Yes, the winter season is upon us, the roads are getting slushy and icy, that tingling sensation your feeling around the ears and the tip of your nose, maybe more than just a cold morning run, it could be a warning sign of pending frostbite. And so, what if you can’t feel your fingers or toes in your gloved hands and insulated sneakers as you jog down the road on your usual running trek. You’re on a mission to keep yourself in shape for the spring competition season. At least that’s the plan, right?

Running in the winter season takes a special breed of athlete, one who can stand up to the colder, temperatures and increased wind-chill factor that can sneak up on you no matter how many times you’ve checked out the weather map. If you’re like me, you’re waking up early in the winter, the same as when its warmer outside and lighter by 5:30 am. Not so this time of the year. At 5 AM. Its still pitch dark outside and will continue to be so until 7:15 AM, when the sky seems to slowly get brighter, but not overly bright most of the time, because the sun just doesn’t launch itself into the morning sky as it did, or seems to do on warm, sunny summer mornings.

Dressing correctly is very important at this time of year. After all, keeping your body warm will allow it to perform the way you’ve been conditioning it for many months now.

You simply can’t run in freezing cold weather without proper winter running gear. And it’s all about layering.

There’s a reason you need to wear so many layers when the temperature approaches zero: each small layer of air in between the fabric helps insulate your body, keeping you warmer despite whatever winter is throwing at you.

The base layer: The first article of clothing should be a sweat-wicking, warm fabric. I prefer form-fitting material (like spandex tights, except for your upper body) that makes it easier to add more layers.

Second layer: This layer isn’t as important but serves as another buffer between you and the outside air. I use one of my thicker long-sleeve synthetic running shirts. Or, you could try a fleece layer if the temperature is sub-zero.

Outer layer: Checking out the nightly weather reports is going to be a ritual for you. After all, finding out what the weather is going to be like in the morning is going to play a big part in just what that outer layer is going to be. Depending on the exact temperature, wind, and conditions (like freezing rain or snow), you’ll want either a windproof jacket or a very warm running shirt.

Legs: In most conditions, one pair of tights will keep you warm enough while running, but if the wind is blowing and the temperature is under 10, you may want a second pair of running pants.

Your normal running shoes will work fine, but if you’re running through snow a product like the Altra Running Shoes may be helpful, there grips could mean all the difference from you staying up-right as you head off down the road, or slipping and sliding as your sneaks take you from one side of the road to another because the souls of your shoes just can’t seem to get any kind of a purchase on that slushy asphalt or ice covered path.

If the conditions are wet, you may want to spray your shoes with a water-proofing spray

Gloves – a must! I recommend running mittens with a cheap pair of cotton gloves underneath if it’s brutally cold and windy

Hat – another must! I have a double layer thick cotton green hat that makes me look homeless. I wouldn’t trade it for the world

Face protection: optional depending upon your personal preferences. A scarf works but a balaclava is the best option for you.  It will keep the wind off of your face and allow you to breathe easily, some types have a mesh lining that covers both your nose and mouth.

A good gear philosophy, or rule, remains unchanged even in winter, though: keep it simple. You don’t need the newest high-tech fabric. You just need to put on another shirt.

Running in the winter is challenging:
Short days that make most of us run in the dark…Winter Running Safety
Icy, slippery roads…
Sidewalks covered in snow…
Road shoulders hidden under snow piles…
It’s amazing that any of us make it out alive!

But running safety in the winter is no joke. Remember these safety tips as you’re trudging through the cold, snow, ice, and dark of the glorious winter season:

Avoid roads with no shoulder, cars will take over any open area, so be watchful!
Run on cleared sidewalks or walking paths whenever possible
When in doubt, slow it down so you don’t strain a muscle or fall
Wear reflective running gear if you’ll be out in the dark (like this vest)
Always run on the left side of the road toward traffic (so you can see oncoming cars)

Why is harder to run in the winter? Most people that run agree that its also more physiologically taxing during the winter months.

Colder temperatures cause your muscles to contract less forcefully, making them less efficient. Even if you’re warmed up and wearing proper gear, you still won’t be able to run as fast as you can in ideal conditions.

You also produce more lactate (better known as lactic acid) in the cold. A practical application of this phenomenon is that your tempo pace (and all race paces) will slow in cold weather. Don’t fight it – it’s normal.

You have to remember that while running in the winter is entirely possible, after all there are a lot of us that do this every season. You need to adjust your expectations (just like with summer running)

If you’re racing a 5k when it’s 50 degrees, you’re probably going to perform a helluva lot better than either 90 or 10 degrees. Our biology limits us and we must take that into consideration.

Other issues include:
Thinner athletes are more susceptible to lower body and muscle temperatures (why I’m always cold in the winter!)
Colder, drier air can contribute to breathing problems or asthma
You rely more on carbohydrates for fuel than fat, making long runs or winter marathons more challenging
Even though winter running presents a host of new challenges, it’s a necessary exercise regimen in order for you to achieve your race goals in the spring.

Staying disciplined in the dreary months of winter will help you crush any spring races on your calendar.

Go on, have an invigorating winter run!