Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Fri, 19 Jan 2001 09:09:15 -0500

Out in the Cold


My subscribers from Alaska and Finland haven't checked in with advice winter running, but readers from other cold and dark places have commented. They're intimately acquainted with the subject, so I turn this column over to them.

JOHN McGEE from Alberta: The climate of northern Alberta leaves our running fraternity with only several choices: run outdoors, run in a gym or club, or spend the winter in a warmer climate. My choice of spending the winter in Mexico or Hawaii would obviously be the least practical. I really do not enjoy running indoors on a track (too crowded and smelly) or on a treadmill (I can't figure out all of the controls), and except on the very coldest and windiest days I run out of doors.

My rule of thumb is to run outside at any temperature (I have run at minus-40) except when there is a wind, and then I will run outside only to minus-20. Most of my running is through built-up areas in order to give me access to warm houses if I encounter problems that would leave me walking or standing in the cold.

Here in Edmonton it is dark until 8:30 A.M. and dusk is around 4:30 P.M., so I often run in darkness. I take lots of precautions in order to ensure I can be seen by motorists -- such as luminous strips on clothing and usually a construction vest. On many evenings I will wear my trusty headlamp, which both makes me easier to see and lets me see better.

I put six small hex-head sheet metal screws in the sole of each shoe. They provide me with great traction on both snow and ice, and entertain the neighborhood with their sound and sparks.

CATHY TROISI from upstate New York: If ice is visible, the run is do-able. It's the "black ice" that's the problem, especially being out before sunrise.

I have fallen a couple of times while running in winter (one slight concussion, the other times were just butt bruises). But Stairmaster is not in my vocabulary. I still need to go outside daily.

RICHARD WATSON from Missouri: When I run here with the temperature well below freezing, I put a very heavy wool mitten in a strategic place in my shorts, and that does the trick. Not that (God forbid) at my age I want to be a father.

MICHAEL MUSCA from Maine: Clothing technology has made outdoor activity almost pleasurable. For instance, I ran in eight-degree windy temp this morning in relative comfort.

Two other nut cases chose to run with me at five A.M., knowing full well the conditions. These folks are a hearty bunch. Perhaps that's the reason our marathon champs have reigned from Maine, Minnesota, Alaska and Wisconsin.

BOB ABBOTT from Minnesota: As a native Minnesotan who spent 13 years in Dallas, I feel I can speak from both sides. Given a choice between running in the heat and humidity of a Dallas summer or the ice and cold of a Minnesota winter, I would take the winter anytime. I've run on the coldest of cold days here and never been as uncomfortable as I remember being on a hot, hot Texas day.

When the paths are icy and snow-packed, it does force you to slow down somewhat, but that can be good too. It's off season here, and few of us are training hard for races, so backing off the pace during the winter months gives the body time to recuperate.

Many runners here cross-train during the winter months, running on snowshoes. Others cross-country ski for a total body workout. Anyone who hibernates misses getting out in the winter wonderland and enjoying what the season has to offer.

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