You know the drill. Winter arrives out of nowhere. One day you’re ambling along Pearl Street enjoying the warm air and sun or hiking the Front Range, staring at the snow-dusted peaks in the distance, and the next day there is a foot of wet snow on the ground.
And just as suddenly as winter hits, so too does the mass exodus from trails and neighborhood sidewalks into the gym. Now you have to wait 45 minutes for your favorite elliptical machine and then uncomfortably ignore the woman in the corner who has given you the stink-eye for every minute more than 30 you’ve been on your treadmill. Classes fill up, swimming laps become an exercise in underwater obstacle dodging and you have to park so far from the gym that walking from your car to the door, especially in snow, becomes a pretty good workout in and of itself.
So I ask you this: Why, oh why, don’t we just stay outside in the winter?
I discovered the joys of keeping my fitness routine outside—no matter the weather—while living in Alaska. The benefit of using weather as part of your workout—rather than a force that works against your fitness goals—is
When others refer to the old adage, “The world is your oyster,” I prefer to think of the world as my gym and a snowy sidewalk or trail as my treadmill.
So, whenever I say the term “winter running,” I don’t mean heading outside when it’s 35 degrees and sunny. Sure, that counts, I guess. But I’m really talking about running outside when it’s 10 degrees and cloudy, 30 degrees with a wintry mix (if that isn’t the worst phrase in the English language, I don’t know what is), or 20 degrees with a thick sheet of ice on the ground and snow piled sporadically through every trail. And it includes those days when it looks like the trees threw up all over Boulder, when the wind feels like it will blow you over, and when most people don’t even want to walk to their cars from their front doors.
Running and persevering in this weather will give you better workouts, and it will make you feel like an all-around badass. These workouts will make your friends both question your sanity and become a little jealous. It will help prevent injuries, especially certain knee injuries and I.T. band problems associated with overuse, particularly for runners. You will burn more calories, you will get more out of shorter workouts, and you will notice results.
Running on snow and ice forces you to put your weight on your toes—thus minimizing the dreaded heel strike—and forces you to go slower, minimizing impact. Because snow and ice are softer than concrete, running on snow and ice engages the quads and hamstrings more and calls into action the stabilizing muscles in your core used to balance as you slip and slide through your workout.
You know how cranking up the resistance on the treadmill makes everything harder? Think of wind as nature’s resistance crank, or as that loathsome-yet-tender trainer, Sven, who wants you to look awesome and randomly switches the resistance on you without any warning whatsoever. He wants to pump you up. So does Mother Nature.
A few details to know about winter running: start slow. Watch out for sudden temperature drops. Going from hot to cold is tough on your systems. Go slower, and go shorter at first. Your muscles are going to get fatigued more quickly as well, so shorter distances will be more tiring.
For your footsies, try Yaktrax for snow and ice. They are super light, easy to get on your shoes, and make a huge difference when you need traction. For attire, apply your skiing mindset to running. As any good Coloradan knows, dress in layers. Your body can adjust surprisingly well to extremely cold temperatures, and if you keep running outside in cold weather you will be stunned at how effective you can become at warming yourself up.
Layering baselayers and throwing a light windbreaker or fleece on top is usually sufficient for most winter temps. When it gets really nasty, a ski shell can be a good weapon. The hardest part of the body to keep warm, I’ve found, is the legs. I always wear my ski socks pulled up to the knee, and I’ve taken to layering Spandex and baselayers on my legs instead of pants.
Finally, gloves and ear warmers are mandatory. The most common problem I’ve found with properly attiring oneself for frigid runs is that my legs are cold and the rest of me gets too hot. It takes some tweaking to figure out what works best, but that is part of the fun.
Shopping for all your new winter running clothes is also part of the fun, so check out the gear section on page 16, hit up stores like Boulder Running Company, Jax Outdoor Gear and REI to do some shopping, and wave a fond goodbye to that dusty, boring old treadmill. You aren’t going to need