From an email I recently received (subject, “O’dark thirty”) :
It’s a tragic time when days are dark by the time I leave work and am ready for a run (living in Northern Ontario, this is the case for at least 5 months of the year). And living downtown it’s not just the weather and lack of sunlight that’s demotivating, it’s also safety reasons. I’m getting a group of ladies together who live in the area, but any recommendations on how to keep running during -40*C or or when it’s pitch black at 5:30pm would be fabulous. I know that this isn’t a vegetarian-specific topic, but 80% of the ladies I’ll be running with are vegetarian so does that count???
The way to run in cold weather is simple. Develop a “mental thermostat” to trick your mind into believing you are warm so that you can withstand ice baths. Outside. In sub-zero temperatures.
Once you’ve got that down, hitting the trail for a quick five miles in a pair of sweatpants when it’s -40 degrees out is no sweat. (Wow, there haven’t been nearly enough terrible puns around here recently!)
Honestly, there’s really not all that much to running in the cold; no secret is going to make it just as comfortable as running in the spring or fall. But there are a few basic things you can do to make it bearable — more so, certainly, than having to do your entire 15-miler on the dreadmill.
Step 1: Get some cold-weather running gear.
I wish I had a solution that didn’t involve buying expensive stuff, but getting a few nice items can make such a difference in how warm you stay. A long sleeve running shirt and running pants are a good start, but if you’re dealing with anything below about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll probably want more.
It’ll take some experimenting to find out what you like and what’s too much, but Runners World has a nifty tool you can use to gauge what you should start your run in. Think about asking Santa for a few of these:
- Hat and gloves are essential; keep those extremities covered. And these items are small enough that you can usually take them off and carry them once you get moving and heat up.
- A tight-fitting underlayer keeps you nice and toasty. I own a single Under Armour mock turtleneck top that has helped me through my coldest runs for several years now. That’s right, mock turtleneck. Nobody said you wouldn’t look like a dork. You can get running tights for your legs, too, but I’ve found they’re not nearly as necessary as the top.
- Arm warmers are great. It’s not that they’re any warmer than an underlayer — it’s that you can take them off, roll them up, and carry them easily if you get too hot. Once you squeeze into a set of full-body tights, don’t think they’re coming off until you get home.
- As for darkness, a headlamp will solve the problem of seeing, and keep you visible to cars. I use this one, but New Balance makes a hat with lights built right in. For safely, reflective clothing is also a must.
Step 2: Get dressed, then do a warmup before you go out.
Admission: I almost never do a separate warmup before running unless it’s a short race, because I usually treat the first mile or so of the run as the warmup.
However, if it’s cold out, getting yourself all hot ‘n’ bothered beforehand can make the cold slightly more welcome. Raising your body temperature beforehand means you won’t have to wait until several miles into your run to start feeling good.
What you do to warm up doesn’t matter too much — pushups, burpees, jumping jacks, stretching (dynamic, not static) and anything else that requires movement will do the job.
Step 3: Plan to run past your house or car after about half an hour to peel off some layers.
When you first step outside on a frigid morning, especially if it’s still dark out, it feels like you will never get warm. Never. You bundle up with every piece of cold gear you’ve got and reluctantly start running, certain that you will freeze solid and never return.
Half an hour later, you’re in the fifth ring of hell, sweating profusely and now carrying your hat and gloves in your hands, making an ill-advised fashion statement with your jacket/sweatshirt-thing tied around your waist. You consider leaving items behind on the road, because there is no way your body will ever know cold again.
The solution, of course, is to plan for this. Set your route so that it swings by a place where you can drop off some stuff you don’t need anymore, or pick up something else in the rare case that you underdressed. For me, it’s about three to four miles until I start feeling the heat.
Most importantly: don’t let cold weather derail your training!
If you started running this year and you haven’t yet trained through a winter, don’t let the cold weather stop you. It’s alright if you’re not up for making major gains right now — with short days, good food, holiday parties, and limited-release microbrews, it’s tough.
But don’t neglect exercise entirely: if you can just get in a few runs a week, even short ones, it’ll save you from having to dig out of a rut in the spring.
And don’t forget non-running options. How about hitting the indoor pool, the weight room, or doing something else you’ve been itching to try that lends itself to the indoors?
Do something to keep moving, and you’ll be happy you did. Not only will you be more conscious of your holiday indulgences, but you’ll be raring to go when spring rolls around, marathons are on your mind, and all you want to do is run.
PS – Although we don’t offer battery-powered, heated cold gear to simulate a mental thermostat (yet), a No Meat Athlete shirt makes a great gift for the veggie athlete in your life. And now through Cyber Monday, everything in the store is 25% off! Click here to visit the No Meat Athlete store.