Gear recommendations and safety tips from pros who know
For some of us, cuffing season doesn't signal that it's time to settle down and find a winter bae, it means running outside every chance you get before entering into a love-hate relationship with (you guessed it) the treadmill. But you can keep your cardio up in the great outdoors all season long; you just need to know what you're doing. (Is it ever Too Cold to Run Outside?)
We spoke to Vincenzo Miliano, a Mile High Run Club Coach and frequent snow runner, and Jes Woods, a Nike+ Run Club Coach, to get all of our questions and concerns regarding running in the elements answered. Read on for tips on how to stay safe, avoid injury, and most importantly, keep your toes warm.
Confront Your Safety Concerns
The sun rises later and sets earlier during the winter, which means if you have a 9-5 job, you'll most likely be hitting the pavement in the dark. Not surprisingly, Miliano says safety should be your number one priority.
Woods agrees, saying, "If you prepare for the worst, then the worst will never happen."
This means in addition to following the usual (and very important) rules to nighttime running, like wearing reflective gear, being extra aware of your surroundings, sticking to well-lit areas, and leaving your headphones at home.
Luckily, just by being extra observant during the day or running the same path each night, you can better equip yourself to handle safety issues. "This will give you the upperhand being able to anticipate deep puddles, where black ice might form, and any hidden steps, trees, or curbs." Miliano says.
Another option? Purchasing a headlamp. Yes, for real. Woods says, "Sure, you might feel a little nerdy at first, but running with a headlamp will help you spot the sneaky icy spots and suspect ankle-deep slush puddles. Ultra runners run with headlamps all the time and they aren't nerdy, they're badass." (Check out 9 Reasons We Love Cold Weather Running.)
Ice aside, there are many pros and cons to running on the sidewalk and on the road. During snowy conditions, you have a few pros and cons with running on the road depending on the severity of the storm: Usually, the roads will have fewer cars, and what cars are on the road will be on high-alert," explains Miliano. Also, the road will be warmer (and thus wetter and slushier) than the sidewalk. The tread marks from cars offer a clear, albeit narrow, path for the snow-runner to follow. Sidewalks have to be shoveled and can sometimes have hazards beyond being crowded by pedestrians. Deep puddles, black ice, frozen grates, and curbs all add to the danger of a snowy sidewalk jaunt."
Woods' general safety tips include always letting a friend know you're heading out at night and bringing a phone, metro card, and cash in case of injury, a big change in weather, or if you simply get thirsty and want a bottle of water.
Time to Get Technical
"Snow running should be treated like trail running," Miliano says.
If you're not familiar with trail running, don't worry. Being extra observant of your surroundings is your greatest ally when running on surfaces that are for the most part untouched and untraveled. Miliano recommends modifying your pace, adjusting your form by lifting your knees higher when you find yourself in deeper snow, taking quick steps like you would when running a hill, and keeping your eyes focused a few feet in front of you to lookout for any rocks, branches, slick metal or ice. If you plan on running outside often, investing in spikes like YakTrax ($39; yaktrax.com) is advisable and waterproof sneakers are a must. (Here are our picks for The Best Winter Weather Running Shoes.)
Woods seconded all of Miliano's advice, further explaining that running in the cold can lead to lazy legs, which is why it's so important to pick up your feet and favor quick strides. (This is The #1 Reason Your Butt Workouts Aren't Working.)
She says, "Dragging your feet is going to make you prone for tripping over even the smallest of sidewalk bumps. Some consistent, quick check-ins with yourself will help bring focus and awareness to your stride."
Miliano reminded us that there is a huge community of other runners who are "just as crazy as you" who might have already shared their insights on road and trail conditions in your area on local running group message boards. A quick Google search before you head out is worth your time.
Running in the snow often requires modifying your pace, which is why you shouldn't be disappointed—or necessarily push yourself harder—if your times are higher. Both Woods and Miliano agree that not too many personal bests are made in the winter slush, but it's important to get out there and not give up.
"If you're running outside, one huge thing I've always told my runners is that 11 miles outside in the cold at a slower, modified pace is still 11 miles. Get the distance in and save the speed for when it's safe, when your body is better able to keep blood and oxygen flowing without also having to worry about keeping your temperature up." (Running a marathon in the spring? Train right with cold weather tips from expert runners.)
Pre-run preparations and post-run recovery are even more important after running in snowy, cold conditions. Miliano recommends a pre-run dynamic stretch and hot baths, yoga, and wraps after you're done. Existing conditions like IT, knee, and hip issues can feel worse in the cold, so be smart! Know your body, listen to it, and respect it.