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Winter Running

Don’t let cold weather slow you down

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Winter Running

Winter running - the two words sound incompatible, but with proper planning and winter running gear, runners don't have to hang up their sneakers just because it's cold outside.

In most parts of Canada falling leaves and temperatures signal the end of running season. Slippery conditions, biting wind, and diminished light levels all make the casual runner want to hang up the sneaks and shelve the water bottles, but with our winter running tips, you don’t have to.

Plan your run

Just continuing your running routine is one thing. Being able to enjoy your run safely, despite the season, requires a little more planning. To get the most out of your runs, learn how to

  • dress for winter conditions
  • stay safe when faced with seasonal dangers
  • warm up and cool down properly

What to wear

Before you step out the door, you have to know what you are stepping into. Check your local weather forecast hours or a day ahead of time. This will dictate what you wear. But when dealing with winter weather conditions, there is one word that will serve you well: layering.

Cold weather outerwear

If you’re running in a part of Canada that experiences sub-zero temperatures, you’ll need to wear a waterproof outer layer. But temperature will dictate how many additional layers you’ll need to add underneath (see below).

West Coast outerwear

If you’re immersed in a wet Vancouver winter, your outer layer should consist of something water resistant or waterproof. You can opt for the ultra economical (however heinously unstylish) garbage bag with arm holes if you want to contribute to Vancouverites’ reputation as shabby dressers.

But if Oscar the Grouch isn’t your fashion maven, then you should look for a shell that is lightweight, waterproof (or water resistant, depending on how hard it is raining and how dry you want to be), and one that has capacity for breathability in the form of zips and vents.

Middle layer

No matter where you live, your middle layer should be lightweight and breathable. Fleece or wool keeps you warm and is also resistant to absorbing and holding water. Wicking is the fabric’s ability to draw sweat off the skin and keep it off so that skin doesn’t cool and body temperature doesn’t drop suddenly.

Base layer

Your base layer should be a little more form fitting to insulate well; it should be breathable; and ideally, it should also have wicking properties. This is especially desirable in sub-zero temperatures where a sudden drop in body temperature can be uncomfortable or even fatal.

Tights or running pants

You may be warm enough with a pair of tights, but in very cold weather (-20 C or lower), you can layer a wicking inner layer of tights with an outer windproof layer of track pants.

Accessories

On the periphery, gloves, neck gaiters, hats, and toques made of wool or neoprene provide excellent insulation for areas that let body heat escape.

Socks

Avoid cotton socks. Cotton tends to retain moisture, which can lead to cold, wet toes and blisters. Instead of cotton, opt for socks made of breathable wool fibres and polypropylene. These are known as hydrophobic fibres, which wick sweat away from the feet to keep your tootsies cool and dry.

Shoes

In the Church of Running, your footwear is your Bible. Ask any runner what his most critical piece of clothing is, and he’s sure to mention shoes. With ice and snow in mind, you may want to select a slightly weightier pair of runners with good treads to keep you right side up. To keep your feet dry, select a shoe with waterproof uppers.

There is a variety of styles, brands, and designs. Your best bet is to visit your local running experts to have your foot and stride examined. They’ll help you choose the pair of shoes most suitable for your running conditions.

Other considerations

While the rain may do little to slow down an avid runner, the snow and ice experienced in some parts of the country may create conditions too severe to allow for proper running form and too dangerous to be worth the risk. Before you curse the snow and trade terrain for treadmill, consider using the frosty landscape as inspiration and take your run to new levels.

Change it up

In terms of winter running, snowshoeing is the new black! If you don’t want to buy your own (they can be purchased anywhere from $50 to $1,000 a pair), snowshoes can be rented at many outdoor stores and are widely available at most ski hills. You may also choose to embrace the winter by trying other cardio-based activities such as cross-country skiing and winter hiking.

Warm up properly

While environmental dangers are overt, other dangers such as muscle strains and cramping can be somewhat overlooked. Before your run do a comprehensive warm-up including muscle and joint mobility exercises such as trunk rotations, leg swings, half squats, and high lunges. After your run, rehydrate with water and do a whole-body stretch, including muscles in the lower and upper body.

Stay hydrated

Running in the winter is not all doom and gloom. Along with providing a stimulating environmental change to your current running routine, dehydration has less effect on your performance in cold weather. This could be due to higher cardiac output and a lower core temperature when exercising in the cold. But hydration is important when exercising in all temperatures. Be mindful of your own condition: watch for dizziness, dry mouth, headache, and muscle cramping.

Play it safe

If you live in the city and decide to run at night along streets and in parks, consider wearing reflective clothing to combat the darkness. At the best of times, people are hard to make out in winter’s shadows, so do everything you can to be seen. Bright clothes and reflective surfaces keep you visible and safe.

Run with a buddy and carry identification. Your chances of stepping in a pothole, falling on black ice, or being hit by a car are far greater when you can’t see well. Running with a friend not only makes running more social and enjoyable, but also ensures that if something does go wrong, you’ll have someone there who can help you immediately. The alternative may be lying on the cold, icy ground gasping for breath and trying to call for help.

If you’re looking to shave a few minutes off your personal best time or run without pain, consider working with a running coach for a couple of sessions. Also, to keep energy levels high during a longer run, you may want to consider supplementation. Don’t hesitate to consult the experts at your local health food and nutrition store. 

Layering rule of thumb

TemperatureClothing
-5 to -10 CWear a synthetic outer layer to wick moisture and keep you dry.
-10 to -20 CAdd a shell, such as a nylon windbreaker, on top to block the wind.
-20 C and belowAdd another inner layer for warmth.
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