As snowy weather begins to make its way to Calgary and colder temperatures start to settle in, it can be a challenge to find the motivation to lace up and run outside. Sticking to the warmth of the indoors can feel mighty tempting, and all too often we let even the most transparent of excuses get the best of us. It’s too cold. It’s too dark. It’s too icy. Sound familiar? Well, fair-weather friends, we’ve compiled a list of essential winter running tips to keep you fit and active throughout the season. So no excuses.
1. Layer, layer, layer — Lauren Milburn, assistant manager at The Tech Shop in Mission, says the most important thing you can do is pile on the layers so that if you get hot, you can strip down a little. “Sometimes when you go out, it’s not the same temperature as when you finish,” she explains. You’ll want a good shell jacket that has some windproofing and waterproofing to provide you with a barrier against the elements, as well as shirts that have a warm, fleecy backing. Then, simply layer appropriately.
2. The great tight debate — Some people are just not comfortable wearing running tights. Fair enough — not everyone wants his or her business out on display. However, anything that is more form fitting will keep you warmer in the winter because loose pants create airflow. Milburn does note that pants can offer a little more flexibility, though. “The nice thing about a pant is that when it gets to colder temperatures, you can always throw a tight on underneath and no one has to know,” she says.
3. Leave the cotton at home — When it comes to running gear, you always want synthetic, wool blend or merino wool fabrics because they’re all moisture-wicking. Especially when Chinooks hit and paths get slushy, you want your feet to stay warm and dry. Cotton unfortunately just soaks up moisture and keeps it there, leaving you damp, cold and chafey — hello, blisters! Merino wool is an ideal alternative because of its composition. Lauren breaks it down: “It’s naturally moisture wicking because it is a hollow core fibre, so it pulls all the moisture away from your skin and brings it up to the surface so it can be evaporated.”
4. Feet first — Though some runners are big fans of slip-on coil systems like Yaktrax, Calgary’s weather isn’t consistently snowy enough for these to be useful winter-long. The problem is that going from hard-packed snow to concrete can be very hard on both the Yaktrax and your shoes; Yaktrax are better suited for paths that aren’t cleared. Most people can actually get away with just their “all-season” running shoes, paired of course with a good wool sock. “You could also go with a trail running shoe,” Milburn adds. “They have better traction because the soles typically have grippy ‘nubbins.’”
5. Protect ya neck — To avoid that tight-chest feeling runners often get in chilly temperatures, Lauren suggests covering up as much as possible. “Most people find that out in -10 or -15 weather it can be really hard on the lungs and that’s partly because it’s so dry here. Wearing a neck warmer will help.” She also recommends trying to breathe through your nose. Though it may feel a little unnatural for some, it does help warm the air before it hits your lungs.
6. Safety first — Your biggest consideration should be visibility — for you and for others. You’ll want to make sure that all of your clothing has some sort of reflectivity on it so that when lights hit it, motorists and cyclists can see you. “The other big thing is that if you’re on pathways with cyclists, make sure you have some form of a light on you,” Milburn advises. “You’ll want one on the front and one on the back so that you have something flashing and people can see you.” At the end of the day, it’s just a question of being smart. If you’re going to run with headphones, leave one ear out so you can hear what’s going on around you. Run in a group if you can. Always have a way out in case it’s too cold. And those dorky headlamps? They really are helpful.
7. Lastly, take it easy — Lauren recommends simply working on your base throughout the winter. “Unless you have a race coming up, just take it slow and steady,” she says. “It’s not worth the risk of going too fast and hitting a patch of ice. I see a lot of ripped tights.” And if it’s -30, maybe just stay inside. Find a treadmill, find an indoor track, cross-train with something else, or hell, stay home with some hot chocolate. We won’t judge.