It’s that time of year again! The holidays are over, but the snow just keeps coming. Nevertheless, we must soldier on. It’s time to kickstart your training as you build up your base for the spring and summer races. Don’t let a snow day stop you! Winter training can be tough, but it’s often a necessary part of the season.
It’s easy to put off running during the colder months of the year, but if you’re like me, you know the treadmill (or “dreadmill” as it’s sometimes called) isn’t going to cut it. The lower temperatures, slippery conditions, and earlier twilight hours provide unique challenges, but there’s ways to push through winter training and keep moving towards race day. Read on for a few of them, including some gear that I use to get myself through!
Slippery Roads & Trails
It’s not difficult to see how running and poor footing could be a bad combination. Slippery surfaces can make for some nasty falls, and running in the snow can be every bit as frustrating as running in the sand. Here’s a few tricks for keeping your feet.
Modify Your Running Form
When you have good grip, the power from each step launches you into the next. In the ice and snow, this becomes far more difficult as all that power slides out from under you. The best way to counteract this is also the simplest – all you have to do is shorten your stride. If you keep your steps shorter and your feet “under” you, your weight lands more directly on your feet, pressing down on the slippery surface instead of outwards. While this can slow down your pace, it’s much better than a fall!
A few years back, while training for the Pittsburgh Marathon, I discovered a fantastic invention for anyone considering actually training during the winter: YakTraks! Think of them like snow shoes for running. They stretch around your running shoes, providing spikes and/or additional tread on the soles depending on the model.
YakTraks are an excellent way to increase your traction on snowy and icy surfaces. These are definitely not suitable for dry conditions, however, and could be damaged by too much running on concrete.
Winter brings more than just the cold. It also marks the beginning of shorter days, earlier sunsets, and (in the United States) the ever-popular Daylight Savings Time. It could be dark by 6:00pm in some places, with the sun not fully rising until well after 7:00am!
When you’re running in the dark, visibility is important – not just for you, but for others around you. Ultimately, this comes down to what you are wearing. The most obvious gear you need is a headlamp, preferably one with at least two modes: spotlight for particularly dark nights, and wide/red eye so that you can use it without blinding others if sharing a trail or road.
The next thing you’ll want, especially if you run on roads or sidewalks, is a reflective vest. Drivers often miss seeing runners on the sidewalks in broad daylight, much less in the dark! While a reflective vest won’t actively light your way, it will ensure that you are highly visible to drivers. Alternatively, there are vests that light up themselves, but these require frequent charging and are more expensive.
Finally, we arrive at the most persistent adversary of the winter athlete. Even when it’s not snowing and dark, the cold can make a Zone 2 workout feel like a trial of physical endurance! The same advice we’ve been hearing since we first went out in the snow as children applies here: layers, layers, and more layers. Most of our training requires mobility, so we need to layer up while also being able to move freely and easily.
Cold Weather Clothing
Leggings are a great choice for winter training. They are snug, block wind sheer, and can be worn underneath a pair of shorts. A base layer, like the classic UnderArmor long sleeve shirts, underneath a lightweight windbreaker will keep your upper body warm.
Once you get moving, your core body temperature will be elevated and you may find yourself overheating. There is an element of trial and error to this; sometimes you will start out a little bit chilly and heat up once you get into your workout. It’s far more likely that your extremities will be the most uncomfortable running in the cold. Windproof, insulated gloves and a hat are musts!
Besides all of that, I have one more recommendation for snow day workouts. Around the same time that I discovered YakTraks, I went looking for reusable hand warmers. I didn’t want to be restocking on them all the time. What I found was a type of hand warmer filled with a sort of liquid and a small metal button inside.
While there are many different brands that make this type of product now, they are all functionally the same: you push the metal button, and the friction generated causes the liquid to solidify and begin giving off heat! These don’t last as long (maybe 20 minutes each) as the classic hand warmers found in most sporting goods stores, but they can be reused indefinitely – just boil them to return the now-solid material back to it’s liquid state. I’ve found them to last long enough for most workouts.
While all of this is great for pushing through the cold, dark months of winter training, the most important element of your success remains you. It’s not easy to strap on the necessary gear, go out in the cold, and put in the work – but nothing here can help you if you aren’t willing to do that. At the end of the day, your discipline and motivation will get you through more cold weather workouts than any piece of clothing or number of hand warmers. Don’t let the cold keep you stuck in place this season!