Friday, December 4, 2009

Running in a winter wonderland

Well, it had to happen eventually.

Every true-blooded Minnesotan knew this warm weather business wouldn't last forever. Winter had to come eventually and after yesterday's perpetual snowfall, in the words of Johnny Mathis: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Not that I'm complaining about it. I'm a fan of all seasons weather-wise and winter happens to be the time of year when I partake in a hobby more befitting of my co-worker's Bass Connection blog: Spear fishing. I hope to have my house set up on the lake sometime in the near future and plan on heading to the family cabin after Christmas to 'jab some pike.'

But as far as health & fitness is concerned, winter can be the most challenging time of year to maintain a good workout program. The cold weather and icy roads and trails are enough to make almost anyone want to move their workouts to indoor settings. And even then, you have to bear the cold weather somewhat just to get in your car and drive to the gym, not to mention suffer the monotony of running on a treadmill or biking on a stationary. This is how exercise routines go into hibernation and how holiday pounds begin to add up.

If you're anything like me, running on a treadmill kind of feels like a rat running in a wheel. You might get a good workout in, but what's the fun in doing it if you can't see the distance you're running?

Consequently, I'm in the crowd that likes to brace the elements and do the majority of my running outside whenever I can.

However, when running outside in cold weather, there's a few precautions you should probably take to keep the run safe and enjoyable. Here are a few tips based on my own experience and and articles I found online:

  • Set a goal for yourself: Try to shoot for a set number of miles each week, have a weight loss goal, or sign up for a race that you have to train for. That will keep you motivated and working out with a purpose.
  • Think layers: Starting from closest to your body, you'll want to have a layer to wick moisture away from your body (think spandex or polyester), a layer to insulate (fleece or wool work pretty well for this) and a layer to block the wind if necessary.
  • Dress for 15-20 degrees warmer than what it is: If you're planning on going for a lengthy run, your body will warm up over the course of the run. Once you're warm, if you're wearing too many layers, you can overheat during the run and exhaust yourself.
  • Protect your hands and your head: The majority of your body heat escapes from the top of your head, so on days where the temperature gets really frigid, where a good winter hat that will trap the heat and keep you warm. As far as hands go, find a nice thin pair of polyester gloves that will wick the moisture away and keep them from getting frostbitten. If it's even colder still, wear a face mask to help keep your breathing warm and protect your face.
  • Baby steps: Winter is not the time to be taking long, loping strides while out running. That's how ankle sprains and other injuries resulting from slipping on ice occur. Keep your strides short and your feet close to ground. You never know when hit a patch of glare ice on the trail. If the trail gets really icy, you can try using these on your shoes. I've also heard of runners popping a few smaller screws into the bottoms of their shoes to make them into pseudo-track spikes.
  • Avoid routes with heavy traffic: More than any other time of year, motorists have a hard time reacting and adjusting to runners on the road during the winter time. Keep it safe and stick to trails and roads where you know you won't have to worry about cars having to avoid you.
  • Keep hydrated: An obvious point at all times of the year, but even more important in the winter time, as cold weather has a drying effect on the air that can increase the risk of dehydration.
  • Get used to running without music: If your iPod is anything like mine, in cold weather, it makes it through your warm up and that's about it. So rather than having the system shock of having it die on you midway through a run, just leave it at home.
  • Most of all, keep it fun: Go out with a group of friends, run through a neighborhood with a bunch of holiday decorations to look at or bring your pet with on a run. Whatever you do, just make sure you keep having fun with it. Because there's nothing more damaging to holiday cheer than a bad run in cold weather.

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