Posted by: Kennedy | January 23, 2011

Winter running tips: How to avoid the dreadmill

I grew up in the heart of Ontario’s snow belt – aka old man Winter’s stomping ground. I’m writing this from my parents’ home, where the snow banks at the end of the driveway are taller than I am. Where there are several feet of snow piled high on the patio furniture in the backyard.

It’s both beautiful and annoying.

Many Canadians have a love-hate relationship with winter. We love it for the fun it provides us – skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and of course, with winter comes our beloved hockey season. And Christmas without snow is like hot chocolate without marshmallows.

But we hate it for messing with our plans, making us drive 30 km under the speed limit, forcing us to get up early to shovel our driveways, scrape off our cars, and wear six layers of protective gear just to walk two minutes down the street.

And let’s face it: ice, snow and wind chill temperatures are not exactly a runner’s best friends. There’s nothing like waking up to a raging blizzard to kill any motivation to hit the pavement – I mean, you can’t even SEE the pavement.

I’ve suffered from my own case of winter blahs when it comes to my running schedule. I’ve opted for the treadmill on particularly stormy days, but I loathe it. Sometimes, I’ve chosen to just stay in my warm bed.

But when my inner runner is screaming for some fresh air and pretty winter scenery, there are ways to indulge her, safely. Who cares if people look at you like you’ve lost it as you run carefully past? Here are my tips for ‘snow-smart’ running:

– Bundle up: I’m sure you’ve heard it again and again – layers are your friend. Depending on the temperature and wind chill, I’ll wear a base layer (dry-fit tank or t-shirt), a long-sleeve top, and a light jacket that zips up past my neck. On the bottom, tight running pants are key. For super cold days, I’d even consider wearing tear-aways over top to help block the wind. Gloves, earmuffs, and/or hats are also essential.

– Stick to main streets and sidewalks: Because most of our neighbours aren’t out shoveling and salting their sidewalks at the crack of dawn, it’s best to stick to roads and sidewalks that are used often and cleared regularly.

– Carry a cell phone: It’s always a good idea to do this, regardless of weather. But because it’s much easier to injure yourself while running outdoors in the winter, you should always have a phone on you in case of emergency. The last thing you want to do after you slip and fall on ice or twist an ankle is to walk all the way home (or, worst case scenario, develop frostbite while stuck in a snow bank). Better yet…

– Run with a buddy: Having friends to run with is a great way to take your mind off the chilly temperatures. You have backup if you happen to hurt yourself, and you have company for a warm post-run drink. Win-win!

– Stay focused: On many a fair-weather run, I lose myself in the music on my iPod, the picturesque views of the lake and parks, or the ‘zone’ I settle into around the 7k mark. During the winter months, I rarely, if ever, feel comfortable enough to give in to the run. I am always concentrating – on my surroundings, on the road in front of me, on my footing. Running uphill takes particular focus, as your feet tend to slip slightly on the rotation. When the roads aren’t clear, I ‘run with a purpose’ – I try to think of planting each step firmly on the ground. Also, watch out for those slippery manholes. Holy hell.

– Take it easy: Winter running is not a sprint. It’s not a marathon either (for most of us). Whether you’re training for a big race or simply maintaining your fitness, the most important thing should be keeping yourself injury-free. If I come home after a snowy run with no pain, I consider it a success. I stop worrying about my pace. I’d rather make it to the spring upright, smiling, and a little slower, than sidelined with another knee injury.

– Have fun: Remember why you’re out there – because you love running! If the freezing temperatures are killing your motivation, mix it up a bit. Make an awesome new playlist. Find a cozy local coffee shop and make it your destination. And if all else fails, use the buddy system – works every time.

Enjoy! And remember: the snow always melts… eventually.

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