The Benefits of Winter Running
Every year around this time I see the same articles, in the same running publications, about the best treadmill workouts to do during the winter months. The articles are fine and I am sure the workouts are great. But the underlying message seems to be that running outside in the cold is somehow dangerous or crazy— something to be avoided. It’s almost as if there is no other option. Well I am here to tell you that that is not the case. Running in the cold is awesome. It’s invigorating. It leaves with you with a sense of accomplishment that the friendly confines of a treadmill can never provide. And that’s not all. Here are my four reasons you should brave the nasty weather this winter.
1. Snow = Strength = Speed
Every time our feet hit the ground, it is the responsibility of our body to get them back off of the ground as quickly as possible. The surface on which we’re running can make that job quite a bit tougher. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Running in the snow is a grind. No doubt about it. But like the great Olympic 1500 meter champion Herb Elliot, who did hill repeats on sand dunes to increase his strength, running on a slow surface makes you feel that much faster when you get back onto the fast stuff.
2. Slowing Down Can Be A Good Thing
The body needs a “re-charge” period from time to time. In fact it needs a number of them throughout the year. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just hammer every day for weeks and months on end with no break? But that’s not how it works. We need periods of time where we just sort of put in the miles and we don’t worry so much about time. The cold nasty winter weather slows you down, sure, but so what? You could probably use the break!
3. Running in the Cold is Easier
Hear me out on this one. Think about it. It is super hard for your body to run in the heat. It may feel great to be running along the beach with no shirt on (fellas) or in your sports bra (ladies), but the work your body has to do to stay cool in 90-degree temps is immense. Producing sweat, losing electrolytes— it’s exhausting…literally. On the flip side, while stepping out the door to go for a run may not be your favorite thing when it’s below freezing outside it’s a breeze for your body. And don’t worry. Your lungs aren’t going to freeze. The body is incredibly efficient at warming cold air before it even gets to your lungs.
4. Spring Forward
This one is totally mental but anyone who lives somewhere with all four seasons will know what I’m talking about. After a long, hot summer there is nothing like that first cool, crisp morning where you have to wear a long-sleeve shirt and a light pair of gloves. Well, nothing that is, except for the first warm day after a long, cold winter when you ditch the tights for shorts and finally expose your forearms to the glorious sun. You feel like a million bucks. And there it is folks. You’ll be bouncing along, with less layers on your back and no snow under your feet and you’ll thank yourself for braving those nasty January days—tougher, and faster, for it!
It would be irresponsible of me not to throw out a couple of caveats to all of the above. First of all, if you are going to run in the extreme cold then you need to make sure you have the proper gear. Don’t expose your digits in single digits! Second, if your area typically gets a lot of snow and you plan on running in it, make sure you’ve worked on strengthening your stabilizer muscles beforehand. And do yourself a favor and buy some sort of apparatus to put on your shoes to help with grip (there are plenty of options). As in any extreme weather, hot or cold, make sure you let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Weird things can happen and you don’t want to want to be stuck on some trail in zero degree temps without anyone knowing where to look for you.
So there you go. Be smart, be tough and enjoy the cold!