Monday, November 15, 2010

A Primer on Winter Running for Moms Who Just Want to Get Out of the House and Away From the Children for a Little Bit

I get a lot of questions about outdoor running in the winter. Mostly along the lines of, "Um..are you crazy?" Or, "What would possess you?" But then after that a lot of them say things like, "Don't you freeze to death?" and "What do you wear?"

Many people don't think it's possible to run outside in snow, ice, and cold--even some people who live where I live in the frozen north (i.e., Minnesota). But most active people up here either continue to exercise outdoors as the season change or, if they retreat inside to work out at the gym, at least are very aware that plenty of people brave the elements. But people who live in warm climes, like dear sweet Rita, are generally flummoxed by the idea of running outside in the snow. Which is very cute.

It's true that I am a hearty believer in being active outdoors even in the winter. I'm not saying I prefer running outside in January; I'm just saying that, as I wrote in a recent health and wellness column for my local newspaper, there is very little weather, even in Minnesota, in which one cannot exercise, as long as you're dressed for it. Last December, just for fun, I ran four miles in a blizzard. It took me over an hour because the snow was mid-calf-high in places. (This was a total anomaly. I only did it because it was warm outside ("warm" being relative), my subdivision is well-populated, well-lit, and safe even in a snowstorm, the snow was really crazy and beautiful, and...I just wanted to see if I could do it.)

The thing is, if you don't run outside in snow and cold but you live in Minnesota, there are a good four to five months per year during which you will either be a.) not running, or b.) running inside on a treadmill. Also known as the "dreadmill." Gah. So boring I could die.

So what do I do? I abandon my beloved woodsy running trail (which is now snowed in) and resign myself to loops around the perimeter of my subdivision, on the streets. I wear tights, fleece, gloves, earbands, hats. Personally I wear fewer layers than you would think--often just a long-sleeved tee under a fleece or lightweight tech-fabric running jacket--because I tend to be overly warm, and there's nothing worse than being overdressed when you're trying to run. Since it's dark by five p.m. and I run in the evenings when my husband is home to do childcare, I wear a reflective vest with a flashing light. (And sometimes, in severest circumstances, a running headlamp.) I carry my cell phone. I have these super warm winter running pants that allow me to run in true cold. My rule of thumb is that if it is above zero (including the windchill), I go. Even so, one day two winters ago the windchill was 1 degree, but the wind was so strong on the rural edge of my neighborhood that I came home with frostbite on my cheek. Oops.

I don't wear special running shoes, although after last winter (A.K.A. The Winter During Which Every Outdoor Hard Surface was Glazed in a Thick Sheet of Ice for Literally Months on End and Yet I Persevered With My Four Times a Week Runs and Nearly Killed Myself or Broke a Bone An Alarming Number of Times, OMG It Was Awful), I have decided this year to either buy some trail shoes (which have thicker, more traction-y soles) or some YakTrax. (Note to self: Uh, better get on that, since it snowed 8 inches yesterday.)

Mostly I just suit up and go. It's kind of unpleasant. Sometimes it's peaceful and beautiful. Either way, I'm ALWAYS glad I went, once I come home. Even the time I got frostbite.

Rita, I don't have many photos of myself in winter running gear. But I do have these two.

Here's me having just come home from a winter run in December 2005, when Julia was 18 months old and we were just about to move from south Minneapolis to our current college town. I didn't know it yet here, but I was newly pregnant with Genevieve at the time:

Here's me in full running glory--if you can call it that--three or four winters ago, near our house. You can tell it's not that cold out because I don't even have a hat on.

So there you go, people who ask me how winter running works, exactly. It's not hard, or complicated. But it is cold.


Rita said...

Um. Wow. Now THAT'S dedication!

I am SO impressed.

Donna said...

After injuring my (previously injured) knee while skipping in the snow - and slipping on ice under the snow - I find it interesting that you went all this time without special shoes.

Then again, I was an idiot to be skipping in the snow. Hey, I was young, stupid and happy. Having to be on crutches in the snow was a sobering 'punishment' for me.