6 Reasons to Start a DC Winter Running Routine

Runners brave the elements and gain traction upon snowy trails in beautiful Rock Creek Park
Runners brave the elements and gain traction upon snowy trails in beautiful Rock Creek Park Rock Creek Park
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If you're reading this article, chances are you already love (or want to love) running. It’s challenging and, if you have an event on the calendar, it gives you a goal to work towards. Plus, running is fun and rewarding—particularly so, in the winter.

Lacing up and hitting the pavement when it's cold outside allows for unique training benefits you just can’t get in warmer weather. Set your sights on a race in the spring for motivation, and you will be tough as nails before the cherry blossoms even bloom. Benefits run the gamut between the physical, mental, and ancillary. Here are six reasons to embrace DC winter running.

1. Build Strength and Endurance

Running in the heat can slow you down. As the temperature drops into the 50's and 40's, use it as an opportunity to pick up your pace. The result is a hearty boost of endurance that helps to increase stamina and flow of blood circulation while keeping you warmer at rest. Devote yourself to developing aerobic base fitness, while stepping up your speed training, hill running, and intervals.

Runners brave the elements on snowy trails in Rock Creek Park
Runners brave the elements on snowy trails in Rock Creek Park Rock Creek Park

2. Improve Breath Support

The feeling of frigid air on your lungs can take some getting used to. Research suggests that if you hydrate well in advance of a workout and persevere in getting out consistently, your lungs should hop on for the ride after just a few sessions. You can also wear a neck gaiter or balaclava over your mouth to block some of the chill.

3. Buy New Gear!

There is one sure way to stay warm while running this winter: buy  new gear ! Buying new gear = fun. And have no fear, there is substance here—what you wear while hitting the pavement is important. For example, garments with moisture wicking are essential because they allow you to shed sweat and regulate your body temperature. Use a layered system--wicking base layer, insulating mid-layer and wind and weather blocking top layer-- for long run comfort. Tights that block the wind are essential for frigid jaunts, as are a hat and gloves. Wool socks provide warmth even when damp with sweat and waterproof shoes keep out snow and rain.

Hudson Trail Outfitters is a great spot to refresh your running kit
Hudson Trail Outfitters is a great spot to refresh your running kit Hudson Trail Outfitters

4. Catch Some Alone Time

DC has wide sidewalks and boundless  networks of trails in Rock Creek Park , but even still, runners sometimes need to jostle for real estate when hitting the pavement during the spring and summer months. Many runners head to the gym during the winter, making cold weather sidewalk sessions a great way to steal some time with your thoughts and the city. Suffer from solo-runner’s boredom? Keep it interesting by taking a new route each day. Get lost in the sunrise,  fall foliage , or looking at creative snow art.

DC area runner goes hard during fall race in DC.
DC area runner goes hard during fall race in DC. United States Marine Corps

5. Combat Winter Blues

Improving your mood is one of the absolutes in terms of reasons to run. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), be gone! It can be hard to get out of bed when it's still cold and dark, but if you can force yourself, you’ll reap immediate rewards--like increased energy and a more positive attitude. Research shows that repetitive movement through aerobic exercise, running in particular, clears excess levels of the hormone cortisol from the body, producing effects of reduced stress while leveling testosterone and rebalancing norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin in the brain. The result is an increase in energy as well as improved mental focus.

Communities gather at the DC Road Runners Fort Hunt National Park 10K run
Communities gather at the DC Road Runners Fort Hunt National Park 10K run DC Road Runners Club

6. Become a Road Warrior

All spring and summer you either compete with the fastest runners in the District (there are some road-running beasts on wheels around here) or profess that you will be counted among them next year. While you’re working toward that goal along roads and trails  during the colder season, try to keep sight on unexpected beauty unique to wintery Washington, DC. For some, beautiful surroundings are the only motivation needed to get out of bed on a cold winter morning.

“I love running in the snow. It makes everything look clean, and it's quiet," says Mike B. (a long distance runner from Adam's Morgan)."There's something viscerally animalistic about braving the cold to reach your goal. Whatever that goal is.”

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