When the snow flies and temperatures tumble, fair-weather runners might be tempted to retreat inside, turning to the drudgery of the treadmill or skipping their workouts altogether.
They would be missing out on a something beautiful, though. There is a special serenity that comes from winter running, especially while it’s snowing. If you listen closely, you can hear the whisper created by thousands of snowflakes landing softly on a growing blanket of white. Dollops of snow and icicles accumulate on trees in lovely contrasts. And even in the kind of cold snap Colorado experienced this week, you’re generating body heat when you run, so it’s really not that cold after all.
“Some of the nicest runs I’ve had in the last few months were in the last couple of days,” said Greg Weich, who coaches runners at Broomfield High School and works at In Motion Running in Boulder. “It’s beautiful. I think there is too much of a tendency to say, ‘I only run when it’s great weather.’ “
Of course, you want to be comfortable, not miserable. That’s why Scandinavians have a saying, roughly translated as, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Here are some suggestions to help you keep running when the mercury plummets and snow covers your favorite routes.
When your route is snow-packed and icy, consider running in a trail shoe that has more traction than your road shoes, or buying a traction device with spikes that you can strap on to your shoes.
“Look at trail shoes like snow tires,” Weich said, who buys footwear for In Motion and also works as a floor manager there. “You have a deeper tread pattern, more angled, and you’re going to have more edges on the outsole of the shoe, so you’re going to grip better.”
Kahtoola makes a strap-on device called NANOspikes ($49.95). It has six tungsten carbide spikes under the forefoot and four under the heel. A competitor, Yaktrax, makes a similar product ($40), utilizing carbide steel spikes.
“If you’re going to be out all the time in icy and snowy conditions, I do think it makes sense for most people to wear some kind of extra traction, either on their road shoe or add it to their trail shoe,” Weich said. “In Boulder, we have people who do trail running on technical trails no matter what the conditions are. The more you’re on stuff like that, the more it would make sense to do extra traction on the trail shoe as well.”
You probably already know the key is layering, and you probably already know you need to wear synthetic fabrics that wick moisture away from your body rather than cotton that will hold that moisture and make you cold. But when deciding what to wear for cold-weather runs, remember you’re going to be generating body heat when you run. You should feel a little chilly at the start so you won’t be overdressed.
Weich goes by what he calls a 10-degree rule. When he ran on Tuesday, the temperature was 6 or 7 degrees, so he wore what he would wear in 15-degree weather if he wasn’t running.
“I’m cold when I start my run, usually for the first five or 10 minutes, but once I get that body heat going, I’m usually pretty toasty,” Weich said. “I think it is important that you find your personal thermostat and what works for you individually.”
The generation of body heat is another reason layering is a good idea, because you can peel off a layer if you find you’re overdressed. Weich also recommends having one layer that has a zipper, so if you get warm, you can lower the zipper to let some cold air in.
“I think most people tend to get overheated, versus freezing, when they run,” Weich said. “You don’t want to wear too much stuff.”
Socks, gloves, mittens and headwear
Merino wool is a great fabric for socks because it’s a good insulator, it wicks moisture, and, like all wool, it is naturally antibacterial. Just remember, if your wool sock is thicker than the socks you normally wear, your shoe could be too tight. Weich rediscovered that one day this week when he got cold feet.
“I ran early and it was still really cold,” Weich said. “I wore a thicker sock and I was cutting off circulation to my feet. My shoe was too snug. You want to trap warm air between the upper of your shoe and your sock.”
Gloves or mittens are important because when it’s cold, your body diverts blood from the extremities to your core. Mittens will hold in more heat than gloves. Some skiers don’t like mittens because they make it harder to grip poles, but when you’re running, you have less need for hand functions.
Your head is another place where you’re going to be dissipating a lot of heat, so you need to wear a good hat, but you don’t need one that is designed for Antarctica.
“I say go thinner on your head because that’s where you’re going to produce a lot of heat,” Weich said. “If you have something that wicks well, that’s fine, but you don’t have to go too thick. I think a thinner polyester or Merino wool beanie is fine. You don’t want your head to sweat too much when you’re running.”
If you’re running on fresh or packed snow, you’re not going to run as fast as you do on asphalt. Or, if you do, you’re going to have to work a lot harder to run your normal pace. Weich had to explain that to his high school runners after a workout this past Wednesday.
“They were all bummed out, they were 15 seconds slower per mile,” Weich said. “I was like, ‘Don’t forget, you were on 2-3 inches of snow with soft dirt underneath it.’ Just be willing to understand that at the same effort, you may be running more slowly, and don’t freak out about it.”