Don’t Let Winter Derail Your Running

Here in Canada, we are well into winter. Not only can it be tough to stay motivated throughout the winter months with their cold weather and dark days, but winter running also has its own unique safety considerations that we may not think about when we’re running in the summer. Below are some of the strategies I use to keep myself psyched up and safe for my runs throughout the snowy season.

Gear up

Likely the biggest deterrent from running in the winter is of course, the COLD! Most of us want nothing other than to curl up with a blanket and some hot chocolate or tea when the temperatures drop outside. To avoid this desire to hibernate, be sure you have the right gear. Layering is key! Here in Calgary our temperatures fluctuate wildly throughout the winter months so I need to have a variety of layers for different temperatures as well as items that will help guard against the wind. Over the years, I’ve collected a large arsenal of items to keep me warm throughout the winter months.

Base layers should be synthetic to wick moisture from the body and depending on just how cold it is, you may want both an insulating layer and a shell to keep out the wind. Warm gloves, neck warmers and a warm hat are also important. Sock selection can also go a long way to keeping your feet warm and investing in some winter running shoes with gortex uppers can help keep your feet from getting wet and cold.

Don't Hibernate

Stay safe

I’ve also found that having some traction aids will help to keep you from slipping, sliding and falling when ice accumulates on the roads and pathways. I use Yaktrax but there are many brands on the market that will do the trick. You can find traction aids at any running store but I’ve also found basic ones at hardware stores and anywhere really that sells outdoor apparel.

Depending on where you live in the world, it gets darker much earlier in the evenings so it’s imperative to wear reflective materials and/or lights on your shoes, wrists and arms or a headlamp both so you can see where you’re going and so that drivers and others out and about can see you when you’re running by.

Even when equipped with the right gear for visibility, be sure to stay vigilant at all times. You may want to avoid wearing headphones, or keep one ear open so you are always aware of what’s going on around you. You should also be sure that you alert others if you’re coming up behind them so they’re not startled when you pass by.

It’s also important to make sure that someone knows where you’re going and roughly how long you’ll be gone. If you’re trying out a new route, be sure to investigate where you’re going before you head out, anticipate how long it will take you and be sure to have a phone with you to call for help if you get lost and need a ride.

Reward Yourself

Sometimes I need a bit more motivation not only to get me out but to keep me out and running in the cold even though I may want to cut my run short. I’ll use tricks like programming my coffee maker so there’s a fresh pot ready when I get back from my run or have a gourmet cup of hot chocolate available for a sweet treat. There’s nothing I enjoy better after a Sunday long run than to curl up on the couch with a hot drink and read a book or watch a movie.

Another idea is to treat yourself to a hot bath complete with fancy bath bombs, bubble bath or book you’re looking forward to sinking into as much as the hot water.

Focus on a Goal

Spring and summer races can seem far off in the distance during the winter and this makes it easy to fall of track. Having a goal sooner in your race calendar, even if it’s just a local 5k or 10k fun run will help to keep you motivated to continue with your training throughout what’s typically considered the off season. The bonus of winter races is that you can get some swag that’s different than the summer races. Cold weather events often give away long sleeve shirts and jackets rather than the traditional race t-shirt. I’ve collected quite an array of winter running gear from races including hats, gloves, neck warmers and warm socks. Most major cities in North America hold turkey trots for thanksgiving, Santa shuffles throughout the holidays and resolution runs around New Year’s. Here in Canada a number of cities also hold The Hypothermic Half Marathon around February or March.

In recent years I’ve even been signing up for races in warmer locales to keep myself motivated. It gives me a goal to work towards, keeps my training consistent and I get to treat myself to a vacation somewhere warm while still getting a race in. In previous years I’ve run the Red Rock Half Marathon put on by Calico Racing in February/March and this year I’m looking forward to the San Diego Half Marathon. I can’t tell you how nice it is to run somewhere warm and sunny after training for months in the cold and snow!

Check your attitude

Really, the reluctance to get out there in the winter is all in your head and can lead to continued procrastination. After years of running, you’d think I would realize now that I always feel great after a run and can’t understand what really kept me from going. I’ve never regretted a run and even the worst ones end with me being so glad I did it anyway.

The thing I love most about running in winter is that so many people wouldn’t bother to do it, but for those of us that do, I feel as though we belong in a special category. Some call it the “bad ass factor” or “hard core” but whatever you call it, I get a strong sense of satisfaction knowing that I got out there when so many others didn’t have the resolution to. I also feel an even greater sense of comradery with others I see out running when it’s snowing or really windy (more so than on a nice day, because you both broke through the reluctance to get out). These are my tribe, those who won’t let anything stop them from getting their miles in.


Run with a group

Further to the comradery mentioned above, having some people to commiserate with about the cold can help you get through a winter run and make it a lot more fun! It’ll also help with the procrastination and even avoidance if you’ve signed up for the run or have made a date with some friends. You won’t want to let them down so you’ll be more likely to get that run in than if you were going it solo. Having someone to talk to helps you get through the run in better spirits and I always love running with a group because it becomes a forum to share your experiences with others, ask questions and get advice from others who may have gone through similar training highs and lows.

Have a backup Plan

There will be times when the weather is just too severe to go outside. Here in Calgary the temperatures can dip drastically and even I have my limits. In times like these it may be frustrating to have a run planned and not be able to get the miles in. If you have a treadmill and can endure the monotony of running indoors by all means do it, but for me who would rather stab myself in the eye than run on a treadmill for longer than 20 minutes, I like to try to fit in other activities. If I can get to a spin class or yoga studio, the cross training is a great option. I may also opt to do some strength exercises in my home gym and save the run for another day.

If you hate running in the dark or just can’t get a run in during the evening due to other commitments, you could also try running during your lunch hour or adjust your work hours so you can fit a run in before the sun goes down in the evening or comes up in the morning.

If a run is cut short because of the cold or darkness, you might also want to consider splitting up your run either over the course of more than one day (shorter runs on more days) or doing two shorter runs in one day to get your weekly mileage in.

Don’t forget to stretch

It can be tempting to skip stretching when it’s cold outside but this is when it’s most important. Be sure to get a quick stretch in before your muscles get too cold. Sometimes I get a chill when coming in after a cold run, so I’ll have a second set of workout clothes ready to change into so I can do a more thorough stretch or even a yoga routine after a long run. If you’ve just done a short distance and can’t wait to jump into that hot shower, consider doing a few stretches while standing under the warm water.

Polar Bear Stretch

Now go run!!!

A Winter’s (Trail Run) Tale

The sun shining down belied how cold the air really was, but the beauty of the surrounding mountains and trees, covered in a fresh dusting of snow, made me want to get out there despite the chill. Dressed in layers with hydration pack secured on my back, I started out on the familiar trail.

IMG_0873The snow was ankle deep and the muscles in my legs soon began protesting as I picked up the pace. It had been a while since I’d experienced running in snow and my lack of fitness showed, reminding me that I’ve been neglecting much needed strength training and cross training. The changing season also reminded me that a change in gear would also be necessary. Although I had traction aids secured to my shoes for added purchase, the trail shoes I had been running in all summer proved insufficient at keeping my feet dry. The soft, innocent looking snow quickly seeped into my shoes and socks, but I was able to ignore it and pushed on, making note that I would have to invest in some proper winter trail shoes or gaiters to fit over my current fleet.

Any discomfort from wet feet and cold air was easily endured only because of how joyous I was to be out of the city and running in the mountains. This was a treat and a welcome change from running on paved pathways and concrete sidewalks closer to home. The 45 minute drive was worth it to get to run in this wild and wonderful place.

IMG_0875I was the only one on the trail at that time of morning on a weekday and although it typically worries me to be in a place so remote by myself, I welcomed the solitude, quiet and escape. The only sounds were the crunching of the snow under my feet, the occasional bird cry and the rushing of the river along one particular section of trail.

IMG_0876The distance took significantly longer than it would have on flat, non-technical terrain, but my legs and my mind welcomed the challenge. Charging through the snow, the struggle up the steep hills was worth the sensation of flying on the downhill. I finished the loop, came in sight of my car and the endorphins kicked in. A smile spread across my face as the familiar runner’s high set in and I recalled that for a few moments before leaving for this run, I had debated staying home. As I always am after a run, I couldn’t believe that I had ever considered not going. Running is something I never regret when I’m done, rather I can’t wait for the next one. Today, I vowed that running in these wild, quiet places will have to be a more regular occurrence.

IMG_0879I see that my vehicle has been joined in the trailhead parking lot by another and I hope that its owners are now enjoying the same trail that I myself had just found solace, joy and inspiration on.


Taper Turmoil

Last weekend I ran my first half marathon of 2015 – the Hypothermic Half Marathon in Calgary, Alberta. I’ve run a number of half marathons in past years but still, the taper phase before a race remains a struggle for me as I’m sure it does many runners. The week before a goal race is always a mix of excitement and anticipation, anxiety and dread. I’m excited that the race is finally upon me and I’m also excited for a bit of an easy week of running as I prepare for the big day. On the other hand, I’m also filled with anxiety and dread that my training hasn’t been enough and that I’m either going to do too little or too much leading up to the big day.

I always second guess what I should do the week before a big run; I’m always concerned that if I do too much I’ll tire myself out and not have enough energy for the race but the other thought is that if I take it too easy I’ll lose some of my fitness. It doesn’t help that I have so many people in my life that are all trying to offer hints, tips and opinions; although it’s certainly coming from a supportive and positive place, I often find that it’s a bit of an information overload and everyone has a different opinion.

Although it wasn’t my best showing, the race went well and I’m glad I did it. The week following the race is another crazy week filled with relief that it’s over but also anxiety about getting back to my training. I suppose I can chalk this up to my need for routine and structure; the taper before and the reverse taper after a run takes me out of my usual routine. Eventually I hope that I can learn to relax a bit more, trust what I’ve done and just listen to my body; it usually knows best .

Happy running!