Friday, December 26, 2008

The "No Excuses" Guide to Winter Running

Living at nearly 6000 feet in the Rockies it takes some creativity and at times a good kick in the tights to get out the door and run once winter laces her icy fingers throughout the mountains. But, if there's one thing I've learned over the past winters, it's that keeping up a steady schedule of running helps me hit my marks for the coming season. So, I thought I'd share some of the tips and tricks I find indispensable for getting out and running in these dark, snowy, icy, and very cold days of winter.
  1. Forget the excuses and just run. This is by far the weightiest of tips in the list. Excuses can come fast and easy once the salad days of summer trail running slam to a halt. The best thing you can do is simply ignore them, lace up, and get out the door. Of course, if it's blizzarding and dark and you'd be in real peril of being cut in half by a snow plow, maybe a day off or trip to the gym is truly in order. Just don't let it become a habit.
  2. Don't rely too much on the treadmill. Treadmills are great once in a while -- when you just need something different or conditions are just too miserable to get outside safely -- but nothing compares to running on the actual road (or road covered in ice and snow). The challenging conditions and varied terrain you get outside will make those first steps on bare road and dry dirt in spring feel like heaven.
  3. Get some spiked shoes. The best thing I did last winter was buy a pair of Icebug spiked shoes (review). I don't wear them on every run in winter, but when the roads are mostly compact snow and ice (like they are here for the foreseeable future), you can't beat the traction and confidence they'll give you, especially in the dark. Plus, they're a great excuse killer (see tip #1).
  4. Go with water bottles rather than a pack. There is no perfect choice for hydration in winter. When you're running for over an hour with the temperature near zero, things are going to freeze. Having run with both bottles and an insulated pack, bottles seem the best way to go, simply because once the nozzle freezes you can still unscrew the lid and drink your slushy sports drink. With a pack, once the nozzle/tube freezes (and it almost always will at some point), there's no easy way to get at its contents.
  5. Go with less viscous gels. While I've yet to have a gel freeze on me, some of the more solid gels, like Gu, can turn pretty hard in cold temperatures. This makes them hard to eat and hard to squeeze out, especially with numb hands. More liquid gels, like PowerGels, stay pretty soft, even at zero degrees, which makes them much more palatable and easy to deal with.
  6. Get a jacket with a hood. There's a lot to dislike about running jackets with hoods--that is, when you don't need the hood. But, when the snow is flying and you're running into a 15 knot wind when the thermometer reads minus 3, that hoodie quickly becomes your best friend. Personally, I love my full-zip whisper light Patagonia Houdini (review), and I know I'm not alone. For such a lightweight jacket it really performs, and the hood does a particularly great job as a fairing in a brisk head wind, ushering much of that cold air around your face rather than right into it.
  7. Protect your face. When the wind is whipping and the mercury dips well below freezing, it's important to look out for your face. I like to put Kiehl's Non Freeze Face Protector on my ear lobes and exposed parts of my face. It really helps ward off freezer burn, and possibly frostbite, and just makes me feel more comfortable. Dermatone is good too. Plain old petroleum jelly should work as well.
  8. Run with friends. Misery loves company, so find a group of friends as crazy as you are and pick times to run regularly over the winter. It's a great way to stay true to your plan and get your rear end out the door on those dismal mornings. Plus, you'll have great stories to retell on your long summer trail runs: "Remember when all our bottles froze by mile 9?" Good times.
  9. Don't skimp on lighting and reflection. A good headlamp can make all the difference between a good run and a tedious run. Spend a little extra and after the first three runs you'll feel it's already paid for itself. Also, go to town on reflective wear: tights, vests, hats, etc. If cars think you look like the Electric Horseman, you've done things right.
So, that's my list. The key things that get me out the door and on the run during these short, cold days of winter.

What's on your list?

1 comment:

Brad Mitchell said...

Lets try this again - Great tips Hank! And remember, when things start to turn bad on the "big" day, it's usually not as bad or painful as the 4am - neg.5 degree - snow/ice floor run. It makes one tough!