It is that time of year when winter descends upon us and runners are once again faced with the question of how to get through the winter without losing the fitness they worked all summer to achieve. This leaves us with three main options: 1) Put on the layers, suck it up, and brave the cold; 2) Spend hours on the treadmill; and 3) Cross-train.
Braving the Cold
Know the conditions when you decide to run outside on a cold day – and prepare for it.
- Wear appropriate clothing. Research shows that with appropriate layers, it is safe to run at -18 degrees Fahrenheit. I like to wear a hat or balaclava, gloves, long-sleeve tech shirt (occasionally two), and a running jacket. I also will wear running tights, shorts, and a pair of running pants over that. Just like insulation in a house, the goal is to trap layers of air to hold the heat. Learn the right number of layers that works best for you.
- Wear a reflective vest. Days are shorter in the winter. While that 7 a.m. or 5 p.m. run may be daylight in the summer, it will likely be dark in the winter. A reflective vest will improve your visibility, while a small headlamp will help you negotiate tricky footing.
- Change up your footwear. If conditions are clear and dry, your regular running shoes will work. If it’s icy, try a more aggressive option. Some companies now offer studded running shoes – just like a car tire. You can make these yourself with old running shoes: Use a short hex-head lug screw and screw it into the bottom of your shoe. Make sure to not use screws that are too long, or you will feel them through the bottom of your shoe while you run!
- Protect your face. A thin layer of Vaseline can take a little of the sting out of your cheeks.
- Training for a marathon? If you are training at distances you have never run before, do the last half of your run in small loops near your home. This way, if the run gets to be too unbearable, and you have to stop or walk, you will never be too far from home.
Treadmills were actually invented in the 1800s as a means to “rehabilitate” English prisoners. Their use was discontinued in the 1890s as it was deemed cruel and unusual punishment. To some, they still serve this purpose. To others, they allow you to continue running when the weather becomes too uncomfortable to run outside. Here’s how to make the most of your treadmill session:
- Avoid the one-pace pitfall. Many people say, “I run 10 min miles.” So, they set their treadmill at 6.0 mph and off they go for their run. In reality, running paces fluctuate. As runners warm up their pace increases. As they fatigue, their pace slows. Further, many runners set an incline they find comfortable and rarely change it. The reality of living in Vermont is you probably run up and down hills frequently. When running on a treadmill, change the pace and incline throughout your run. If you don’t want to manage the changes, some treadmills come with preset programs that will change your effort for you.
The winter is a great opportunity to develop your strength. Many local gyms offer structured exercise classes that include strengthening and cardiovascular exercise. Classes offer social opportunities that can help you fight some of the mid-winter blues. If this is not an option due to financial or time constraints, you can find many instructional videos for free online. If you prefer a less structured strengthening program, we will post a blog about strength training exercises that can be beneficial for runners next week. Stay tuned!
Lee Stanton, PT, is a physical therapist at the UVM Medical Center’s Orthopedics and Rehabilitation Center. He specializes in running mechanics and running-related injuries as well as multi-trauma injuries and total joint replacement.