As I post more and more in my running guy category, I hope to answer some basic running questions that have popped up for me over the years. I’ll compile them here.
For now, it’s a short list!
The saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad wardrobe choices.
Yet, as I prepare to post these words on this Sunday Runday it is -34 degrees Celsius on the other side of my front door and this morning I’m leaning on the fallacy of that statement: that’s actually pretty bad weather.
I do run in the cold, frequently. When I run in the cold a few simple rules apply.
Layer. Head to toes, it’s generally seems more effective when I have multiple varied layers of clothing than fewer. Layering not only traps warm air in the spaces between the layers, which is what keeps you insulated and warm, but it provides opportunity to select different fabrics for different jobs: insulation, wicking, wind breaking. It also allows you to shed a layer as you warm up.
Tuck. As valuable as lots of layers are, I find they are even more valuable as things are tucked into other things. Sock cuffs pulled over long underwear legs. Shirt hems slipped between skin and the underwear band. Neck buff squeezed under the shirt collar. Half way into your winter run is no time to figure out that there is a freezing breeze sneaking through a gap in your clothing defence.
Head. I often apply the layering and tucking rules to the head and neck as well, but I call it out here because getting the right gear on your noggin is a specifically important point worth mentioning. Ears get frostbite very easily. The neck line and face are tough to work around with the need to breath and all that. And you can make a snug-fit inner hat by turning a buff inside out, twisting it a three-quarter turn at the 60/40 split point, then inverting the longer side over the shorter.
Traction. Often overlooked in cold weather running is proper footwear. Ice is everywhere when the weather turns cold, and deep snow can slip into the air vents of shoes quickly freezing toes and packing into the tips of toes leading to injury on long runs. Specialized shoes are a great investment if you’re a dedicated winter runner. Or, if you’re only sticking to cleared pathways a pair of pull-over traction grips like Yaktrax will last you multiple seasons and store conveniently with your winter gear or in the backseat of a vehicle.
Support. Having a support line is too often taken for granted in cold weather running. If your winter wardrobe doesn’t include easy access to a running partner, or a phone if you’re going out solo, don’t go. Someone always knows where I am on my winter runs. Things can go bad so much more quickly in the cold, and after a few kilometers of sweaty exercise, a damp runner who slips on the ice or twists their ankle in a snowbank can be in huge trouble.
Here in the western prairies of Canada winter is usually a deep, frozen trio of months shouldered by an unpredictable autumn at the front end and a sloppy, scattered mess of thawing weather on the tail.
As I write these words it is Sunday, Runday, and this morning we ran a ten kilometer spring run through some of that scattered mess of weather.
The thing is, I know how to dress for cold. And I know how to dress for summer. But this Spring thing is so unpredictable I still almost always get it wrong. So what’s my (modest) advice?
Flexible Headwear. I have this spring hat trick using a buff, one of those thin and multipurpose tubes of fabric. You can make a half-twist in the middle, invert one end over the other, and voila: you have a light touque. And then half way into the run when the touque is too hot, you can untwist it, make it into a single layer tube. Or if the wind picks up, you can pull it down around your neck. If you’re still too hot, you can scrunch or fold it up and stuff it into a pocket. And when you all stop for coffee at the end of the run, you can double it up again and pull it over your face for a makeshift pandemic facemask. The point is, it’s a flexible piece of clothing. The borderline weather of spring requires you to be ready to add, remove, add, then remove again anything and everything you’re wearing.
Waterproof Traction. Today our run wasn’t too wet, but last weekend the temperatures were a just the right temperatures that the paths were about one-third packed snow, one third overnight ice slicks, and one third ankle-deep puddles (in the sunshiny spots). This means if our feet weren’t slipping on slick patches of mirror-finished frozen puddles, we were sloshing through their thawed cousins. The thaw season is too short to buy special shoes for this, but double layer socks help, and it doesn’t hurt to keep the “winter tires” (those shoes with a little extra traction and a little less venting) out for another couple weeks until things dry up.
Light Gloves. No one ever regrets a pair of light gloves this time of year. What else is there to say? Warm hands are the best and no matter hot warmed up you get, the fingers are usually the last to benefit from increased circulation. And more importantly running with your hands in your pockets down icy trails is the quickest way to smacking your face into the still-frozen ground. You’re going to need those hands ready (and warm) to catch you when you inevitably fall.
Vents & Zippers. Long pants or shorts? Long sleeves or jacket? The temperature changed by five degrees during our one hour run this morning, and then between the sunshine and the shade it was another five degrees. Factor in body heat and that’s a lot of temperature variation. Jackets with zippers that can be unzipped and re-zipped are useful. Clothing with breathable air vents are handy. Light coats with big old armpit zipper vents are amazing and were made for mornings like today. It you can find a pair of running pants that somehow become shorts half way through your outing, you’ve struck it rich for a spring run.
Sunglasses. It can be sunny (and thus sunglass season) for much of the year, but there is something about that low spring sun poking between the tree branches that just begs for eye protection. Also, if you’re anything like me, you wear a brimmed hat in the summer which helps with the high sun, or you run mostly in the dark in winter when a headlamp is more useful. In the spring, especially at our latitude, the sun has just poked up out of the east when we’re setting out on the trails, and it takes the better part of the morning to climb out of that annoying band of the horizon where looking forward somehow also means you’re staring at the blinding glare of our nearest star. I could go without shades for ten months of the year, but spring has one of the months when I don’t run without them.
While the weekends are reserved for distance training, the springtime has rebooted our training schedule and put us back into proper-training-mode. This includes regular and progressively longer hill training runs.
If you happen to live beside a hill where runners train maybe you’ve seen folks like my running friends and I, climbing and descending on repeat, week after week. Perhaps you wondered what the heck why were were torturing ourselves so…
So, what is hill training?
Running is running, and the longer you run the further you’ll be able to go… eventually.
More serious, focused run training tends to pry apart the various aspects of running and portion them into dedicated types of runs meant to isolate enhancing various pieces of the running puzzle: speed, endurance, longevity, pace, and strength.
Hill repeats are meant to build strength. They add a very specific element of resistance to a run, building stronger muscles and generally agreed upon to improve overall performance.
Our hill is roughly a 7% – 9% grade leading into and out of a creek valley near our meeting point. Our Wednesday runs turn into hill training sessions in the spring and early summer, building back up that foundational strength that usually dwindled over the winter months.
There are many different approaches to training on hills as there are runners, but here’s what my crew does:
A brief warm-up run leads us down to our start point.
A single repeat includes a steady climbing run up to a designated point roughly four hundred meters from the base of the hill. As we crest this distance, we do a short recovery walk, turn around, and jog at an easy pace back down to the bottom of the hill.
Starting in early March we begin with three repeats, building by one each week until we reach a maximum. That maximum count depends on the type of race for which we are training, but usually somewhere between twelve and fifteen repeats total by the time we enter June.
It’s a tough session. It’s a tough spring. But it’s been working for us for a long time.
Hill training is a slower, deliberate isolation of run training meant to build strength, train muscles in ways not targeted on flat trails, and make runners better at their sport. We grumble a lot, but the spring pain has payoffs for a great summer.
Note: This is a work in progress. I'll add to this FAQ as I write daily blog posts that fit into this format. If you have a question you'd like me to write about, contact me on Twitter or Reddit.