If you exercise or run outdoors, the temptation to hang up your workout shoes for the season is a strong one as the days get shorter and colder. Curling up with a nice book or a binge-worthy TV show may seem more appealing than going for a run or a bike ride. But there are compelling reasons to continue your routine through the winter.
Studies show that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), caused by insufficient exposure to the broad spectrum of light that the sun sends us, is behind 10 to 20 percent of recurrent cases of depression in the U.S. Even with thick cloud cover or rain, exercising outside goes a long way toward preventing or curing these problems.
You’ll need to make some adjustments to keep winter runs or boot-camp sessions safe and comfortable, though. Jogging on cloudy days or in the dark requires special attention to safety, comfort, and motivation.
To find out more, The FruitGuys Magazine spoke with two experts who live and run in Spokane, Washington, a town near the Canadian border that gets the full range of winter weather—from cold sunny days to rain, snow, and ice.
Susanne Ferro is an avid runner—she can’t remember how many marathons she’s finished—and a licensed physical therapist. Andy Le Friec is one of the founders and principals of the Spokane Distance Project, a running club. Here are their tips for making your winter runs as safe and pleasant as possible.
1. Warm up thoroughly
You don’t need to change your warm-up regimen when it’s cold, but Ferro advises starting more slowly and progressing more gradually. It’s going to take you longer to warm up, and stiffness can make injuries more likely.
2. Keep your gear dry
Rotate a couple of pairs of shoes, so you can make sure they dry out. Ferro recommends that you “bring them inside the house instead of letting them dry on the porch and stuff a towel inside to absorb the moisture.” She also urges runners to change out of wet clothes soon after finishing a run to avoid stiffness and soreness. Throwing workout clothes in the washer right away also keeps your ensemble smelling fresh and clean rather than stinky and sweaty.
3. Pile on the layers
Instead of buying special clothes, wear more of them. Le Friec says, “I allow myself to wear way too many clothes to start. I do the first mile so that it loops past my car or my house because I know I’ll need to shed some gear.” Layer wicking fabrics and make sure you have a waterproof outer layer. Regular running tights, leggings, or sweatpants are fine unless the temperature drops into the 30s or 20s. In that case, Ferro recommends winter tights with fleece.
4. See and be seen
Wear gear with bright colors or reflective stripes, and consider flashing lights or a headlamp to make sure cars will see you on gloomy days or at night. Le Friec puts it bluntly: “Unless you really like hospital food, I recommend going out looking like Clark Griswold’s [wildly light-bedecked] house [in the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation]. Runners also need to remember that [drivers] may not be able to stop or handle their vehicles in the same way [when conditions are wet], and [should] give cars a little more space and time to stop.”
5. Take precautions against falling
Look out for ice and snow, and don’t forget about slippery mud if you’re a trail runner. Ferro says the most common winter injuries she sees are broken ankles and labral tears of the hip, both of which result from slipping.
Companies such as YakTrax, STABILicers, and Korkers make strap-on cleats (for $20–$40) that fit under your running shoes and dig into a wide range of slick surfaces. Ferro warns that these can be uncomfortable if they don’t fit right, and notes that do-it-yourselfers can get the same effect much more cheaply by simply screwing quarter-inch hex head screws into the soles of their shoes. Make sure the screws aren’t too long, though, or you’ll immediately notice their sharp points jabbing into your feet. Le Friec is a big fan of Icebugs, a waterproof Swedish shoe line with built-in cleats.
Getting Out the Door
The biggest obstacle to winter running is simply motivation. “Getting out in the winter is hard,” Le Friec admits. “The best thing you can do is find people to run or exercise with. Get in a group that meets once a week and then schedule to meet friends or group members on other days.”
Running with friends is more fun and introduces a bit of peer-group pressure to yank you out the door when your body wants to stay in. If you’re less of a joiner, Ferro recommends signing up for a winter (or early spring) race or other events to give yourself a deadline to train for.
Comfort is a big factor in overcoming your natural resistance to bad-weather running, so don’t cut corners or skimp on your clothing expenditures. After all, the money you save on a gym membership can pay for a lot of gear.
As Le Friec says, “Getting out the door is everything. After mile one, nobody ever regrets going running.”
Mark Saltveit is the author of The Tao of Chip Kelly and Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly’s Football Revolution. He writes regularly about health and science for the Oregon Bioscience Association; his work has also appeared in Harvard Magazine and the Oregonian newspaper.