Run the winter warm

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Janice Beers is getting ready for her 12th marathon. And for the first time she’ll do the bulk of her training while there’s still snow on the ground.

“It’ll be in February,” she said. “And I’m a little freaked out about running through the winter.”

Fortunately the event itself will be in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, the National Marathon To Finish Breast Cancer. Running for such a worthy cause Beers will likely enjoy a comfy 70 degrees or more on race day. But in the months leading up to her day in the sun, this Wisconsin resident, 44, is more than a little apprehensive about running in sub-freezing temperatures on the icy streets of Madison.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Beers says. “I love the falling snow and all that. I just don’t know what to expect putting in all those miles when it’ll be so cold out.”

During an average winter in Wisconsin temperatures will settle to 20 degrees or less well through the month of March and into April. Add to that few hours of daylight from dawn ‘til dusk and five to six months of winter training outdoors could be very difficult.

“It’ll be hard to find the motivation just to get out of bed ‘cause it’ll be dark,” Beers says, “When it’s nasty out I won’t have that push I’d have in the spring and summer when the weather’s nice.”

If you’re going to maintain the training base you built up when the days were long and warm, winter running is an inevitable part of the Madison active lifestyle. And if you can’t stand the thought of running indoors on a treadmill don’t worry. With the right combination of technical clothing and some knowledgeable advice you’ve got more than a few options when it comes to outside workouts. Even during the coldest months of the year you can run the winter warm.

“It’s never as cold as you think it is,” says Jessica Anderson, co-owner of Fleet Feet Sports, 8440 Old Sauk Road. “I suggest that people dress for weather 20 degrees warmer than they expect to run in.”

You might be a bit chilled with you first start out, but motion is a big part of staying warm in winter. Once you get moving, start your heart pumping and your blood circulating you’re going heat up. “In fact you might get too warm,” Anderson says. “It might take 10 to 15 minutes, but you’re going to start to sweat and that’s when you’re clothing is most important.”

Retain Heat

Cold from the outside isn’t the only thing you have to worry about. Of course you want to wear clothing that is warm and retrains the heat your body generates naturally. A hat and a pair of gloves are must. Cover up your ears, neck, wrists, and ankles. Those vital pulse points where your blood courses close to the surface need to stay warm to maintain your over all body comfort. But you don’t want too many layers of heavy garments that are bulky and may limit your freedom of movement. There’s a delicate balance between being over-dressed and dressing just right.

Transfer moisture

“A compression layer close to your skin is the best place to start,” Anderson says,“ something that’s form-fitting that will wick moisture.”

No matter how cool it is outside you’re going to sweat. It’s a good idea to select items that will draw perspiration away from your skin and dry quickly so you don’t become chilled. Look for full-length light to mid weight wool or polyester compression tops and bottoms. These base-layers provide a bit of insulation that will keep you warm while transferring moisture.

Resist the wind

If you’re prone to perspire in warm weather, you’ll likely sweat just as much in the cold. Even when the air itself is still, as you pass through it while running, you’ll probably experience some degree of wind-chill. Kierstin Kloeckner is the head trainer at Harbor Athletic Club in Middleton. Several of her clients are working-out through the winter and she suggests they wear layers that resist the wind. “I tell people to put something windproof on over whatever they’re wearing to stay warm,” Kloeckner says. “A light (nylon) vest or a windbreaker works great to keep you from getting too cold. Plus you can take that layer off if you get too warm.”

Warm-up first

When it’s cold outside, it’s hard to imagine that you can ever be too warm. But winter running is a constant exercise in managing your body temperature relative to the weather around you. Before every run it helps to loosen up your muscles and warm-up a little before you head outside.

“Your muscles are like rubber bands,” Kloeckner says. “Put a rubber band in the freezer and see how easily it’ll break.”

Frances Jennings is a local athlete who runs year-round.  She says her winter runs start with a little work in advance. “I would warm up indoors on a treadmill for 10-15 minutes, or I have run outside for 15 minute and gone back inside to re-warm,” Jennings says. “Then I’ve been able to complete a run of 1 to 1.5 hours outdoors in subzero temperatures.”

Shed some light

It goes without saying that running in the winter can be more than a little uncomfortable. Sometimes it can be downright dangerous. “There can be those mornings when it’s just not safe to run outside,” says Jessica Anderson at Fleet Feet. “When it’s really cold and dark out cars aren’t looking out for you.”

The weather in winter isn’t the primary hazard to beware of. Small portable lights to make it easier to see and for oncoming traffic to see you. Colored strobe blinkers, a reflective vest or clothes with light reflecting panels will make much more visible.

“You have to be really careful. Sometimes you’re better off skipping your run that day,” Anderson says.  “It’s important to be safe”

On particularly snowy days when visibility is at its worst are good days to opt for a gym workout. “Running on a treadmill a day or two a week, might not be such a bad idea,” Kloeckner says. “And cross training with spinning or swimming or maybe weights can actually help balance out your running.”

During the coldest months of the year what really matters is staying active. And if you’re dedicated enough to run through the winter athletes like Darren Fortney believe that there is a competitive advantage when spring finally comes around. “Especially in those warm weather races I think there is a kind of sunshine effect,” Fortney says. “After all those days running in the dark and the cold you’ll get a real boost when that sun hits you.”

If you haven’t yet don’t forget to sign up for the Jingle Bells Run/Walk 10K/5K

Vilas Park Shelter, Madison, WI

Saturday, December 12, 2009 10:30AM

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Author:James

I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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