Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Brrrr....It's Cold Outside! Perfect for a Run!

Today is December 21st. I don't know what the official winter solstice is this year, but it's normally roughly around today - the first day of winter. As a runner, this is good news. It means that the shortest of days is happening right now, and going forward, days are just going to get longer for a while. Yes, nothing like a few added minutes of daylight running moving forward, meaning better visibility and safety, and increased motivation to be out there. It also means though that it's going to remain cold outside for a while longer. And those of us here in Vancouver know that it is often it's coldest here after Christmas rather than before. I like the cold we have right now, and can certainly put up with a little colder yet. So I say, "Winter, you're here now? Bring it on!"

So I'm sitting on the couch this morning, snuggled up warm, sipping my cuppa joe, and looking ahead to today's 10km run I've planned. I see it's nice and clear outside and the rooftops are covered with a morning frost  - simply beautiful. Weather reports are saying it's currently 2 degrees and it's not going to get much warmer today, although the sun will be shining - yay! Admittedly, 2 degrees is actually kind of warm, as winter running conditions have been here a while. But I'm excited now that the official season is here. Winter is an awesome time to go running, I mean, you never overheat like in the summer. It can be some of the most comfortable and pleasant running of the year but it requires a bit of additional thought and precaution for that to be so.  For me, there are 3 major considerations for winter running: (1) Visibility and safety (2) Hydration (3) Staying warm. I'll talk a little about each, and will try to keep my rant short today (I'm itching to get outside!) 

Visibility and Safety 
This is a really big topic. Safety is always really huge when running out on the roads, 365 days a year. This is one of the reasons why I never run with music: so I can be aware of every sound around me such as approaching cars. In winter, there are multiple reasons why one must be even more conscious of safety as a runner. First of all, daylight hours are few. Most dedicated runners have day jobs and so running has to happen either early morning before work or in the late afternoon or evening after work - both instances of when it's dark outside. So two important things to consider here - (1) make sure you can see and (2) make sure you can be seen.  

When I run in the dark, I pick areas that are better lit where possible. Not necessarily busy streets, but ones I know there are street lights. It's as much about me being able to see as it is about making sure I can be seen. I don't want to slip on ice and I certainly don't want to turn an ankle misjudging the pavement.  I make sure to wear light colours in the dark, and strap on extra reflective gear. But reflectors are only useful once a car has gotten close enough to you to shine it's light on you; by then, it might be "too late". So it's good to have lights on as well that are visible at a distance. There are all kinds of lights one can wear that aren't cumbersome at all. For example, I have a red strobe light I clip to the back of my toque. I need a nice white light to clip on the front too. There are ones that sit nicely on a visor if you wear a ball-cap, and even ones that you put on your knuckles so you can also light your path in front of you with them as you run. I need to do some shopping! 

Anytime of the year, when you go out for a run, be conscious of cars. Follow the rules of the road. Don't J-Walk (J-Run?). Don't assume drivers can see you or that they're going to stop. You are faster than walkers, so you can be sure that drivers are often caught off guard when you come along. And when it's cold outside, you're even less expected to be out there. Make eye contact with drivers to be sure they see you.  Be courteous and acknowledge them when they do stop - we need to spread awareness to drivers to watch out for runners out at night and we want drivers to know we appreciate their courtesy. Good karma!

Make sure you tell someone where you're running or how long you're expecting to be out. You just never know what could happen. I always tell Cam my planned distance and what part of town I'm venturing to. Then he knows when to expect me back at home and he can ask me about my run more specifically too when I return. And lastly, it is also important to take ID with you in the very unlikely event of an emergency. I mean, it shouldn't happen if you're cautious. But nothing is guaranteed. I personally dislike carrying cards around with me in my pocket (in a ziplock bag) and save that for days I drive to my running routes and need to have my license. So I have a great alternative you should check out called RoadID. Mine has my name, my personal health ID number, and 3 emergency phone numbers on it. And it's an attractive accessory (mine's red!) and fits well so it's not at all annoying to wear on a long run. I don't even notice it. 

Hydration is something people often don't think is as important in the winter because we don't feel thirst in the same way we do in the summer. The thing is that in summer, cold water also cools us down and is refreshing, and so we don't think we need the same thing in winter. WRONG! In fact, hydration is in ways even more important in the winter than in the summer. I'm not going to go into too much detail here as I've recently read an excellent blog article from one of my "dailymile" friends on this very topic. You really should check it out:

Nutrition Nerd: Cold Weather Exercise and Dehydration

Staying Warm
This goes without saying - it's cold outside so bundle up and protect yourself from the cold. But it's important to learn how much you actually need to bundle up so you can stay comfortable. Once you get moving, you'll warm up. The trick is how to stay warm but not get too warm. Experiment and figure out what works for you. Keeping in mind that Vancouver winters are relatively mild, on most days, I wear the following on my winter runs:
  • Running tights (form fitted pants keep the wind from getting in!)
  • Merino wool socks (they're lightweight and amazing for temperature regulation)
  • 2 technical shirts layered - 1 short sleeved shirt underneath 1 long sleeved shirt. I find the layering allows for warmth to get trapped between the shirts and keeps my core nice and cozy
  • Gloves - the ones I wear are lightweight so my hands start out cold but get cozy after a few min of running as the heat gets trapped inside. These are them.
  • Toque - the one I wear covers my ears perfectly, has a hole in the back for my ponytail to go through (so the toque doesn't fall off when I run, ever!), and it's lined with an absorbant fabric that keeps sweat away from my face.
If it's raining or really cold, I have a light jacket that provides additional protection from the elements. There's also the possibility of going out with a scarf to cover the neck - good for really cold days. So this is me ready for a run. I'm dressed all in black more out of coincidence than anything. But when going out in daylight, dark colours are fine anyway. Cam has suggested I look like I'm a burglar when dressed that way. My expression is that of "being caught" - yes, I'm a nerd.


  1. That's an awesome picture! I like the gloves and the RoadID thing looks pretty handy as well!

  2. Thanks Kiran! The RoadID is a great idea yes. I love mine. If you decide you want one, let me know. I believe I could get you a discount coupon if I refer you, because I'm your friend and already a RoadID customer.