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Getting over the Fear of Winter Running

rear shot of the legs of a woman running in the winter, kicking up snow.
rear shot of the legs of a woman running in the winter, kicking up snow.

This winter I joined a 10K training group. The first night we met, January 2nd, was at the end of a frigid though clear day.  Somehow, I thought maybe we would have an orientation meeting and then be sent home because of the weather.

Nope. That didn’t happen. We ran the week after, as well. And the week after that, polar vortex be damned. Three times a week, through slush and snow, sub-zero temperatures and wind chills, we run.

Almost every time I’ve gone out with the group since we started we’ve had conditions that, if not for the group, I would have bailed.  Last year, a much milder and less snowy winter than this, I suspended my run training from about mid-January to early-March. I remember the day it kicked in. I was going to meet a friend for a Tuesday evening run.  The forecast was in the range of -15 Celsius with a “windchill factor” of -23 C (that’s what, supposedly, it “feels like”). No way.

Well last week almost every night we went out the windchill factor brought temperatures colder than -20 C.  No problem.  Honestly, I only check the weather now to see whether I need my lighter hat or my heavier balaclava, my sleeveless base layer or my long sleeved base layer, long johns under my running tights or not.

What’s happened gradually over the past month?  My fear of winter running is gone.  Gone, gone, gone.

Two fears in particular loomed large for me before this winter of demystifying the whole mid-winter running thing. First, I imagined putting my foot down on a patch of ice and either falling or slipping in some way that injured me.  Second, I felt sure that I would freeze.  So far, neither has happened.

Sometimes people wear ice grippers or Yak Trax to give themselves more traction. I haven’t needed anything like that so far. On warmer days (not so many of those) after it’s been snowing for a while it’s been a little bit slippery, but not icy.

The cold worried me the most. To prep for that I bought a light windproof shell to put over my winter running tops.  On a cold day or night I’ll wear a sleeveless or long sleeved base layer with wicking properties, an additional heavier winter running top, and my windproof shell with reflectors (we do a lot of running in the dark). On my legs I’ll wear my under armor long johns, retrieved from my snowboarding bag, and either mid-weight or heavy weight winter running tights. I wear light gloves (my hands sweat a lot when I run in the winter) and either a lightweight running hat that I can pull over my ears or a fleecy balaclava that covers my neck and, in a pinch, I can pull up over my mouth and cheeks.  Last week on Thursday night I also wore a face mask because of the wind, but I only needed it for occasional relief. Mostly, I folded it down and the cold air on my face felt good.

Other than sometimes feeling a bit of sting in my cheeks, I have not felt cold at all. Last Thursday was a chilly night. We ran past a busy section of town where people were streaming by on their way to the Keith Urban concert.  Maybe they were in especially good spirits, but people actually high-fived us and hollered “way to go!” and that sort of thing.  Winter running, I’ve discovered, earns us a certain kind of respect.

It also makes us all feel good about ourselves.  Back in the day, we used to always clap after a fitness class (do people still do that?).  Well, after our runs we always talk about how awesome we are that we actually did it! Like, it feels like even more of an accomplishment to complete a winter run in weather that drives most people indoors than the same route in more temperate weather.

What I mean to say is, I feel pretty badass this month, running with my group whatever the weather.  Fear is NOT a factor for me anymore. Wednesday night we start hill-training!  Exciting!

9 thoughts on “Getting over the Fear of Winter Running

  1. Impressive Tracy! Last year I started running with a group at 530 am, and while I like the cold weather and running when it’s cool, I just can’t make myself get out of bed most mornings to run this time of year because it’s too “cold” Confession, I live in Florida now and “cold mornings” are anything below 50 F!

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      1. I bet! I don’t mind running in real cold later in the day, but I’m not yet fully awake, otherwise comfortable temps are still too cold for me.

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  2. What a pleasure to read your story! It’s a refreshing change from hearing people constantly griping about the winter. I really love the cold and the snow, since it’s been great for cross-country skiing. Never tried running outside in this weather, but your story has started me thinking that it’s worth a try, since I like to be outside. Thanks!

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    1. For sure — I suggest doing it with a group because, as I mentioned, I probably wouldn’t have gone out on most of those days (especially at the beginning) without the group commitment. The Running Room has club runs every Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 8:30 a.m. Anyone is welcome and they have different groups doing different distances each time. Let me know if you ever want to come out with our 10K group.

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  3. I too engage in Winter running (although I confess I did cave and use the Y track last week when we had below freezing temps and below zero windchill and probably will again on Monday as its going to be actively snowing). I am running this month by myself in the cold because I am working on staying in the aerobic heart rate zone and my running partner’s “slow” is my race pace. LAYERS they make all the difference, I run with wool tights, a fuzzy lined skirt (extra bum warmth), similar to you on top layers depending on temperature, a merino wool buff I use as a balaclava, wool hat, and gloves with mitten tops I can flip open once I start to sweat. The only trouble I’m having this year is last summer I switched from clunkier running shoes to shoes transitioning toward barefoot and they are basically mesh with support on top I do wear wool running socks but it takes a bit to warm up. I also survived a run done 2/3 in freezing rain and hail because I was already out and into my run and would have been soaked whether I walked home or kept going so I kept going. I did however “get” to use my hypothermia first aid training when I got home. So even worst case scenario you’ll be somewhat uncomfortable, strip off lots of wet clothes at the door, wrap yourself in towels, and have hot tea like I did. Good luck with your much colder Canadian climes!

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