Top tips for enduring the coldest, darkest days.
It requires dogged determination to leave a warm bed and head out into a dark, cold morning for a run that often involves more slipping and sliding than running. I remember the pain and joy of the winter of 1999, when I trained in the snow and bitter cold of northern Minnesota before my first Western States 100 Mile victory. Once I got out the door and on the trail, I’d forgotten the initial shock of the five-degree chill and reveled in the meditative sound of the snow crunching under my feet.
While it’s hard to avoid the winter blues, running outdoors can make these months magical. Here’s how I embrace winter training and how you can, too.
Screw the shoes: Insert five to seven three-eighths-inch by one-quarter-inch sheet metal screws, from the outside in, into a reserved pair of shoes; the screw heads bite into the iciest roads or packed trails. The inexpensive screws are easy to replace as the pavement wears them down. For loose snow-packed trails, try using removable traction systems like Yak Trax or my favorite, Kahtoola Micro Spikes.
Stay nimble: Ice and snow can cause even the most experienced winter runner to tense up and slip. Avoid falls by staying relaxed and fluid—be light on your feet, taking 85 to 90 strides per minute to minimize slipping as the foot lands. Push off lightly and quickly. Most falls occur when you overemphasize landing or breaking or use an exaggerated or delayed push off.
Toughen your core: A strong core and lower body promotes stability on slick winter surfaces. Dedicate 10 to 15 minutes or more, two to three times per week, for core stabilization exercises and lower body strengthening. You’ll also improve efficiency and prevent injuries.
See the light: Less daylight means more running in the dark. A headlamp can be a game changer, giving you confidence to run faster with more security. My favorite light for roads and shorter runs is the Black Diamond Sprinter; it’s rechargeable and features a blinking red backlight.
Go bright: Running on dark surfaces necessitates the ability to see and be seen by others. Suit up with brightly colored reflective clothing. Brooks Sports makes one of the most extensive collections of bright, reflective gear called Nightlife. While wearing reflective gear and using a headlamp makes you easier to be seen, remain defensive and assume traffic can’t see you. Stay alert and run smart!
Plan ahead: Set out your running clothes and gear before bedtime. Having a plan the night before will set the wheels in motion for getting out of bed in the morning.
Wear layers: Wear a lightweight base layer underneath a heavier or wind-resistant outer layer to adapt to changing weather and effort levels. To keep feet warm and dry, try Gore-tex shoes with a warm sock or two underneath.
Team up: Running regularly with training partners remains a great way to stay motivated and maintain a base during winter. If you set a time to meet someone, chances are greater that you’ll train no matter what the weather.
Get cross: Make use of the snow and cold by incorporating winter aerobic activities such as snowshoeing, Nordic skiing and ice skating into your program.
No matter how you embrace the winter months, remember that spring will eventually arrive. Run long!
This piece first appeared in the December 2011 issue of Competitor magazine.
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