How to Run in Cold Weather (Because Treadmills Make You Want to Cry)

Between the temperature change, the ice, the snow, and the option to just stay inside, keeping up a running routine through the winter months can be a challenge.

Some might say the sane alternative is to hit the treadmill, but unless it’s -30 C and polar bears have risen in revenge for climate change to rule the earth, I would rather an outdoor run with precaution over a mind-numbing, long indoor one.

Whether you’re looking to survive a whole winter running outdoors, or just curious about trying cold weather running for the first time, here are some of the best tips I’ve gathered through experience to brave the elements and run happy all season long!

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Sleep In
Because the sun doesn’t come up until later during the winter months, the temperature doesn’t either. If you’re dealing with some serious cold, or even just temps beyond your comfort level, try trading in your early morning run for a mid-day jaunt when it’s warmed up, even slightly. You might have to get creative and go running on your lunch hour, but it will be worth it! Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Dress For Warm(er) Weather
Stay comfy by avoiding under AND over-dressing. The general rule of thumb is that running makes you feel it’s about 10 C (or 20 F) warmer than it actually is outside. So if you’re running in 0 C weather, you want to dress like you’re running in 10 C. This will help keep you comfortable once you really get going!

Warm Up Inside
Get your muscles warm before you head outside with some dynamic stretches to get your heart rate up and your blood flowing. Warming up indoors means you’re ready to go as soon as you get outdoors. That means less time in the cold between you, a Netflix marathon, and your unicorn onesie.
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Layer Up, Layer Often
Running gear can be pricy as heck, so layering can use the gear you’ve already got to full advantage. My personal tactic for layering is 2-2-3, working from the bottom up, with the layer closest to the body always being technical fabric.

• Two pairs of socks: sports socks underneath, thicker wool pair on top.
• Two pairs of leggings: thermal (if you have them) underneath, and a second cotton pair on top.
• Three (or four) shirts: technical fabric long-sleeve, cotton long sleeve, and sweater or jacket. When it’s REALLY cold, I’ll add another shirt because I like to imagine I’m a really fancy cake, and stay warm. I’d rather be over-baked than under, if you catch my drift.

Mind Your Headspace
Cold air can be a shock to your lungs, making running harder. Consider getting a cowl or a scarf you don’t mind getting sweaty to cover your nose and mouth. A hat or hood will help your ears stay warm and keep you from losing heat on the top of your head, while a headband will protect your ears, allowing some heat to escape on milder winter days. Choose your headgear wisely! Sunglasses will keep the wind from making your eyes tear up, but if you breathe on them, they will fog like nobody’s business, so be ready for that!

Say “Cleats!”
I’ve got one pair of running shoes, and I generally use them all seasons. In the winter, with snow and ice, I use pull-on traction aids to help keep myself safe from falls or slips that could cause injury.  Find these in your local running store or online! (There are also shoes made just for running in winter, but I this is a more budget-friendly option.)

Be Smart
There might genuinely be some days when it’s too cold or too icy to go running. The best thing to do is recognize these days, and use them for rest, treadmill runs (ugh), or cross training.

So there you have it, a way to stay warm, keep moving, and prepare for the coming of our polar bear overlords. (Wait, what?)

Thoughts On: Half Marathon Madness and Sadness

So, I ran a half marathon. It might be the hardest, best thing I’ve ever done.

Words are never going to capture this, and I’m hesitant to even TRY, but here. HERE. Have some nouns and verbs while I try and scrape my life off of the bottom of my running shoes.

Training: every step I took, I was gunning towards the future finish line, towards a better version of myself—and getting closer to who I was in the process. A long run offers a look at your human core more than any other activity I know. You see who you are, and imagine who you might be when it’s all over. I poured myself into those twelve weeks. I was up and dedicated. I ran in the morning before the sun came up, in the blinding heat and the rain. I was nervous, but I was ready.

Race day: hot for October. Myself and about 12,000 other runners ran through the heat, through the doubt. Some people came in costume, so I can officially say I’ve been running with Batman and I passed the Flash. I had one mantra, over and over: I bet on myself. I bet on myself. I bet on myself.

I chugged over the sticky pavement of the gel station, and pushed past the intense rib cramp when I guzzled too much water in the last mile. I went a little crazy during the last kilometre—a talking to myself, shuffling in agony kinda crazy… But all the pain went away for the big finish.

I heard my family call my name from the sidelines, and I took out my headphones and I finished the race the way I had finished all my training runs—speeding straight for home.

All the pain of the furthest, no-walk, no-break distance I had gone in my life burned away, I felt… happy. It’s the kind of happiness you remember for the rest of your forever, so mingled with raw intensity and shock and exhaustion.  That happiness was three months of hard work paid off. That happiness was me, alive! Me, accomplished!

Every step that propelled me forward over the last 100 metres signalled the end of one dream, the final pulse of one goal; with each step after, I felt the steady beat of a new beginning, the fresh heartbeat of a future challenge. I grinned, cried, gasping so much a volunteer asked me if I was alright. A female runner to my left doubled over and vomited.

Now it’s over. To be HONEST, those two post-race recovery weeks were a little wobbly and frustrating. In the wake of this huge accomplishment, I’m trying to figure out the next goal. Do I want to be faster? Run further? Keep it up? Post-race blues are trying to set in. At least with winter looming I know I can keep myself warm with all I’ve done, and begin the search for the path forward, whether it’s a race or just a quick 3K around the neighbourhood…

That, and I’ve always got a wicked race medal to remind me I’m a lot tougher than I feel.

Saving the Last Kilometre

Two weeks from now, I’ll (hopefully) have finished my first ever half marathon. This morning, I set out for the last ambitious long training run before the big event. Since it’s Thanksgiving weekend, I was in the place I started running: my hometown. I mapped my route through farm country and wrote all the turns on my arm to avoid needing GPS to remember the route, or how far I had to go on each long stretch.

It was a challenging run. Training in the big city means having breaks at red lights everywhere. Out in the country, there were no red lights to rest my legs, and more big hills than I’ve ever taken on.

I was in some pain coming up on the 11th kilometre. I was pushing harder than I’ve pushed myself, and was already thinking about being home, even with another 8km ahead. That’s when the universe spoke: I ran by a church and the sign outside caught my attention.
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“Life isn’t a race—find joy in the journey!”

I’m not religious, but I think of myself as somewhat spiritual. I can find subtext in everything, but this went above and beyond subliminal messages and into the category of “weird cosmic signal” and “breathtaking coincidence.” So I breathed deeper. I started up running again, and tried to enjoy the feeling of my lungs being full and the sight of changing leaves… even as the hills kept coming.  I still got to enjoy that my legs were WORKING and I was out there!

At the end I nudged myself just a little further along to a full 20km. That means there’s only one kilometre left, and I’m keeping it for race day. Some people run the race distance BEFORE the race to make sure they can finish. I get it, and always, always, to each their own. Still, I’m listening to my instincts and the universe, and holding onto it, running on a little cosmic fate.

You might say I’m saving that last 1000 metres for a special occasion.

Thoughts On: Running and Digging Yourself Up

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Running sucks.

*Running can suck—a universal fact for runners of all abilities. If you’re taking on your first block or your 100th marathon, we can all agree that our sport doesn’t always love us back. The thing is, hard runs are some of the most beneficial.

When the going gets tough, every step can dredge up the things you push down, thoughts you might not have if your mind is chock-full of every day life. Sometimes, lacing up and heading out carries the runner closer to a bigger truth about themselves.

It’s dramatic to say, but sometimes… running feels a little bit like destiny. I can feel the changes this half marathon training is raising in me. I’m finding facets of myself I’ve never seen before—grit, drive, a sense of my place. When I move forward with purpose, sometimes it feels like the steps themselves are my purpose.

Most of us won’t break records or claim gold on the world’s stage for our hobbies, but running gives—and we take—our victories. We unearth these deeper, buried parts of ourselves, every time we do something we once believed soul-deep impossible. We hold up these truths and the accomplishments that come with them as our gold and silver and bronze.

So, reminder: your willpower is precious and your work has value. You are more than your surface. Digging down isn’t easy,  but every step you surge forward, and every run you leave behind doesn’t make you stronger—it just shows you a strength you had buried all along.

Thoughts On: When the Dream Doesn’t Feel Like the Dream

August 2015, I tore a half marathon training plan from the monthly issue of Runner’s World and stuck it on my bulletin board—just in case. I didn’t see the training plan every single day, but on the ones I noticed it pinned there, another mental note would be scrawled and added to the pile with the others.

At some point, those ‘notes to self’ became IOU’s—which I’m now cashing in. I started training for that half marathon goal last week, using that very same plan. This is the embodiment of my 2017 resolution to take my dreams seriously, and an ambition I’ve held for a few years… But at the moment, I don’t feel energized or excited to be on this road.

Blame it on the hot, humid weather, or food, or sleep, but after some reflection this week, I broke it down to a simple truth: making your dreams come true doesn’t always feel like the dream. When picturing the race in October, I think about finally crossing that finish line—not the hours of running that will come before it, or the weeks of training I’m about to put into finally getting there.

And while many of us embrace that the journey is just as important (if not more so) than the destination, because it’s where the bulk of the transformation and learning happens, there’s an idea that every step towards our lofty ambitions will be made with skipping feet and a singing heart. Maybe there’s even a fear that waning enthusiasm means we aren’t on the right road, or chasing the right dream. This probably (definitely) isn’t true. Working towards your dreams is still work—even if it’s doing something you love. There are going to be days when your feet drag, and your song is silence. That’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with not being 100% enthused 100% of the time.

The trick is to recognize that you owe it to yourself to push through to the joy of it all again. You need to understand that this flattened feeling is only a temporary state, and to not take your attention and your intention off of the end goal—the dream. It’s that, or getting ready to write yourself a lot more IOUs…

Thoughts on how to reinvent the road:
• Connect with other people who have the same ambitions
• Give yourself rest days (dreaming downtime)
• Explore detours—find different routes, or other options to the destination (the goal)! There’s more than one way to make it happen.

On Finding Fat in Fit Spaces

Being fat is hard. It’s especially hard to be fat in traditionally “fit” spaces—health clubs, yoga studios, sporting goods stores, hell, even restaurants serving up healthier fare. In general, the world hasn’t realized that you can be fit and be fat simultaneously, so the very presence of someone with an so-called imperfect BMI in any of these locales automatically shoves fat people into the category of “other.” According to traditional standards, we don’t belong there.

I recently wrote about a gym employee who asked me if I had ever exercised before, and while I generally try to assume people mean no harm, the experience left me feeling like a sausage shovelled into a skintight leotard, centre stage on opening night. That is to say, the question othered me so hard that I wasn’t 100% comfortable being there. Translation: you are different. This is not your space. You don’t belong here… yet.

As though if I go to that gym enough, one day I’ll sashay through the door as in society-issued size 6, and the employee will know he made a mistake thinking I was a “them” instead of an “us.”

Such bullshit, wow.

We shouldn’t have to change to feel comfortable anywhere. These spaces should encourage, rather than alienate, the plus-sizers of the world. At best, encourage and welcome, at worst, shut up and mind your own business, right? This is such a common thing that whenever I have a positive interaction in any of these places, it’s kind of mind-blowing.

This week, I was looking at pictures of my first 5K run ever, and realized I’ve been in t[he same running shoes since 2011. My running periods have come and gone, but these shoes were my first 5K and 10K shoes. These shoes ran me around Scotland. The 20-year-old who first wore them is physically and mentally a very different person now, and besides the cartilage in my knees also probably appreciating a little break, it all translated into NEW SHOES REQUIRED. There was one hiccup—I didn’t want to go to the Running Room near my place because I was intimidated by the idea of putting myself into a space I felt I wouldn’t be welcomed.

I like to run, but I don’t call myself a runner. I am not a certified member of the the Cult of Running(tm), the gazelle-human hybrids who are constantly seen with hydration belts, compression socks, and the calves of Greek gods.

But of all the things to not order online, the shoes that will possibly run you through another 6 years of your life (lol) might be on the top of the list, so I sucked it up and went to the store, preparing to defend myself. What I got instead was a warm welcome, and it was amazing.

The woman there was so keen and kind, telling me about local running groups and classes. She talked about being part of our community. Our. She didn’t assume I was a beginner. She ordered me in my shoes from another store, and when I went in on Saturday to pick them up, the two employees working there automatically asked if I had come in to sign up for the race up the mountain on Monday. L. O.L. A RUN UP A MOUNTAIN.

It was amazing. I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing or the way I was being treated. You don’t realize how hard you’ve been othered in one situation until you get to be treated like one of the “us’s” in another. I have the class lists and the brochures next to me right now. For the first time in a long time, I’m excited about the prospect of fit space—that’s the way it should be.

Obvious S#@! You Already Know, Backed Up by Winter Running

#1. Take Baby Steps
Okay yes, duh: it’s logic. Start small and work towards bigger challenges. You don’t want to sign up for a 10K this coming weekend if you don’t feel confident about running around the block.  Winter running, also incorporates this literally, take small steps, actual baby ones.

The Cult of Running(tm) is filled with sleek, gazelle-like individuals who glide along pavement like it’s a conveyer belt and have calves of granite. I am not a member, but I know that even THEY have to slow down in the winter because it’s dangerous. On the snowiest, iciest days, I’m afraid a wider stride will send me crashing down to the ice, even in cleats.

So from the terror began the habit trotting along, and shortening my stride has helped me un-hunch my shoulders, improved my running posture, and helped me power through hills… which is a pretty dope tie in to the metaphor. Baby steps will get you up the mountain (and keep you from breaking any bones).

#2. Overprepare
Duh: it’s better to have too much ready to go than too little. Slightly less obvious? Trying to dress appropriately for a winter run is a complex math problem:

If it is -14 C outside but it is -22 with the windchill, blowing snow, and a sunny glare, but the body heats up 10 degrees on average during a run, how many layers of clothing should you put on for a 6 kilometre jaunt in order to keep your fingers and toes?

If I had taken up running earlier in high school I might have been less afraid of math after grappling with all of that BS. The answer is, layer up. Just be prepared for it to be COLD and if you’re too warm you can yank stuff off and carry it as you go. Overprepare!

#3. Hard Work Pays Off
Triple duh: running in snow can suck,  it’s like running in cold sand with the potential for an icy surprise at the center to send you sprawling across the pavement. It’s hard work, because it’s hard to get anywhere fast when you’re basically running on the bitterness of Canada’s natural treadmill.

But there’s an upside—what doesn’t shatter your bones or give you frostbite makes you stronger! There will come a day when the snow will melt. I know, it seems unending, and every time the sun dares to peek out, another foot of the white stuff feels likely to drop from on high…But it end. For the first time in weeks, the sidewalks here have been clear and moving from running in winter sand hell to straight pavement felt….almost….easy. The big e!

Now it’s not gonna feel like pixie dust forever, but there will be a few honeymoon runs where the sole hits nothing but the pavement and it’s such a confidence boost because of all the strength you got while slugging it out in the slush has come back to let you power on at full strength.