Thursday, November 17, 2011

Winter Running

By now, everyone in the country has experienced winter weather in some way, shape or form. For many of us, it's become that time of year when we give our bones a rest, ease back into our lazy boy and allow our joints to get creaky. Using the colder months as an excuse to not get out there and train has become rather common place amongst runners, unless you're one of the lucky few training for that April running of the B.A.A. Boston Marathon. I can remember back to 2007, when I signed up for my first Massanutten Mountain Trails 100, an early May race in the mountains of Virginia, where a few fellow ultra-runnrs of mine told me; "The reason Massanutten is so hard for a New Englander is because it's incredibly difficult to train in the winter."

Certainly I know what they meant in terms lacking the terrain, during winter months, to adequately train for that rock infested race. Though I fear that they actually meant, also, that it really is hard for some folks to train during the winter months. It's hard to motivate yourself when it's in the teens above or below zero outside. Your favorite trails are covered in deep snow or pesky ice. You've been pushed out to the roads where you dodge cars and they don't make much effort to dodge you. Your running shoes fill with slush and are crusted with ice. So the question is, how does one train during the winter and do so comfortably? That's what this post is all about.

Plan Ahead!
You've been running the same trails all year long and you've got a few of your favorites down to memory. Before the snow flies for good, make your last few strolls on those trails important. Really scout out your trails and figure out which ones would be the best in light snow and which ones would be fun in, dare I say, snowshoes. Just because they're snow covered in winter doesn't mean you still can't play on them. Plan ahead by scoping them out. Find out if there are any local snowmobile trails in your area. They'll be groomed and packed down for the winter making for easy running with the right footwear. Lastly, if you anticipate being pushed to the roads, start planning your road loops now. Go for a drive during the time of  day you'll most likely run and figure out which roads see the least amount of traffic. Planning your routes now will set you up for success later.

Sign up for an online run tracking service like or Join a local runners group or community. Find a few other folks who could use the help of a little motivation through the winter. Create your own contests (Check back here in January for our annual Streak! Competition). Start finding ways to hold yourself accountable even if it means hiring a coach to help you fine tune yourself throughout the winter. If you do this, you can only win once the snow melts and/or the temps begin to rise.

Bring Others!
I've had a long standing history of creating winter fat ass runs and journey runs. Now is your turn. In our last post here on Human Potential, you learned about our upcoming winter expeditions schedule. Now is a great time to create your own. While very few of us sign up for official races/events in the winter, it's still essential for us to have mini-goals which help us get to our BIG goals. Create your own winter run series and invite anyone and everyone along to join you in the fun. It's a great way to meet new folks, share info and create a stringer community around you.

Gear Up!
This is the stuff everyone loves to read about.. GEAR! Below is a list of my most highly recommended gear, in-that, it's the stuff I use. Don't be afraid to shop around and try different brands. It's essential to find a system that works for you. So, head out there and start trying stuff on and trying it out until you dial it in. You want.. to be warm but not suffocating, wicking layers that dry fast, efficient, comfortable using the stuff and adjustable. Ready? GO!

Kahtoola Microspikes:
These things are the cats meow! Long gone are the days of Yak-Tracks (aptly named because their construction makes us yak!). Micro-spikes are the industry leading brand of crampon/traction equipment. The stretchy rubber lets you slip them on and off your shoe with ease, they stay on, they're durable, they work great.

If you think they might be overkill, I suggest you leave one pair of shoes aside for the season and place tiny screws into the shoes soles. The screws should afford you with ideal traction on those lightly icy days.

Winter Gaiters:
While I'm a HUGE fan and advocate of Dirty Girl Gaiters, the nylon construction of those shoes isn't really ideal for snowy winter travel. Instead, I suggest shopping around for a durable pair of gaiters (La Sportiva, Mountain Hardwear or OR) designed to keep more then grit out. Anything with a Gore-tex type fabric will work. No more than ankle gaiters will do you fine. While we're at it, Gore-Tex shoes are ideal in the winter. While your feet are still very likely to BE WET EVEN WITH GORE-TEX, the fabric is designed to keep you warm.

Fleece Lined Tights:
Yeah, you know they're sexy. Just slide your legs into these babies and never feel the cold again. Just be sure you buy the right pair. Just like when buying a fleece jacket, fleece lined tights come in different grades. Some will keep you warm down to 40 degrees (who the hell is wearing these at a paltry 40 degrees?!) and others will keep you warm to damn near zero. it really comes down to your local climate and what temps you'll typically see. This will be your BEST investment of all the gear you're likely to buy for the winter. Don't be afraid to spend! one pair of these will push you through 2 seasons at least. Just do us all  favor and wear a pair of shorts over "The Bulge"!

The rest of the gear that you'll need is entirely up to you. When it comes to the top portion of my body, I tend to wear all those race shirts I received over the years, and never wear otherwise, during the winter months. They're light weight and wicking. I typically wear a short sleeve tech shirt, then a long sleeve tech shirt with another "baggier" long sleeve tech shirt over top. I also have various light jackets I can wear instead of, or in addition to, the 2nd long sleeve shirt.

90% of your body heat is lost through your head. HeadSweats makes quite a few, amazing, winter hats. Some are fleece lined while others are a lighter weight wicking fabric. The key is to wear something to keep your heat in while not causing you to sweat profusely. Laos consider buying a runners mask which covers your head, ears, neck and up to your nose if you'd like. Under Armour makes a stellar one. Gloves should be just enough to keep your hands warm and not so hot that you'll sweat a lot. See a trend? Comfort, warmth without sweating a lot.

Now get out there! NO EXCUSES!