I absolutely adore running in 20 degrees F, with the icy winds slashing at my cheeks and my legs wrapped up in two heavy, protective layers–said no one, ever. But seriously, I kind of do enjoy my cold winter runs. There is something very invigorating about braving the cold, and often you’re treated with a beautiful sunrise or twilight–the lights and colors of which you simply can’t experience any other time of the year.
But going for a run in harsh conditions does require some prior planning. Here are some cold weather running tips for safe and effective workouts.
1. Warm up thoroughly.
In warmer weather, I often just start running right out my front door–I know, I know, but your body is much more limber and already “warmed up” from the heat. During winter, however, I make sure to thoroughly warm up before I start running to prevent injury and maximize my performance.
Start by rotating your head to loosen your neck and shoulders. Move down your body by rotating your shoulders, then arms, then doing these full body squat-to-rise swings (get a good momentum going in fluid, pendulum motion). Follow with hip rotation and ankle rotation. Now you’re ready!
2. Breathe in through your nose.
Even experienced runners can feel their lungs burn from very cold and dry air. Breathing in deeply through your nose moistens and warms the air–not to mention, increases your lung capacity. Wearing a scarf can also help warm the air that you breathe in.
3. Wear proper gear.
Dressing in warm, light layers will keep you focused on the run. Look for thermal running jackets with thumbholes and compression tights. Yes, they are a little more expensive than your average hoodie, but these performance clothes will last through several seasons, and you’ll get more use out of them than most other clothing you buy. Wear a headband to protect your ears–cold air can hurt your inner ears as well.
Nike Elements Shield Running Jacket, $120
Brooks Women’s Nightlife III jacket, $115.
The bright color keeps you visible to cars, bikes, and other runners in the dark.
Brooks Women’s Utopia Thermal Tight, $85
Prana Burnout Headband, $14, is made of 90% organic cotton
4. Know your terrain.
Running outside during winter can be dangerous. There is very little window for daylight, so you’re often forced to run in partial darkness–which may not be the safest in certain neighborhoods or terrains. If you go out for a run in the dark, make sure you avoid routes that are particularly secluded. Also look out for ice, snow, and other obstacles–you don’t want to slip and fall.
5. Focus on your stride, rather than speed
Rather than trying to best your record set during warmer weather, anticipate your body’s adjustment to the cold. Be careful not to push yourself before you’re thoroughly warm, and focus more on the proper stride and form to reap benefits. Don’t know if you’re running correctly? Check out the most efficient distance running form according to Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman.
Now, get out there and go running! Afterwards, treat yourself to one of these warm, vegan holiday drinks!
Related: 5 Training Tips for Long Distance Running
Photo: Harsh Vardhan via Flickr; Peaceful Dumpling; Nike; Brooks; Prana