Gearing up for Winter Running

winter-running-dogWhen my parents first moved north of Toronto, they used to go for walks on their little cottage road in the winter, sometimes gingerly placing their feet so as not so slip on the ice.  Their neighbours would run by (not walk, RUN) at a good clip, not seeming to be the least concerned about foot placement.  After a few days of witnessing the sureness of foot of their neighbours, my parents stopped a passing runner to ask.

Their secret: Yak traks.  These ice grippers attach to the bottom of your boots or shoes. As the name suggests, they grip the ice and you do not slip.

So far, we’ve had it easy this winter in London, Ontario.  No heavy snow. No super cold temperatures.  I haven’t had to test my commitment. The true test will come when the temperature drops well below zero (Celsius) for days at a time and snow and ice set in.  Yak traks are not my only concern.

I’m serious about completing the 10 week “ease into 10K” program this winter — not necessarily in ten weeks, but certainly by the time the thaw sets in in late March I want to be comfortable with the time and distance it takes to run 10K.

If that’s going to happen, I need to make sure I have the right gear for winter running.  That way I won’t be able to use the weather as an excuse unless we’re having a blizzard.

Everything I’ve read screams out: NO COTTON.  Cotton holds moisture and makes you cold.  They also recommend three layers on the upper body: the base layer, the insulation layer (optional, depends on how cold it is), and the outer layer to protect you from the wind. Light materials that wick moisture away from the body are essential for the base and insulating layers. So far, I’ve been doing well running in our moderate temperatures with my snowboarding clothes. I get hot easily when I board. Over the years I’ve found the right combination of layers to keep me toasty on the slopes even on the coldest day.

What I have not contended with yet is snow, ice, or windchill.  As a result, I haven’t bothered with an outer layer. My snowboarding jacket is too heavy. I will need to get an outer layer for running. Recommended materials for the outer shell are thintech, isofilm, and activent.  These materials are all light, warm, and breathable. There is nothing worse for getting cold and staying cold than sweating under an outer layer that does not breathe.

So far, I’m using one layer of Under Armor leggings on my legs. These are all I ever wear under my snowboarding pants, and they have been totally reliable for the mild winter running I’ve experienced.  We’ll see how they do when it’s colder. I’m considering a slightly heavier pair, but am pretty sure that two layers on my lower body will be too much for me.

As with any winter sport, the winter runner loses a lot of heat through her head and hands.  A hat and gloves or mitts made of synthetic material that wicks the moisture away is a good choice.  I like to keep my ears warm and am experimenting with different hats. The ski toque is too warm.  But the light hat I’ve been wearing lately might not be enough for mid-winter. On a really cold day, I have a half mask that covers my nose and mouth. I don’t like wearing it on the slopes because I feel claustrophobic. I think it would be even worse for running. Maybe on a *really* cold day I’ll just stay indoors and do some time on the elliptical machine.

And what about Yak Traks? Unlike my parents, I live in an urban area where sidewalks and roads are cleared after heavy snowfall.  The sidewalks are uneven — some spots icy, some exposed. This makes ice grippers a bit risky. They grip the ice, but if you hit cleared sidewalk it is like being on ice *without* yak traks. Several of my local running friends have said they LOVE winter running and they have never owned Yak Traks or any kind of ice gripper.

So, those are my plans for winter running gear. I will balance the winter running with some extra hot yoga classes. Winter is the very best time for hot yoga. The studio never feels quite as welcoming as it does on a cold, snowy, windy winter day.

If you have any suggestions about winter running and winter running gear, please send them my way!

Here are some further resources about winter running gear:

[photo credit: Get Fit with Les, November 24, 2012]

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