Get outside already!

So Michigan apparently is going to get pummeled this winter with wet, heavy snow. So says the Farmers’ Almanac: For the winter of 2011–12, the Farmers’ Almanac is forecasting “clime and punishment,” a season of unusually cold and stormy weather … A very active storm track will bring much heavier-than-normal precipitation from the Southern Plains through Tennessee into Ohio, the Great Lakes, and the Northeast.

I think we got our first taste of it today, when a couple of inches fell overnight and then still more came down throughout the morning. I broke out the YakTrax, and I’m glad I did given that what had fallen definitely was sticking to the roads. Thankfully I’d spent part of last weekend pulling out winter running clothing and gear, so I was pretty prepared this morning (though am left wanting a new running wardrobe…<sigh>). Having run so much last winter while training for my first marathon, I feel like I’ve got frigid-weather running down to a science.

C’mon, you’re running outside this winter, too, right? I’m guessing so. Or you’re at least contemplating it. Yes, you’ll be asked by well-intentioned friends and strangers, “Really? You’re going to run in the snow and ice? Are you nuts?” To which you may answer, “Why, yes, yes I am!” This is a good kind of crazy, I say.

So if you are planning to keep running outdoors throughout the next several months – and I highly recommend you do, it can pretty amazing, I promise – here are a few things I’ve learned along the way  that have definitely helped:

You don’t need a ton of clothing, but key pieces will make all the difference. My wardrobe staples, all of which consist of wicking material: two pairs of running pants (I pre fer running tights, though I found a pair of Saucony yoga-style pants that work well, too); two form-fitting long-sleeved shirts to wear as your base layer (I really, really like my black and white UnderArmours); two-three fleece hoodies; wind-resistant jacket (to wear as top layer, sometimes over a hoodie if it’s cold and windy, or over a base layer if it’s not too  terribly cold); heavier running jacket (for those below-zero days); good socks (I love Smartwool or Wright socks); gloves and hat (I’m thinking this year I’ll finally get one of those hats with ponytail holes in them) — and sunglasses for those bright sun-reflecting-off-the-snowbanks days. A good rule of thumb: dress for 15 to 20 degrees warmer to avoid overheating and excessive sweating. You should feel cool to start; it won’t take long too long to start feeling warm.

Be safe. Definitely get yourself a pair of YakTrax or other traction devices to ensure stability while running on snowy roads and paths. I like the coil-bottomed YakTrax rather than the spikes, but everyone is different. See what works best for you. I also try to keep an eye out for snow-covered dips, cracks and holes in the road as I run. Shortening your running stride and keeping your feet lower to the ground will help you run more efficiently and reduce the risk of slipping or straining muscles. And if you start out on a run and the roads feel too icy for comfort — even with extra traction — head back home. It’s just not worth it.

Plan for a FUN race. Whether  you’re running throughout winter to train for a spring race, or you’re simply out there to enjoy the elements doing something you love, consider signing up for a “fun” run sometime during the cold, dreary months of January, February and March. Last year I ran the Frozen Foot Race here in Traverse City, a 5-mile race at the base of Old Mission Peninsula. It was snowy and cold, and tons of fun. It’s not like you can run your fastest in these kinds of conditions, so there’s no pressure to go all out. It’s just you and your other crazy winter running friends waking up early to run in nutty weather conditions. What’s not to love about that? Oh, and afterward be sure to treat yourself to a delicious breakfast out with your friends. Other race options: St. Patrick’s Day runs, which typically include a beer at the finish. No brainer, right?

Give yourself incentives. It might be indulging in a steaming-hot vanilla latte post-run (yep, my guilty pleasure), or treating yourself to a new piece of running clothing (or something else you’ve been coveting) after completing X-number of miles for a couple of weeks in a row. Or maybe a massage. Whatever the reward, just make sure you give yourself one. It’s not easy prying yourself out of a warm, cozy bed to go for a run. We all know it’s worth it and ultimately feels great, but getting from Point A — your bed — to Point B — the road — ain’t always easy, especially when it’s darker than dark outside and no one would really know if you missed a workout, right? Give yourself something to look forward to, and your routine just might not feel so, well, routine.

Cross-train. I’m not sure if it’ll happen, but I’ve been thinking of trying to incorporate some swimming and spinning into my exercise regimen this winter. I figure these activities will be great ways to strengthen my body, and I’d also like to think they’d help me get in better shape for summer triathlons. The trick, of course, will be to figure out how to fit these into an already full schedule. But like anything in life, if you want it bad enough, you’ll make room for it.  I do think it would help keep things interesting throughout my Boston Marathon training, and what a great feeling to work hard at two somewhat foreign-to-me sports–could be fun to see how my body takes to this extra training.

What have I forgotten? What keeps you motivated to run all winter long?

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