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Winter Running Guide

by Amby Burfoot -
Visit Runner's World Online
We inspire and enable people to improve their lives and the world around them


Sixteen steps to help you stay warm and safe on winter training runs

Today's high-tech running fabrics make it easy to enjoy winter running. Here are the things you need to know.

1. Dress in layers. This will allow you to peel off or add layers as the temperature, wind, and other conditions change.

2. Choose a highly-breathable base layer. This is the layer of material that you wear closest to your skin. It should be made of a high-tech polyester that "wicks" sweat away from your body. There are many of these on the market. One of the key goals of cold-weather running is to avoid excess sweat buildup (which often occurs if you wear cotton clothing.) The problem with sweat is that it can cause a severe chilling effect if the temperature turns cooler and windier. And if you slow down or have to walk.

3. Wear a looser, second layer of breathable material (like fleece or similar fabrics). Often, you will only need this in the coldest weather, when the fleece adds extra insulation between your base layer and your outer layer.

4. Wear an outer layer of breathable, wind-resistant, water-resistant material. It's very important to wear a windbreaker as your outer layer, since wind is often the biggest contributor to winter coldness. You don't need a waterproof outer layer, but it's good to have a significant degree of water resistance. Your outer layer should be thin and lightweight. Many outerlayers fold conveniently into their own small pouch, which allows you to carry them with you in a pocket as you run.

5. Select second layers and outer layers with zippers and other vents. These will allow you to zip them up and down, which gives you maximum comfort in a wide range of temperatures.

6. Wear a wool or breathable hat that can be pulled over your ears. During cold weather, you lose up to 50 percent of your body heat through your head. An appropriate hat is an absolutely essential piece of winter running gear. Take it off as you warm up. Pull it down as far as you can if you start to get chilly.

7. Protect the extremities. That means your ears, your hands and, guys, your penis. (Trust us on this one. On the coldest, windiest days, be prepared to stuff an extra layer of wind protections and/or insulation in your shorts.)

8. Mittens are better than gloves for hand protection. That is, they keep the hands warmer. Of course, gloves are a lot more convenient for many things, like dealing with your car keys. Still, in the coldest, windiest weather, choose mittens.

9. Don't worry too much about your legs. A runner's legs stand up quite well to cold and wind-much better than the torso and extremities. Often, simple tights or the pants of a light windsuit are enough. In extreme cold and wind, we recommend a base layer (that is, thermal underwear constructed from high-tech, breathable fabrics) under a wind-resistant pants.

10. Take care of your face. Remember moisturizer and sunscreen, particularly if there's a lot of snow on the ground.

11. Protect your eyes with sunglasses.You'll be glad you did, in both windy weather and when there's a lot of snow glare.

12. Wear reflective gear. We repeat: Wear reflective gear. This is a crucial safety issue in winter, when you might be forced to run in darkness or at dawn or dusk. As far as we're concerned, the more reflective gear you wear, the better. On your torso, your arms, your legs, your head and your shoes.

13. Remember to stay well-hydrated and well-fed. Many runners overlook the fact that staying well-hydrated is just as important in winter as in summer. Because it's cold and dry, you don't notice that you're sweating. You also might not notice how easy it is to try out in your home or office environment before your workout. So stay hydrated with sports drinks that include carbohydrates (sugars) for energy. Also, take energy bars and gels with you on long runs. Winter is the worst time to "bonk" because you run out of energy.

14. Wear running shoes with good outsoles (treads). Winter roads can be slippery. You want to stay on your feet, not on the road. A pair of running shoes (or even trail running shoes) with an "aggressive" outsole can help. What do we mean by aggressive? The opposite of smooth and flat. Look for shoes with lots of ridges and studs.

15. Run with a friend. We think this is good advice any time of year. It's even better in the winter, when accidents are more likely to happen. (Alternative: Bring your cell phone with you on the run.)

16. Consider an indoor workout. In the worst and darkest of weather, it makes good sense. We don't think you're a wimp if you skip your outdoor run on certain, particularly bad days. We call that "smart." The number of indoor training alternatives keeps growing. You can't go wrong with a treadmill, an indoor bike, a strength-training workout, or a pool workout (whether running in the pool, or swimming.)

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