Winter Running

By Keri Cawthorne
We runners have a whole lot in common with the Postal Service:

 We are mothers and fathers. And sons and daughters. Who every day go about our lives with duty, honor and pride. And neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our run. Ever.

In Vancouver, sometimes it feels like it is never going to stop raining.   After all, it is not uncommon between October and March to have 20 consecutive days without some amount of rainfall.  It always makes me laugh when people ask me with uncertain certainty “well, you’re not going to run in all that rain, are you?” 

In all honesty I can count on three fingers how many runs that I have missed because of the rain since 2001.  Two of those occasions were instead spent drinking coffee with my running partner and the other I’m not sure what I did instead but I was more than ok with it.  Doing the math, rain has only caused me to missed 0.2% of my runs and I would be willing to bet my running jacket that there are a great many runners out there who would have an even lower average.

Running in the cold winter rain is a running rite of passage, transforming you from a fair-weather runner to a full-fledged runner.  If another runner, full-fledged or not, drives by you while you are running in a torrential downpour, you know that you are getting the hardcore nod of approval. If it is a non-runner, then you know that they think that you are completely crazy. I am fine with either response. 

So what precautions can you take to make this monumental transition a little kinder to the body?  It all comes down to what you are wearing.  If you follow the golden metric rule of dressing for weather 10 degrees warmer that it is outside, you will never go wrong (if it is 5 degrees out, dress as you would for 15 degrees, if it is 10 degrees outside, dress as you would for 20 degrees…).  Never make the mistake of dressing for current conditions and then adding a running jacket. You will be too warm every time.  If you will be wearing a running jacket, include it in your layering calculations.

Layering is key. Make sure that your base layer is made of a technical fabric that will “wick” sweat and moisture away from your skin.   Cotton absorbs and holds moisture close to the skin which can cause you to chill quicker.  Depending on how much moisture it is holding, it will also become heavier. If you haven’t already done so, get rid of your old cotton sports bras and knickers, they have no place on a runner.

Your running closet does not need to be enormous, a few essential pieces can go a long way and if you take care of them, they will also last for years. So what do you really need?

A good running jacket: water-resistant not waterproof (waterproof will not breath) and reflective.  Although black is always flattering, you want to be seen, so opt for something bright in colour (put the little black running jacket on the want list).

Sports bras: really you can never have too many of them.  Make sure that they are supportive and unless it is heavily lined, avoid white.

Technical t’s: T’s are a personal choice and I am not a fan of them. If I get too hot, I can’t take it off and tie it around my waist.  They are a personal choice.

Technical long sleeves: I like to have a few thin long sleeves and also a good thicker long sleeve for the really chilly runs.  Lots of winter/spring races give great long sleeves as their race souvenir.

Vests: also not a fan of.  See technical t’s. Once again, personal choice.

Running shorts: not only great for summer runs, they are great for the mild fall/spring days.

Capris: these are great because they can be worn year round and at the gym.

Long pants:  you may only wear them during the really cold months, but a worthwhile investment.  You can never go wrong with black and make sure that they have a drawstring.

Hats:  great year round and also to keep the rain off your face, toques are perfect for the cold months.

Gloves – Yes.  Mittens are great for the really chilly days.

Socks – No cotton - really.  Just like your base layer, once you wear a pair of technical running socks (and keep them only for running) you will never run in cotton again.

Running glasses – Absolutely. I am a huge fan of running glasses, and they are not just for summer.  Did you know that a yellow tinted lens increases contrast and depth perception making them perfect for running in the snow, and also a great look.

Remember that clothing items do not have to be sport specific. You can use your base layers under your ski jacket and pants when you are playing in the snow or out for a hike.

Taking care of your running gear does not end with your wardrobe.  You also need to take care of your shoes.  NEVER, NEVER, NEVER put your running shoes in the washer or dryer, no matter how wet or dirty they are.  To help them dry more quickly, stuff them full of newspaper. Once they are dry, wipe them off with a damp rag or soft bristled brush.  Be proud of your discoloured shoes, they are your battle scars!  You also need take care of your electronics; watches, gps devices, phones, ipods, mp3 players and your car key fob.  Always know what can get wet and what should not.

As the weather changes from rain to snow, you will need to make some slight modifications to your run.  Try to run in snow which is freshly fallen or where the snow is less packed.  Running in snow does require more energy and also uses your stabilizer muscles on your inner and outer thighs.  Not only will it be a completely different workout, you will tire that much sooner.  Keep yourself hydrated and don’t forget your sunscreen.

Modifying your footwear may also be necessary.  You may want to switch from road to trail shoes or pick up a pair of traction aids that slip over the sole of your shoe to give you additional traction. If the snow is too deep to run in, you can always snowshoe.

We all like a little solitude on our runs, but remember that being a full-fledged runner does not mean that you have to be lonely until spring.  Join a running group to keep you motivated and your spirits high, even if it’s not for the conversation, but the coffee afterward.

Keri Cawthorne resides with her family in Maple Ridge, B.C. Canada. Owner of Iron Mountain Movement Ltd, avid runner, and writer, you can usually find Keri playing in the trails. With a strong connection to the community, Keri volunteers at many local events, and spends countless hours spreading the fitness word.