by Dr. Todd Shatynski
Most of us understand that living in upstate New York allows us to experience (at least) four seasons. Few of us, however, would choose winter as our preferred season for run training. The vigor of spring, the heat of summer, and the beauty of autumn puts them ahead of the grey sky, short daylight and slippery roads of winter for most! Still, we persevere – most of us choose to live up here because we enjoy the variety of weather and the unique challenges it poses to staying active.
Running in the cold is different than in warm weather. The body is designed to handle exercise in the cold by producing plenty of energy to keep warm but needs more calories to produce this heat. Be sure that you are fueling at regular intervals before, during, and after running. Also, it really helps to take the time to do some extra warm up before getting outside. After getting dressed, doing some light indoor exercise can help the body accommodate to that wind chill. Do a few sets of push ups and squats, hop on the bike trainer for a few minutes, or roll out on the foam roller before heading out the door. Even just moving around doing some vigorous housework before going out will help! Your muscles will thank you and that cold weather will bite a little less.
Proper clothing is rule number one to winter running. Favor several thin layers of clothing that have high insulating properties even when wet. Wool, wool blends, and synthetic fibers and polyesters are far superior to cotton. Make sure that at least some of them are looser fitting as this provides more insulation and don’t forget an exterior shell or jacket that can cut that wind. Hats are vital for most (especially us bald runners) as the skin of the scalp doesn’t limit the blood flow as well, allowing more heat to escape. Most shoes are made to be well ventilated so don’t forget to wear heavier socks (wool blends are nice) or consider trail shoes that have Gore-Tex uppers to keep out the slush. Don’t forget the shorter days as well – be sure to include reflective material and lights when out on those roads in the dark so you can be seen.
Winter training also doesn’t always have to include running. Sometimes the roads just aren’t safe and, frankly, it makes a good excuse to vary your exercise. While the treadmill is a staple for many runners, it should be used sparingly to encourage you to get outdoors or at least out of your exercise comfort zone. The runners that have the hardest time staying injury-free are those that never switch it up! Try some cross country skiing, snowshoeing, riding a fat bike (mountain bike with super wide tires), or getting inside to a pool or try an exercise class.
Even if you have the newest, best outdoor gear, vary up your training, and adhere to warm up tips, running in the cold, gloomy days and frigid, long nights can test your resolve. Find some extra motivation by finding a running group or a reliable buddy that will make you less likely to wimp out! Be sure, however, not to judge yourself too harshly with speed and pace goals – cold weather drastically changes the body’s ability to exert at higher efforts. Remember to focus on maintenance rather than fitness gains! Also, signing up for a winter race can help keep things lively and spending time researching your races for the upcoming season can provide some inspiration. If all else fails and the Polar Vortex still has got you down, schedule a trip to a reliably warm weather destination to help get you out of the funk! Good luck and safe running!
Dr. Shatynski, of the Bone and Joint Center, has extensive experience in a variety of sports, including football, hockey, and endurance sports. A graduate of Guilderland High School, he enjoys spending time with his wife and three children, as well as participating in running and triathlons. He has completed multiple marathons and Ironman distance triathlons, including Ironman Hawaii.