6 Winter Running Tips from Ultra-Runner Aliza Lapierre

Winter running isn't as bad as it seems; you just need the right mentality.
Winter running isn't as bad as it seems; you just need the right mentality. Bill Damon
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As the temperatures begin to plummet here in the Northeast so too does the desire to head out for a run. It’s cold. It’s dark. Your bed is warm. Thoughts of hopping on the treadmill float through your mind, "The treadmill will be fine today" you think.  Or perhaps you even go so far as, “Maybe I’ll just take the winter off.” However rational these thoughts may seem in the moment, it's possible to keep running through the cold and snow—especially with pro advice about how to make it less numbing and more appealing.

Native Vermonter and ultra-runner Aliza Lapierre runs between six and 30 miles a day, six days a week, even when the temps hover around zero. Sponsored by Salomon, Drymax, and Petzl, she has run more than 50 ultras, with seven of those coming in the past year alone. A hockey player turned runner, Lapierre is no stranger to the cold.

"Running in the winter is more relaxing for me," said Lapierre. "It’s a fresh start with the first couple of snows. My mentality shifts from specific workouts to logging miles with friends and exploring new places.”

Aliza Lapierre on a winter run up Camel's Hump 
Aliza Lapierre on a winter run up Camel's Hump  Courtesy of Aliza Lapierre

Keep your cold weather jaunts safe and fun with these winter running tips from Lapierre:

1. “It’s important to wear multiple-layers on the top and the bottom so that you stay warm, but also so that you can easily take something off so that you don’t get too sweaty and freeze.”

Start with a hat on top as well as a Buff. The Buff can be very useful when running in the wind and pelting snow common to Vermont. Use it to cover your face, your neck, or your ears. For your upper body, wear a light wool base layer topped with a long sleeve wicking shirt. As a final top layer, add a running shell—one with a hood, in case it gets really nasty. Spandex shorts under a pair of wind blocking, active stretch pants are good for the bottom.

Depending how cold it is, protect fingers with a thin pair of gloves covered up by a shell mitten or a full ski mitten. If it’s ridiculously cold, throw in hand warmers as well. “I have found that wearing the gloves works because you can take off your mittens to tie your shoes and still have the gloves on so your fingers don’t totally freeze.” Always bring an extra hat and pair of gloves in case the ones you’re wearing get too wet.

The right footwear and traction devices can make all the difference during a slippery run 
The right footwear and traction devices can make all the difference during a slippery run  Courtesy of Aliza Lapierre

For your feet, start with a pair of socks — ski socks are great because they are thin and give coverage up to your knees. If conditions are cold and sloppy, choose a shoe that is GORE-TEX® or has climate shield to help keep feet warm and dry. When the trails and roads are covered with snow, it is best to run in a trail shoe with an aggressive outsole. If it’s really slippery wear a shoe with spikes or slip on a pair of traction devices. In addition, if you are on a trail, wear gators to keep snow from ending up inside your shoes.

2. “I always fill my water bottle or hydration pack with hot water to start. By the time I drink it, it’s not hot and it takes a lot longer to freeze.”

You may not feel as thirsty in the winter but you are losing moisture through respiration and perspiration. If you are carrying gels with you, be sure to put them in a pocket close to your body to them warm.

3. "Forget speed in the tough cold conditions, and focus on good form and building a strong base for your upcoming season."

Running in cold temperatures dictates your intensity. You can’t go out and do a speed workout when it’s -10 degrees. It’s about respecting your body and respecting the conditions. It’s important to know that you can run in any conditions but you might not be able to go as hard or as fast as you can in the warmer months.

Checking out the winter views from Camel's Hump 
Checking out the winter views from Camel's Hump  Courtesy of Aliza Lapierre

4. “I always make sure someone knows my running plan and when I should be back.”

Setting a plan for your run and being prepared for the challenges it may bring are very important parts of winter running. Make plans to run with a friend—you are more likely to get out and not bail on your run if someone else is waiting on you. And you have someone there in case you need help, and someone to check you for symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia (be sure you know what signs to look for). If you do decide to run by yourself consider a loop that can be done a few times to give yourself the option of stopping if you need or the opportunity to grab or shed a layer. If you are running in the mountains be sure to bring an emergency blanket, cell phone, and bivy sack just in case.

Running through a quintessential Vermont bridge in Charlotte.
Running through a quintessential Vermont bridge in Charlotte. Gribbin Loring

5. "Remember when you are on the trails, it’s a lot faster in the winter because the snow covers the rocks and roots. It’s like a snow super-highway."

Favorite trails in the winter can oftentimes be the same as the trails you love in the summer, but with a different vibe. Take Camel's Hump, one of Lapierre's go-to routes. It's a favorite for runners all year round, but feels faster when it's snow covered. Charlotte Covered Bridge Loop, a 10-mile loop along the back roads of Vermont that takes you through two covered bridges, is another popular spot for winter striding. “I love to revisit my favorite dirt road runs as they all look so different in the winter.”

6. "Change your clothes from head to toe once your run is complete, as your core temperature will start to drop."

Have you ever noticed that you often get a chill when you finish a run, even during the summertime? It's a lot worse during the winter. Be sure to take off any sweaty layers and bundle up in warm, dry clothes.

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