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10 tips for surviving winter running

Posted Dec 30 2009 12:00am
I am pleased myself today.
It's been getting WAY too easy to say no to running... even though I love it! I just have issues committing to the decision to do it or not do it. I've never had much of a choice... usually I just do what I'm told and run my coaches workouts like a machine. I got tired of that, but now I'm craving the structure again! I needed to take it away to realize how valuable it was to me!! To the left is a picture taken almost two years ago. It was freezing pouring rain, and ice everywhere... and I ran for 80 minutes. I sometimes wonder what drove the girl I was then. I operated like a machine and nothing ever kept me from running.... sigh

I was proud of myself for making the decision to run even though it was dark and cold out and I had no one telling me to do it. I actually reminded myself I like running in the dark and cold! I REALLY DO! It's not something I tell myself because I need to trick my mind into getting out for a run, it's a real thing! I love the dark and cold... and I also love the rain. I love crappy conditions... because I get a runners high so easy that way (look how cocky I am in that picture, man I felt so hardcore after that run, I was ready to box someone...)

Not a lot of people like to run in the cold dark weather that comes in the winter, and a lot of people seem to set running goals as New Years Resolutions... SO here are some tips that might make it safer, warmer, and ultimately more tolerable which can help people to stay aligned with their goals (including me!).
I've had some close calls... fortunately nothing too serious, and really just scary moments in retrospect, but I've learned from my mistakes and will share my mistakes and what I learned with you here. RUNNING IN THE WINTER IS FUN... if it is done with care.

1. ALWAYS wear reflectors: I don't care if you have bright colored clothes on, if you do not have reflectors on and it's dark, the cars can't see you until it is too late. The driver of the car will have to slam on their brakes. You could get hit, or you could cause an accident. ALWAYS wear reflectors and you will feel more relaxed on the run knowing you are seen. I recommend a vest or the arm bands as opposed (or in addition) to a jacket with reflectors on it because sometimes we bundle up too much and need to take layers off, so it's best to always have reflectors that are not attached to any clothing that might end up around your waist (unlikely in the winter, but a good safety tip for any other night time running. Especially summer, it's always hotter than you think)

2. Face the traffic:
This is a general rule for running, but worth mentioning. Even with the reflectors, cars may not always be paying attention to you. Run against the traffic so you can see anything coming in your direction and you can get out of the way if you absolutely need to. I've jumped into snow banks before, when people are driving like maniacs, you don't want to turn your back to them.

3. The car has the right away: Okay, this may not necessarily be true, but if you are approaching a cross walk it is safest to always stop first. When it's light outside you can usually make eye contact with the driver, or can tell if they can see you before you proceed... but at night, it's best to stop and wait until it becomes clear that it is safe. This is especially true when cars are turning off of a main road onto a side street you are crossing. Sometimes we get in a groove and continue straight on without realizing what is happening... Check for their blinkers, LET THEM GO FIRST! (Of course I break this rule on tempo runs... but that brings me to my next point)

This one comes with some stories, both are true, and the second one is one of the reasons why I am adamant about planning appropriately now.
STORY 1: I once did a tempo workout with John that I thought would work out well because it had sidewalks the whole way and we only crossed a few major roads in the whole hour. I forgot to consider how hard it would be to cross the little side streets when it was 5:00pm and everyone wanted to get home in a hurry. Needless to say, the workout wasn't as fast as it should have been and I was honked at many times (and not for my sexy ass... which is usually what I get honks for). The following week we did the same workout on a much busier road but it had huge medians and no side streets so there were no cars interrupting us. It was much easier and safer. It helps to plan an appropriate route ahead of time. This includes avoiding streets that you know are not well lit, are dangerous neighborhoods, or are paved or maintained poorly.
My last point about planning a route, check the weather, if it looks bad pick a route that can be shortened easily or that has a place you can stop in to warm up if it's an emergency.
Story 2: Two years ago I did a crazy 10 miler (out and back) in the fluffy snow. I was going to shorten it but it felt easy and warm, so I kept going. I turned around at 5 miles only to find that I now had to face the tailwind that made the first half of the run "warm" and "easy"... I had 5 miles of head wind, and that fluffy snow was now stabbing icicle knives. My hood lost its string, and my head and ears were freezing... I had to keep checking to see if I was bleeding on my face. I had come to terms with frostbite at some point, but my eyelashes stuck together from ice so I thought I started to worry I wouldn't make it home at all. At one point I took off one of my shirts and tied it around my head like a bandanna, that helped the cold head and ears, but I still couldn't see. I had to keep pulling my hands out to melt the ice around my eyes alternating hands. Every time I melted the ice from my eyes, it dripped down my face and froze at my chin. I legitimately grew an icicle beard... and my hands eventually were not producing enough heat to melt the ice... So I had to keep breathing on them... this made it hard to continue a decent pace. My watch even froze because of how cold it was so I have no idea how long it took. It was dramatic and scary... I had to take a cold bath to get warm (because warm water hurt so bad)... I cried in pain for a long time while defrosting. THIS IS WHY YOU PLAN AHEAD I didn't care about plans back then, I only cared about running (like a machine). It probably would have been best if I did my running ON a machine... or at least dressed better... I talk more about dressing appropriately later in the entry, back to my other tips.

5. Run with a Partner! This is another general safety rule. I run by myself all the time, but it is generally safer to run with a partner... especially as a girl. Sometimes when I run in unfamiliar places I take my phone, and other times I take a key and slip it in my pocket. I've been taught some self defense techniques just with a key! Some women carry pepper spray(?)... but I figure if I plan a safe route, or run with a partner... it's likely I wont need to be carrying anything that might blind, since I'm known to use things wrong!

6. Lose the Headphones: I have never been the type of runner to use music or headphones to pass the time. Anytime I have taken music out for a run I've regretted it. IT'S JUST NOT SAFE... and it completely debilitates your ability to listen to your breath. People like to say that the music "pumps them up" and helps them go faster, but what happens when you take away your hearing? Not only could something (a car) or someone creep up on you (bet you wished I recommended pepper spray now), but you wont ever learn to listen to the rhythm of your own body and the signals it sends out. It's essential that you hear while you run, if you take away this sense you will take the risk of causing injuries and accidents. Neither are fun.

7. ACCESSORIZE to keep your head and face warm: That's right, running is more than just a pair of sneakers, pants, and a shirt... there are essential accessories that I learned the hard way to never neglect. I recommend everyone invests in a quality face mask. I have one that can be used a variety of different ways. It can go just around my neck to keep out the chill, it can be pulled just over my head and ears like a hood, It can pull up over my mouth, and then if the wind is out in full force it pulls over my nose as well, has some nice breathing holes...AND to make it even better, it has has reflective qualities on the front and back. Very nice! If you don't have one of these, I'd recommend you use Vaseline on your face to protect you from wind burn and dry skin. Your face will be smooth (and warm) after... Sometimes I run in a really good headband (workout days... easier to breath) and I absolutely swear by Vaseline for that!

Here's me before a run with John a few weeks ago (remember that other silly picture I had posted!?)
The mask was ESSENTIAL that day! Keep your hands warm: I ALWAYS go for mittens before gloves on regular runs. I used to wear gloves, but I found I was always pulling my fingers in and making a fist where the palm of your hand goes. My hands stay warmer when my fingers are all together. Unless you want to pay tons of money for some Nike running gloves that your dogs will probably chew anyway (with reflectors, by the way), a pair of cheap mittens usually work fine. Additionally, I like to wear a shirt with thumb holes to guarantee my wrists are covered, and an extra bonus is added when the shirt has one of those funky sleeves that fold over to be built in mittens (best to wear the watch over the clothes). When I have workouts I prefer "Glittens" (you know, those gloves that have mitten tops that fold over) This way I can free my fingers easily to stop/start the watch, but I can also keep my hands warm. Gloves just don't do it for me. keep your chest warm: Once I find a jacket I like, I stick with it everyday until It is so worn it is no longer warm.... do I recommend this? no... It takes a high tolerance for smelling bad, or a high tolerance for laundry... But I do recommend that once you find something that works for you, make a mental note. As stated above, I love the thumb holes with fold over sleeves (this is the ONLY time I prefer gloves)... If it's full zip, I have the option of unzipping if it gets too hot (which even in the cold it sometimes does). I tend to stick with underarmor for a bottom layer... (I actually have multiple underarmor shirts, so less laundry and a better smell). The hi-tech fabrics are priced higher but they work and last a long time. It might just be me, but I think cotton T-shirts are the warmest over underarmor as opposed to fancy running gear... I'm a running gear snob (everything has to match, be the same brand, fit perfect)... so if I'm recommending those ugly cotton T's that you get at the local 5k, it must work. Cotton is not a good idea for a bottom layer since your sweat will get absorbed and you'll be wet and cold, but it feels like it insulates nicely on top of the underarmor... and it's unlikely you'll see cotton as my top layer... unless it's an easy day and I'm dressed like Rocky Balboa.

Here's me after my run today. Notice, same jacket as a few weeks ago (It's been washed, I swear!)!

10.... to keep your legs warm:
I swear by spandex. I wear heavier ones on regular runs and thinner ones on workout days (reflectors on front and back). My legs don't feel cold (as in, no matter how cold they get I am not shivering) The most negative side effect is that they feel delicate, and sensitive. The compression offered by the spandex is very supportive to my cold muscles. It may not keep them exceptionally warm, but I like to have full range of motion with my legs, so this is the best option for me. Occasionally my butt gets cold so I also like to wear a pair of spandex shorts underneath, for EXTRA support on my glutes and my hammies. I like the compression... I don't think Rocky Balboa wore spandex...

So those are 10 tips on surviving winter running.
I will be sharing my New Years Resolutions here soon, but I think I've already made it public that I will run EVERYDAY (for at least 10 minutes) in 2010 unless very injured or very sick... so here's to hoping neither of those happen and I run everyday in 2010... that would be an incredible feat for me! Hope you're looking forward to your goals!
Phew, now I'm tired!
Notice: same jacket as the one I wore today, different color. The white part of the sleeves fold over my hands! It's awesome! This black one is still in my jacket rotation :)

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