Winter running: Braving the cold

The alarm went off at 5 a.m. I know, 5 a.m. sounds early but that’s how I’ve rolled since, well, as long as I can remember. With a good night’s sleep behind me, it wasn’t the early hour which made me groan with misery but rather the thought of leaving the warmth of my bed, which had me wrapped in flannel sheets, a fluffy comforter and and old-school afghan which my grandmother knitted for me when I was little. I knew it was cold outside. I knew I had a 10K run on my schedule. And I knew that even with the frigid temperatures, I didn’t want to run on a treadmill. So I got out of bed, fired up the coffee and pulled out layers of running clothes.


When I met Sue for our morning run it was still pitch black out and the air temperature was all of 13 degrees. The wind wasn’t brutal but at times would be characterized as a strong breeze, which is fine if it’s 90-something and you’re on the beach sipping a fruity beverage with an umbrella in it. A strong breeze when it’s 13 degrees and pitch black at 6 a.m. is not refreshing. In fact it’s kinda painful. Oh yes, there was plenty to whine about. My face was frozen. My legs were tingly. While in theory you would think the cold would make me want to run faster to stay warm, my pace was pretty modest, particularly in the second half of the run when we hit a few hills  and moved to a part of the village which did not have adequately cleared sidewalks. When would this run be over?

And yet, inexplicably, I relished the notion of running in the cold. I knew it would be slow because of both the temperature and the likelihood of poor footing. I knew parts of it would be miserable. But I also knew it would be a challenge and there was something about the challenge that lured me out the door. Maybe I’m slightly cracked. Maybe the cold has gotten to my brain. But I wanted to give it a try. And while parts of it were hard and I whined through much of it, I felt better for meeting the difficult situation head on rather than trying to avoid it. Back home, I made a fresh pot of coffee and stirred my whole grain oatmeal on the stove, the breakfast warming my body back to life. Only I already felt pretty alive. A run in 13-degree weather will do that for you.

Go ahead! Get outside!

Ready to try your winter running adventure? Check out these key cold-weather tips:

The trail-running gurus at  Montrail created a top-10 winter running list which includes the delicate balance of wearing warm clothes, but not too warm. “The unfortunate truth is that you’ll be most comfortable if you start a little cold. Yes, going outside in a light jacket when the temperature is below freezing seems appalling at best, but within fifteen minutes you’ll be warm and comfortable. Taking too much clothing at the beginning will leave you sweaty and uncomfortable, so sacrifice comfort at the beginning for performance later.”

From Runner’s World comes an article on how to avoid winter running pitfalls, including advice to avoid speed work outdoors on frigid days. “On really cold days, you’re better off doing slow, long distances than speed work. If you do run fast, wear a face mask or neck gaiter over your nose and mouth to warm the air you inhale.”

The Road Runners Club of America has simple but solid tips to keep you safe and visible on the roads: “Winter means fewer daylight hours. Wear bright-colored, reflective clothing or a reflective vest so you are noticeable to area traffic. For added visibility, wear a lightweight headlamp or flashing light.”


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