Feb 17, 2015

Embracing the Cold

Enjoying running in Canada in the dead of winter can be challenging (and not all that enjoyable for some).  Almost on a daily basis I am asked questions like: “Do you run in this cold weather,” and “what kind of treadmill do you have?” The answer to the first question is always an enthusiastic: “yes!” And the second question, which implies that I must own a treadmill because I would be crazy to run outside on icy roads with temperatures often north of -20, is always: “ I would never buy a treadmill." I’m not saying that running through the winter months is easy, and that there is anything wrong with opting to use a treadmill from time to time. However, there are various strategies that have helped me embrace the cold and enjoy running outside through the winter months for the past 10+ years. In no particular order:

1.     Dress appropriately: one advantage to running in comparison to other sports is that it is relatively inexpensive. That said, one area I recommend you don’t pitch pennies on is clothing for winter running. Some of the essential components of my winter running wardrobe are: mitts (as opposed to gloves), toque (its impossible to have too many of these J), neck warmer, sun glasses (to break the wind), thick tights, long sleeve tech shirt, sweater with thumb holes, and a running/cycling specific jacket. I have recently switched to Pearl iZumi apparel. It is lightweight, but does a great job of maintaining warmth and wicking sweat.
2.     Run with a partner/group: running alone can be boring and demotivating at the best of times – particularly during the harsh winter months. I am running 5 times per week and at least 3 are done with a partner/group. Having someone to run with helps me too get out the door and to run for the distance/duration I had originally planned. If running alone, particularly if the weather is nasty, I may look for every excuse in the book to shorten my run. However, having running partners helps to pass the time and stick with the plan!
3.     Run in daylight: some of us have work/family commitments that prevent us from running during daylight hours. I am fortunate to have a job that allows me to run on my lunch break a few days per week. This is much safer because I am more likely to see (hazards like black ice) and be seen (by motorists).
4.     Continue racing: it can be very tempting to take the winter off of racing. For many (myself included), racing provides a goal to strive for at a time when staying motivated is not easy. In Cape Breton we are fortunate to have several racing options during winter: two 5k’s in December, a 5k and half marathon in February, and an 8k in March. And the added bonus: training for winter races can provide a great head start for those looking for PBs in the spring!
5.     Avoid traffic: this may seem obvious for some and impossible for others (depending on where you live). I am fortunate to live in an area that provides lots of options if escaping traffic is your goal. Roads in Cape Breton are in the worst shape I’ve seen them in years. As a result, I have opted to do many of my long runs almost entirely inside my subdivision. These streets are in no better shape than the main roads, but due to the lack of traffic I can often run in the middle of the road to seek the best possible traction. Weaving in and out of each and every street as opposed to running an out and back/single loop course can be mentally tough at times, but once I got used to it, I was thrilled to have found an alternative to running the busier sidewalks and streets.  Click here to check out the map of my long run from January 25th. Doing tempo/speed runs on residential streets is a different story entirely, which is a great segway into my next point.
6.     Use a treadmill for speed work: Prior to the winter of 2014/15, I could count on one hand how many times I’ve used a treadmill. If roads were snow/ice covered, I would either seek the best possible route to avoid a potential fall, or opt to skip my speed workout entirely and just run easy. I'd like to think that I'm getting a little older and a little wiser. This winter, on a few occasions, I have opted to use the treadmill at the YMCA in order to get my speed workout in. It doesn’t provide the same refreshing feeling as a run outdoors does, but at least I can depend on the surface underneath my feet. My weekly speed sessions through January and early February consisted of 10-12 times 90 seconds all out with 60 seconds recover between each. I did the first 4 of these workouts outside and am very fortunate to not have fallen. I have since decided to air on the side of caution. Hopefully Mother Nature will let up a bit so I can get back outdoors.

Unfortunately, running through the winter months involves an adaptation phase, which I sometimes take for granted. If you’ve never ran in sub zero temperatures before, your lungs, heart, and muscles will likely take some time to adjust. After all, your lungs may not be used to inhaling cold air at an increased rate, your heart may not be used to warming your blood to the optimal temperature for exercising, and your muscles may not have experience working hard in the cold temperatures. The good news is that adapting to running in the cold takes weeks as opposed to months. Once you are past the adaptation phrase (if you are anything like me), you will enjoy running as much/more in winter than you do in the summer. I’ve never felt more alive as I do at the end of a long run on a cold winter day!