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?)

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.

Plus-sized Microaggressions

I work for a company that offers some pretty awesome benefits, and one of them is a free membership to a small gym about two minutes away from work. I hate going to the gym—trapped in four walls, every rep or minute on a treadmill reminds me of a time I could be outside or at home.

Recently though, I decided I might incorporate more weights into my routine, shoving down my hatred with podcasts and music, so I went to activate my free membership—that’s when I ran right into a wall.

Maybe it was the way I thought the door was stuck on my way in, and the guy at the front desk pulled it open for me. Maybe it was my large wool coat and the hoodie underneath making me look bigger than my already larger size. Maybe the guy was more French than English  and didn’t know what he was saying (which sometimes happens on Montreal) but in any case, giving me the preamble, the man at the front desk asked:

“have you exercised before?”

I think I laughed.

I knew what he really meant. He really meant, “have you been to a gym?” and “are you familiar with the equipment?” But that’s not what he said, and it got me to thinking. There is always a chance he would have asked a thin person the same question, just probably in a different way… or there’s a chance he might not have asked them at all. In any case, it had happened to me. I wasn’t even mad, I just made small talk as I filled out my form, told him I was looking to supplement my outdoor running with a weight routine—like I somehow had to back up my claim about having tried exercise EVER in my WHOLE LIFE.

Yes I move my body on a regular basis. No, I didn’t roll in here on a segue with a bucket of 7-11 slurpee just to look at the bros in the muscle zoo. 

When I was finished with my form, I went to check out the weight room upstairs. It was small, pretty standard—and yes, there were a few torture devices I had no clue about, but for the most part, gym standard. I left the place feeling off without understanding why, and texted some of my friends about it to get some feedback and opinion on it—they were more offended than I was.

Here’s what’s eating at me: this is something fat people have to deal with ALL THE TIME— whether it’s getting the stink eye for eating a Big Mac in public, or judged for wearing certain items of clothing we aren’t “supposed to” or assuming we got ever-so-lost and wandered into the gym by accident. People just like to judge us; it’s always open season on fat people. By being plus-sized, we’re visible in a way that others are not. The worst part about being this particular kind of visible in a gym, about the kind of microaggression I experienced, is that it can be discouraging.

It can make the surroundings feel unsafe or unwelcoming, make the person who experiences it feel like they have no place there. In a lot of ways, it can prevent us from breaking the cycle—if that’s something we want to do. (Yes there are people who are happy being plus sized! It’s a Thing. It’s none of your business!)

On the way home I wrestled with two extremes: ditch the gym idea and find new ways to work out in the safety of my bedroom, or stick it out and show him that I ain’t a slouch.

I chose neither, because I’m sure as hell not letting someone who doesn’t know me attempt to shove me into a box  or guide my decisions. I’ll go back there.  If I’m going to the gym, it’s going to be for me, and because I want to. I’m not here to impress anyone else.

I also thought of a great reply on the commute home: “have you exercised before?”

Yeah, dude—check my Instagram.