Tips for Running Minimally in the Winter
As I slam the snooze button on my alarm clock for the third time, I pull the covers up around my chin to shield myself from the chilly air. The morning light is barely slipping through the cracks in the blinds, and all I want to do is bury my face deeper into the pillow.
Lord Stark was right, winter is coming, and it’s getting here fast. Instead of getting up and putting on my running gear, I’d rather hibernate until spring. In the Willamette Valley here in Oregon, it’s probably more accurate to say whenever I see the sun again, so, hopefully by next June.
Though, as is always the case with running, I know I’ll feel better about it once I’m out there actually doing it. I know runners can relate to that feeling. The changing of seasons shouldn’t stop you from chasing that post-run high, and there are ways you can actually enjoy it, even if you’re into minimalist footwear like me. So, if you find yourself stuck around this time, fear not, here are some useful tips for turning your offseason back on.
Get the Gear
One of my favorite things about running is that it’s accessible to almost anyone; all it really takes is proper motivation. So, I hate recommending a bunch of things to my fellow athletes, especially as one who takes a minimalist approach to training. However, there are few items that will go a long way in your ability to keep running all year.
First, a decent rain shell.
A rain shell is essentially just a waterproof jacket, but made specifically for an athletic purpose. This means it will be lightweight, have vents in places that heat up quickly, and have a couple of waterproof pockets to keep small things dry. And most importantly, a hood.
Part of the danger of running in the winter isn’t the cold, it’s the combination of wet weather and the cold. If you keep yourself dry, especially on your head, the cold is much more bearable. My rain shell has pretty much become a must for me when it comes to training during the winter.
Second, a warm pair of athletic tights.
Some runners stick to shorts all year, no matter what. That’s definitely not me; I need to be at least somewhat warm when I start or I probably won’t get much further than the front porch. Once I found a warm, comfortable pair of winter tights, it was an ultimate game changer.
Depending on your level of activity or what you’re training for, the list of running tights is extensive. For example, some tights compress as well as keep your legs warm so that you can keep pushing even into the longer distances. But for those who simply want to get warm, you can find a fairly basic pair of tights that will absolutely do the job without putting a huge dent in your paycheck.
Third, let’s talk socks.
As a minimalist, this piece of gear is actually pretty important as the right sock at the right time can make a huge difference. When you run, the blood that typically pumps to your extremities is being used elsewhere on the body, like your leg and core muscles, which means your body needs some help when it comes temperature regulation, especially in the winter.
Personally, my go-to sock, whether I’m wearing my trusty Softstar Dash RunAmoc’s or my sandals, is a sport sock with individual toes. Sure, they look funny, but they also serve a purpose: Not only do they keep my toes from getting scrunched together like in regular socks, but they also allow my feet and toes to keep their normal shape, as well as their normal range of mobility, which is incredibly important to me as a runner. The healthier your feet are, the stronger an athlete you are. Plus, if any huarache runners are reading this, they work perfectly with a sandal.
Whether you’re running on the roads or on the trails, traction is a huge factor while winter running. No matter your preferred running surface, everything in the winter is going to be slick, muddy, icy, and dangerous. For the minimalist, this also poses risks. As soon as you upgrade your soles to a more traction-based style, the heavier and thicker they become; it’s all about finding that ideal middle ground for you.
If you’re doing most of your miles in the city, you don’t need as much traction as you would on the trail, but you’ll still need some. Did you know black ice isn’t actually black? It’s clear, and you’ll learn that the hard way unless your shoes have some tread. If you’re a trail runner through and through, I suggest tread that has teeth, almost like a spike, so you can grip without having to sacrifice speed or form.
Once you’ve determined the level of grip you need, you can either find a company that makes a shoe with the perfect amount of traction, or you can always order individual soles and put them on your favorite pair of runners yourself. I’ve tried both methods, and they both have positives and negatives. It’s nice to find the perfect sole regardless of the shoe, but it’s also nice to know that the sole on my shoe was adhered professionally, and designed to be used with that particular shoe.
If you live at higher elevations, it might be worth looking into crampons, which will simply fasten around your regular shoe and offer a ton of grip on snow and ice. Depending on how minimal you like to go with your shoes, plan on feeling some different foot-to-ground sensations going with this strategy.
Remember to Warm Up
This may seem like an obvious tip in a blog post about winter running, but seriously, warm up before you start really getting into your work out. The body has to work much harder to heat up this time of the year, and you run the risk of getting injured if you don’t take the time to get loose before speeding up. Take your first few miles a little slower than you normally would, so that your legs don’t go from cold and stiff to training mode at the flip of a switch. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Whether you run in traditional or minimalist shoes, this is a must, but it’s especially true for minimalist runners. We rely on our soft tissue to drive our movements, like all those tendons in our ankles and knees, and they need some extra love in the winter before you put them to work. As a runner, the goal is longevity, so the time you take to warm up today, helps you work out tomorrow.
My favorite part about winter running is that it takes me back to my childhood. I can remember eagerly waking up early (barely), watching the school cancellations flash across the morning news, throwing on my snow pants as quickly as possible, and romping around the neighborhood with my friends in the midst of a winter wonderland. Go get your running crew together, throw on a couple extra layers, and have some fun! Hint: snowballs are excellent running motivators. You know, in case someone in your crew starts slacking.