warm room and a treadmill - also, usually, weights and a pool. Might want to consider a gym membership for backup. Here (North of Boston) I found that good days come in long strings, but so do bad days. Blizzards and three-day storms really cut into your routine. It's one thing to get stuck inside for one day, quite another to be faced with three or four days of really awful weather. That's when the gym is a welcome refuge.
posted by Miko at 7:43 AM on November 14, 2005

Myth: You can catch the flu or a cold from going outdoors in cold weather.

Fact: The flu and colds are more common in the winter months because that is when the viruses spread across the country. It has nothing to do with being outside in cold weather.
posted by justkevin at 7:58 AM on November 14, 2005

Thanks for such great answers so far.

Miko's suggestion to check out the Y is certainly something I've entertained - though I'd really like to avoid membership fees...

I like the cross country skiing idea a lot too.

Good news about the flu/cold too.
posted by soplerfo at 8:04 AM on November 14, 2005

I use several layers, gloves, and a hat or something that covers your ears. For me, 20 degrees (F) is the breaking point. Above 20, I can do. Below 20 is flat-out miserable and I'll hit the treadmill indoors instead. You definitely won't get sick from running in cold weather, but those really low temperatures can be difficult to tolerate. Good luck!
posted by emd3737 at 8:24 AM on November 14, 2005

Wear a face mask if it is below freezing. Nothing makes you colder than breathing in lots of cold air when running at a good pace. I use a polypropylene balaclava face mask which covers the whole head and leaves basically the eyes open. Campmor sells a wide variety at reasonable prices.

Running in the dark will require a small maglite and if you are near traffic, wear a reflective safety vest .

I'd recommend staying away from ice and run on clear sidewalks or running paths. If there is lots of snow and lots of parkland around you, then you might be better off taking up XC skiing.
posted by JJ86 at 8:26 AM on November 14, 2005

One further comment. You're male - please be sure to protect "the boys" with an appropriate number of layers. Those extremities get cold, in my experience, well before other parts of the body, which can lead to a painful condition called "testicular nip." It's actually worse than it sounds, and it sounds pretty bad.
posted by killdevil at 8:30 AM on November 14, 2005

I also recommend using a face mask, but one that looks cooler.

To avoid loosing grip, you can use those rubber thingies with studs attached. They fit on your shoe and gives good grip on icy surfaces. I believe these come in variants adapted for running as well.
posted by rycee at 11:33 AM on November 14, 2005

Unabsorbed road salt is slippery. Watch out.
posted by smackfu at 11:51 AM on November 14, 2005

Silly suggestion but works for me.
Layers, layers, layers, but get them cheap, cheap, cheap (as in a $5.00 hoodie). Avoid the expensive high tech gear. You may find that once you warm up you may have to ditch a layer or carry it which is awkward while running, so if you ditch it, it is better to lose a cheap piece of clothing than something expensive. Think of them almost as disposible clothing items. Toss them to a passing homeless person.

Get gloves and a hat or ear muffs, because extermities like that tend to stay cold even when your core is sweating.

I wouldn't sweat it so much (no pun intended) but personally, I find it much more difficult to run in hot weather than cold. After a few minutes, I've warmed up enough so only the very coldest days are tough. But NYC is a bit warmer than Boston so your mileage may vary.
posted by xetere at 1:45 PM on November 14, 2005

As a non-sports oriented person, I was really surprised and impressed the first few times I went running with Nike's Clima-Fit gear. I'm super sensitive to overheating and sweat while working out -- this gear really made cold weather running possible for me. The alternative was layers of non-breathing bundling. I'd recommend such materials from head to toe -- I believe breathable socks are pretty easy and inexpensive to come by these days.
posted by VulcanMike at 1:45 PM on November 14, 2005

(Wasn't intentionally contradicting xetere's post there)

In the Boston suburbs, I've had problems running on the sidewalks not directly because of snow and ice but because snow obscures the often uneven pavement and mades the odds of misstepping higher. I'd more often run in the street at these times, and land more firmly and at more of a right angle to the pavement when I was unsure if I was dealing with wet or icy blacktop.

I also had my ultra-reflective Nike gear (apologies for bustin' out all Pepsi Blue here) with "PolyBrite" tubes inside that flashed a subdued blue-white in the front and back of the jacket to keep drivers in the street aware of my presence.
posted by VulcanMike at 1:53 PM on November 14, 2005

Myth: doesn't read my askmefi posts just so that they can rebuke them later that day.

posted by justkevin at 5:47 PM on November 14, 2005

Oh, I completely forgot about the best advice of all. Wool. Get a set of long underwear and socks in good quality wool.
posted by rycee at 8:34 AM on November 15, 2005

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