Finding the "Fun" in Winter Running
“Winter running can be challenging,” declares Ryan Evans, a 22-year-old dedicated runner the WinterFun 101 staff met at the recent Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard race in International Falls, MN. Since WinterFun101 is all about Winter FUN, we asked him to explain.
I’ve lived in Minnesota all my life, and I’ve also been a runner all my life. Even as a toddler, my dad used to take me to every diaper dash in town. He had found an undying passion for the sport early in his life, and must have seen that same passion in me from a very young age, because he made sure to cultivate my love for running throughout my youth. Today I am 22 years old, and I have been under continuous, year-round training since the age of 12.
I say this to make the point that no matter who you ask—whether it is someone who has enjoyed a passionate love for running for the majority of their lives, or someone who laced up their new running shoes for the first time yesterday—they’ll all tell you the same thing: winter running sucks.
Now, you might be asking yourself, “If this site is called, ‘Winter Fun 101,’ why would this guy come out and say such a thing in the first two paragraphs of his article?” Well, I’m basically just trying to say that it is not a “fun” activity in itself. If you run in the winter, it is because you like running, and are simply putting up with the cold. No one enjoys “winter running” as much as “running.” Many of you already know what I’m talking about. It’s cold out. The sidewalks are never plowed. The roads are slippery with packed-down snow, so with every step forward, your foot slips a half-step backwards and you look like a cartoon character. The air cuts your lungs and you find yourself coughing and hacking like a smoker the rest of the day. Yes, like I said, winter running sucks. But then why do so many people do it? Well, besides the weirdos who just enjoy running no matter how cold it is, running is also an extremely effective way to lose weight or get in shape. It is a great activity to do because anyone can do it. Cross country skiing, for example, can give you just as much of a muscular and cardiovascular workout (and is about a thousand times more fun if you ask me), but it also requires years of experience to become efficient enough on skis to get that burn. All it takes to achieve it in winter running is the ability to lace up your shoes—and a bit of will power to brave the weather. So here are some ways to make that cold, snowy, bitter part of winter running suck a little less.
- Clothing—Layers!: This is essential for winter running in our great state. Layers are crucial, especially a nice, thin base layer of dri-fit or polypropylene material. You also want to make sure to have a wind-breaking outer layer. Specially-designed running tights (any major running brand will have these—Nike, Asics, Puma, etc.) are extremely comfortable and breathable, while also keeping your legs sufficiently warm. However, any sort of spandex tights should suffice if you don’t feel like spending $70 or more on them. If you aren’t too keen on the idea of tramping around town in skin-tight spandex, throw some wind pants over them. (**Tip for guys: For particularly cold, windy days, do yourself a favor and Google-search “windbriefs.”) Although it is important to dress warm enough to ensure safety, it is also very easy to overheat, which soon becomes just as uncomfortable as under-dressing. A good rule of thumb is that if you walk out the door and you feel like you’re just slightly underdressed, you probably have just the right amount of clothes on.
- Yaktrax, Ice Cleats, etc.: These have been rising in popularity in the past couple years. If you go into a running store during the winter, you will almost certainly see these up on the shelf. They are elastic and are designed to wrap around the bottom of your shoe, and may have wire coils on the bottom or something more resembling an actual spike, depending on the brand and model. I used to have a pair of Yaktrax and loved them at first, but I soon found that although the wire coils were helping me keep traction, they were also grabbing and holding a lot of snow and made my shoes feel 5 pounds heavier. Then I tried breaking up the snow by taking a few steps here and there on exposed blacktop, and the coils started busting apart. Some swear by them, others hate them. It’s all up to personal preference, but if you’re going to invest in something like this, I’d go for something that doesn’t have wire coils. I weigh 130 pounds and it took me just a handful of runs before mine were completely trashed.
- Cough drops: Has the cold weather been wreaking havoc on your lungs? Take a cough drop (or two) along with you when you go out for your run. It will make your spit a little thicker (and if you have cherry or strawberry flavor, it might look a little like you’re spitting up blood—don’t worry, you aren’t), but you won’t have that feeling anymore like you are assaulting your lungs.
- A buddy!: Running is always more enjoyable when someone else is there with you. Any runner will tell you some of their closest, most personal conversations have been while running—and a conversation will also make the run fly by.
I’ll be the first to say that running is not the most fun winter activity out there—but it’s an excellent activity for getting into shape, or for just getting some exercise in the winter. And to all the crazies like me who are just too hopelessly addicted to the sport to quit: stay warm and may God have mercy on your soles (corny foot joke).