For active-minded Twin Citians, the fact that the running paths often get plowed in the winter sooner than the roads is among the metro area’s greatest charms. While motorists are fighting the snarl of rush hour traffic, it's not uncommon to see runners floating past lines of cars on adjacent trails along the lakes, river, creek and everywhere in between.
To be sure, many local runners not only survive running through the cold season, they thrive on it. “I really love the peacefulness of a quiet winter run,” says Gabriele Grunewald, the 2014 3,000-meter Indoor National Champion and a member of Team USA Minnesota. “There are fewer people out running this time of year, so sometimes it’s fun to have a trail all to yourself. I also happen to think there is nothing prettier than a run right after a light snowfall.”
To nail down best practices when it comes to winter running, RootsRated chatted with a group of local professional runners and college coaches with a Minneapolis connection. From what to wear, to tips on pace and form, this insider info will have you covered for a brisk winter run.
1. ** Gear Up**
Choosing the right winter running ensemble can mean the difference between a serene snowy jaunt and a teeth-chattering death march. Team USA Minnesota’s Heather Kampf , also known as “The Queen of the Road Mile” with a 4:21:39 personal best, emphasizes the importance of layering during the coldest days. “I start with a long sleeve base layer that fits close to the skin and is a moisture-wicking material, then a thicker mid-layer that’s got some decent weight to it, but still allows you to move and is also moisture-wicking," says the Asics-sponsored athlete. "Lastly, a wind and water-protective jacket over the top is a must.”
For the bottom half of your body, a thick pair of tights or doubling up two thinner pairs usually does the job. “Tights that are fleece-lined and have a wind-protective layer on the front are especially awesome,” adds Kampf.
Other essentials include warm socks, preferably a wool blend and some combination of a headband, hat and hood, as well as a neck gaiter or full face mask. When it comes to your hands, it's somewhat personal preference. “I always say mittens beat gloves because your fingers aren’t separated,” Kampf says. “I love to wear a fleece-lined mitten, plus an extra wind-blocking mitten layer over the top of that.”
2. Stay Visible
Less daylight often means runners are forced to run before sunrise or after sunset, which can be potentially hazardous. To make sure you’re seen, reflective and high visibility gear is a must. “I used to primarily own darker jackets with reflective features, but that didn’t always seem like enough,” says Grunewald, who is sponsored by Brooks. This means your best options will likely sport neon colors along with 360-degree reflective details, particularly on the torso and arms.
Grunewald also advises choosing well-lit routes for safety. “We try to run on lit paths, rather than roads when it’s dark,” she said. “Since we live and train in the city, it’s usually pretty easy to find places where we don’t have to share the road with cars.”
3. Warm Up
Pulled and strained muscles can happen a whole lot easier this time of year if you run hard out of the gates on cold legs. This is why taking a bit of time to warm up and ease into your winter runs is imperative. Andrew Rock, a 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist and head track and field coach at Bethel University, suggests starting with a couple minutes of dynamic stretches to get the blood flowing before you head outside. This routine could include moves like standing leg swings, bodyweight squats and front and side lunges.
“Once you are outside, start out running slower than you normally would,” advises Rock. “Gradually increase your pace as you warm up. I believe the gradual progression of pace is more important than anything else.”
4. Pace Yourself
Even when the paths are relatively clear, staying upright can be a challenge when you encounter the occasional patch of ice. “Use caution, especially when taking corners and over changing surfaces,” says Adam Frye, the co-head cross country coach at Hamline University , who broke his leg in a bad fall during an icy winter run in 2009.
In certain conditions, you should also adopt a slightly more reticent stride. “I would suggest shortening your stride so you can focus on making sure your feet are landing underneath your center of mass,” Rock adds. “This is the most efficient place for your foot to land anyway and it will help prevent any ‘braking’ motion—when your foot lands too far in front of your body—which can cause you to slip.”
5. Get Traction
Since winter weather tends to dole out a variety of potentially dangerous conditions with ever-changing terrain, beefing up your traction underfoot is a must. “Yaktrax or something similar can be attached to any running shoe and instantly provides you with more traction,” says Kampf. “Trail shoes can also give you more grip and better traction in the snow.”
With temperatures lower, it can be easy to forget to take in all the necessary fluids during winter training. “I believe that the body requires as much fluid during the winter as it does in the summer,” says Rock. While you might not be sweating to the same degree as you do on a sweltering summer day, most runners are surprised by how much water weight they manage to lose under all those layers.
“As is with most things, consistency is key,” says Frye. “Having a water bottle handy to drink consistently throughout the day is always a good strategy. You can also weigh yourself before and after your run to get an idea of exactly how much fluid you are losing.”
7. Recruit a Running Buddy
Perhaps the biggest barrier to getting out the door for a winter run is lack of motivation: On those particularly brutal days, who wants to to leave the warmth of their home (or bed) and head outside into the freezing weather? Kampf insists that there’s nothing like a running buddy to keep you accountable for a run. “Training partners always motivate me through polar-vortex cold,” she says. “Most days I try to pre-organize a running date with friends or my husband because if I commit to someone else, I have to go. It’s generally not as bad as I expected it to feel, plus collective misery is a strong way to build friendships.”