Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tips for Running in the Cold

One of things that surprises me most as a runner is how often people are impressed that I run outside in the winter. (My evil secret is I loathe treadmills and indoor tracks with every fiber of my being.) But I truly do love winter running!

And those of us running Myrtle Beach don't even have until spring!
After a few conversations with coworkers on this topic, I've realized a lot of people just don't know how to run in cold weather. It seems like people think I'm hardcore because they assume I'm cold the whole time when I'm out running. This couldn't be further from the truth. If winter long runs meant being cold for three hours, I wouldn't be doing them. (If they meant being cold for 10 minutes, I wouldn't do them then either, let's be real.)

I've figured out what works best for me through a lot of trial and error (and willingness to look like a dork). I thought I'd share some tricks of the trade I've picked up over the last couple years. Hopefully at least one of these will be new to you.

1. De-wax your ears.

Let's start with the grossest first! Before I started getting allergy shots, I usually saw the doctor two to four times a year for sinus infections. These infections gave me some level of ear discomfort, so I always asked the doctor to check to see if I had a separate ear infection. (I was so miserable I couldn't tell.) Finally, one doctor told me she couldn't actually tell because I had too much earwax in the way, and she recommended drops to reduce the wax.

This sounded like the weirdest thing I'd ever heard, but I was concerned that my ears were so clogged no one could actually examine them properly, so I popped into CVS and picked some up. Be warned - the drops release oxygen when they come in contact with earwax, so, if you have a lot like me, it will sound like you set off bombs inside your eardrums.

I noticed the benefits right away. I had always had problems with excruciating pain in my inner ears if I exerted myself outside in the cold (even if it was an easy effort and I was wearing a hat). I never put two and two together, but clearing my ears out has completely taken this pain away. I'm not sure if this is a common problem, but I know I never thought to ask for a solution, so I'd say give this a try if your ears are aching. (Bonus - this removed the post-swim vertigo I used to get on a regular basis, too.)

2. Know when to dress in layers.

Dressing in layers is probably the most obvious cold weather tip there is. However, I found it much more helpful to know when to put on an extra layer. For example, if it feels like it's below 15 degrees and dark out, I wear a loose pair of sweat pants on top of my tights. If there are high winds (determined by feel or if they're strong enough to be included in the weather report), I wear my balaclava. Pretty simple, but these rules of thumb cut down on the time I spent contemplating my wardrobe.

And speaking of balaclavas....

3. A running balaclava is your best friend.

I feel like the biggest dork ever in this thing, but it is seriously a lifesaver when there are brutal winds or even just very cold temps. There are tons of balaclava choices, but make sure to get one designed for running. Mine has a nose slit and lots of holes over the mouth. (The nose slit is also easy to grab if I want to expose my face but my gloves have swallowed my fine motor skills.) Neither of these let in a significant amount of cold air but let me breathe normally. It also has a neck gaiter, so I tuck it into the neck of my Underamour. This means when it's freezing out, the only thing left exposed are my eyes. Totally worth feeling like a dweeb.

4. Base layers are also your best friend.

Again, this is an obvious tip - but I want to touch on two base layers I think a lot of people miss: gloves and leggings. I have pair of Smartwool liner gloves that I wear under heavier gloves when it's really cold out. (When it's not quite as cold, I wear the liner gloves on their own.) I'm more prone to cold fingers because I have Raynaud's, and having that extra layer really makes a difference. Plus the liner gloves work are touch-screen sensitive, so I can adjust my iPod without having to expose my hands.

I also have a pair of wool leggings that fit under my tights. While my legs don't get too cold when I'm running (they're busy working, after all), having a snuggly layer against my skin helps, even if only psychologically.

5. Gaiters have multiple uses.

My final tip is to get a pair of gaiters. I'll be the first to admit they are a giant pain in the butt to put on (and getting them on right so that they stay in place is key), but they can keep a run from turning miserable fast. I usually wear them when there's slush on the ground, to keep any from splashing onto my legs or into my shoes. (I don't typically wear them when there's only snow, since it doesn't melt on me until I get back inside.) But my other secret is wearing them when it's extra cold out, to cover that final bit of skin between the bottom of my tights and my socks.

And yes, I do photograph almost everything on my bed.
None of these tips are exactly earth-shattering, but I wanted to collect them all in one place. Just don't let my coworkers know...I like that they think I'm superhuman when my apartment is actually set at 80 degrees.

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