This week, Runner’s Delight reached out to good friends who do what RD does not: brave the intensely cold temperatures of the Pacific Northwest and middle America to get advice as to what to wear while running and how best to attack sloshing through rain, sleet and snow! In the last post, we heard Joe’s side of the story from Portland, Oregon. In this post, Sarah takes the spotlight as our guest blogger.
Sarah grew up in Eugene, Oregon, which only somewhat prepared her for the drop in temperature that southern Ohio graced her with a few years back. Having run everything from 5k’s to half marathons (and preparing for her first full marathon in a few weeks!) she’s stayed in shape year-round in Ohio. Here are her tips and tricks to getting motivated and staying warm! Enjoy!
“Running is the perfect activity when you’re unemployed,” Runner’s Delight remarked as we jogged, “because it’s free.”
It was a balmy Saturday morning in Oakland. The sun glinted off a clear blue lake as we trotted along, amid droves of other joggers, walkers, and bikers out enjoying the January day. Everyone wore a smile as the sun’s rays enveloped their bronzed, well-toned physiques. Children played nearby. I breathed in deeply, absorbing the warm, fresh air.
A few weeks later, I was back home in wintry Ohio, where the temperature rested peacefully well below freezing for months on end this year. As I forked over the cash for a day pass at the gym, I recalled our conversation, and thought bitterly to myself: Running is decidedly not free. Not to those of us who reside in places other than those locales that insist on existing in a state of perpetual springtime.
Let’s face it: Simply living somewhere that experiences “real winter” requires fortitude. For starters, most folks who live in frigid climes will take issue with the objectivity of that term – our 10-degree days in southeast Ohio are scoffed at by folks in Cleveland, who in turn are regarded half-pityingly, as one regards a small child, by their peers in Minnesota.
Regardless, it isn’t just running that gets more difficult when the mercury drops and the seasons turn; it’s pretty much everything. A person learns quickly what mental games they need to play to simply maintain sanity as the icy winds assault their ears and to tolerate slogging through the snow before sunup to defrost the car for what seems like the thousandth day in a row.
And running? I will say that everyone’s experience is certainly different, but again, you have to get creative. No longer is running a simple matter of rolling out of bed and into the sunshine, breezily hopping along the pavement without a care in the world, least of all any consideration to what the wind chill might be that day. I survive by establishing a series of goals and guidelines for myself.
First, I invest in the dreaded gym membership. I am primarily a street runner; one of my favorite things about running is getting out and about, taking a varied and exciting route, and engaging in the world around me. Naturally, I balk at the sheer idea of paying money to run indoors, and at that on a treadmill?! That’s not even running; it’s jogging in place!
However, I think of the alternative options: Running along ice-covered roads, bundled up beyond recognition, sounds like an exciting way to start my day, but I think I’ll pass. The other alternative is to forgo running altogether until spring, and that I cannot fathom. I am lucky to live in a small town with a friendly, thriving community center where I could easily squeeze in a session on the treadmill as often as my heart desired.
“A treadmill?” you think. “Well, she’s clearly given up.” But wait! Before you move on to the next running blog, there’s more!
I approach every winter with a dedication of becoming as acclimated to the cold as possible. Although winter is far from my favorite season, I have learned that the best way to survive is to actually spend time outside whenever possible; eventually, the cold doesn’t feel as cold. When I first lived in Ohio, my general rule of thumb was that if it was 32 degrees F or above, and the roads were not slick sheets of death-inviting ice, that I would run outside. That I would MAKE myself go running outside.
The flip side of this is that if these weather conditions do not exist, I can guiltlessly run indoors.
And you know what happened? Over the course of a few winters here, that temperature qualification changed. I was able to run outside in colder temperatures. To date, the coldest I’ve ever run in is 16 degrees (now any readers from Minnesota are surely shaking their heads and moving on), but I can easily, regularly run outside in subfreezing temperatures now. I’m not saying it’s my favorite thing in the world, but I do it.
Acceptance is a big part of tolerating any unpleasant conditions, whether it is snow, ice, or the rain that is ubiquitous in my native Pacific Northwest. I know that, if I want to do something outside, there is a good chance it will be snowing/raining/windy, and I need to behave accordingly. In Oregon, I would dress in a light, hooded windbreaker or sweatshirt as a buffer against the rain that would surely come. Mostly, though, I just acquainted myself with what it feels like to splash through puddles; no matter how deft a runner is at avoiding these obstacles (another important skill to learn), it’s effectively unavoidable. Again, I return to the question: would you rather not run at all?
I will pause for a moment and discuss apparel. This is another reason why running in northern climes is absolutely not free. I own a good pair of quality running tights that are thick enough to break a cold wind. I own several other pairs of leggings that make do, and in a pinch I have layered them (by pinch I mean “a really cold day”). I have an impressive collection of knee socks, and I often find myself layering knee socks over leggings and under another pair of socks. I have countless long-sleeved shirts, and a few sweatshirts dedicated solely for running in. I possess more stocking caps than I can count, but one of my favorite purchases was a thick, polar-fleece headband. This allows some of the inevitable heat generated by a good run to escape, but still affords a bit of protection to my sensitive face! I also have a full selection of gloves, which again I am not ashamed to layer on my hands. In this department, the biggest piece of advice I can offer is: know yourself. I know that my hands and feet tend to get cold, so I err on the side of caution. I also have gotten really good at peeling off layers without breaking stride. A well-put-together winter jogging outfit can make the difference between limping along for only one or two miles, gasping for any warm air, and a successful, enjoyable longer run.
I should mention that when I say “well-put-together,” I mean it in two ways. I can only underscore the importance of functional gear that protects the runner from the elements while also not getting in the way, appropriately releasing heat and moisture, and so on. Additionally, I am a strong advocate for interesting running gear. Many of the clothes I run in were once “normal” clothes, and others were purchased, not at a mega-box running store, but fished out of the bargain bin at Goodwill. Every time I go for a run, I am wearing an outfit I can be proud of. This may not be such a thrilling concept to some of you, but it really helps me get out the door if I know that I am reeking of high fashion.
The next piece of advice I have is in regard to these longer runs. Last weekend, I ran in my local half-marathon. The first weekend of April, I imagine, is in some places just as sunny and beautiful as any other. Here, it is usually the first weekend that a person can enjoy time spent outside. As such, it is a little early in spring for a marathon, as races tend to clump together in the later summer months. However, its existence at the end of winter, a beacon of summer that I cannot ignore, serves as a motivating force. If I want to run this race, I have no choice but to suck it up and run outside, taking advantage of every not-brutally-cold afternoon. (I mean, I could do seven miles on the treadmill, but who wants that?)
There are plenty of marathons, half-marathons, and 5K races around the country sprinkled through the months of March, April, and May. Don’t wait until summer to run your first big race of the year! Having a goal to propel you through the winter months makes a world of difference.
1) Join a gym
2) Make yourself run outside when it’s reasonable to do so
3) Dress appropriately
4) Have an end-of-winter goal
And one more piece of advice:
5) Move to California