Clawing my way through blistering wind, I curled my toes inside my shoes attempting to grip the icy pavement through their soles. I clenched my numb fingers into fists. Snot froze on my upper lip just as fast as it ran from my nose. Seeing my breath, I wished I could actually catch it in the dry air. No matter how fast I put one foot in front of the other, my muscles ached with stiffness instead of loosening up. I was winter running.
Or, trying at least.
Wind, ice and air cold enough for frostbite do not sound like enticing conditions for a run. When I first ventured beyond my front door onto pathways lined with snow, the indoor track called my name. But now when I wake up to the season’s flurries, I leap out of bed and into my running shoes.
I’ve run three half-marathons over the last year. I clocked in around 1:51:00 each time. Treadmills and tracks do not compare to outdoor running for me. I crave the fresh air, and the sights and sounds make the kilometres fly by. So last year, I decided that the season of mittens and scarves wouldn’t change my running routine. This decision, however, involved some learning.
For my first trek, I slipped into leggings instead of shorts and tossed a windbreaker over my usual mesh long-sleeve. As wind cut through my single layer of spandex, cold air easily found its way passed my light coat.
I quickly realized that this gear was far from sufficient. On my second attempt, I added a heavy, fleece hoodie under my windbreaker. My body overheated while my head and hands froze. I broke into a clammy, cold sweat. For the month of December, I tried different combinations of leggings, long socks, sweaters, coats, mittens and hats. I was uncomfortable for every kilometer, every time.
But a gift last Christmas taught me that attire is key to an enjoyable winter running experience.
I received a set of gear designed for cold weather, and winter running became running again, not a survival challenge.
When I wake-up on wintry mornings now, I reach for my pants with a spandex shell lined with a soft inner layer that feels like fleece (New Balance). The shell deflects moisture while the fleece warms my muscles. The material is thicker from my mid- to outer-thighs and just past my knees. While the thicker fabric does make the pants stiffer, it doesn’t inhibit my run while stopping the wind from cutting to my skin. A zipper on the back of my legs, starting mid-calf, gives me a way to cool myself off if needed.
For my upper body, I wear a New Balance pullover that also has a shell covering a soft layer, all in one piece. The pullover’s longer back keeps my bum warm, and its high neck has a zipper. I slip my thumbs through two holes at the bottom of the sleeves to stop them from hiking up my arms as I pump with each stride. Lightweight, yet warm, this pullover lets me wear my favourite mesh shirt underneath without getting cold.
To keep winter’s wind out of my ears, I wear a thin spandex skullcap. Lululemon makes a good one. It even has a hole at the back for my ponytail. I add a thick, fleece headband (also Lululemon) over the cap to cover my ears. It is wonderful knowing that the wind is whistling around my head, but I can’t feel it!
I tackle numb fingers with gloves made in the same fabric as my pants and pullover (New Balance). With material that feels like fleece on the inside, they have a thick spandex outer shell. The gloves separate my fingers, but also have a mitten-like flap to keep my fingers together on colder days.
For the challenge of icy surfaces, I do my best to find salted paths. Running stores also sell grips for your shoes, but I haven’t tried them yet. Some are detachable spikes that you stick in the bottom of your soles. Others are like coils that you press into your soles. These will be my next purchase for gear.
Preparing for winter running might feel like getting ready for a day of sledding, but I am then ready to face Mother Nature. As I pound the pavement on days when cars don’t start, I am confident that people looking out their windows question my sanity. But being one of the few brave souls battling the weather is rather satisfying. Knowing that I appear to be battling while actually enjoying the run is even better.