Tips for Winter Running: Inspired by Oslo!

It is always a bit of a shock when that first cold snap of winter comes and suddenly you realize your regular running gear no longer cuts it. Some people get super excited about the first snowfall and the prospect of a long, chilly

winter…. I just go into a full-body shudder.  At the best of times, I can barely stand it when the temperature drops below 10 degrees. However, after a very pleasant month spent in the balmy South of France, the sub-zero temperatures of Oslo were a bit of a shock to the senses. I had planned on unwinding after the course each day with a good run, but the cold combined with the 3:30 pm sunsets caused a few logistical challenges! No, winter running isn’t impossible, but it does require a bit more preparation. Given that a vast majority of readers will be heading into winter at the moment, I thought I would go over some helpful tips for winter running… and running in the snow!

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But before I get to that, perhaps I’ll indulge in sharing a bit about why I was in Oslo in the first place.  I finished my French exam last Friday and said goodbye, reluctantly, to the friends I had made (I’m talking about you, Leah, and our favourite chef in Eze of course!) and my wonderful teachers (including a French ultrarunner, what luck! Allez allez allez, Bruno! Nous nous retrouverons! Entraînez-vous bien! 🙂 ). As sad as I was to leave, I was ridiculously excited about heading to Oslo for a renowned humanitarian protection course.

Having been away from the field for a few months now, I was really looking forward to reconnecting with my ‘global’ humanitarian colleagues… and for good reason. In the midst of our long, intense days of group work, brainstorming, simulations, role-playing, and critique, I was struck by the dedication, warmth, passion and compassion of these individuals. There are some people who you just know from the get-go have their heart in the right place, and my goodness, there were 20 of them all in the same room. It is easy to criticize the UN and the failures of the humanitarian world, but let me tell you, if I ever found myself in the midst of a crisis, these are the people I would want there to either help me or work alongside me. I often facetiously refer to ‘human rights superheros’, but I really think I met some this week.

DSCF2552There was Ghada from Yemen, mother of two, whose soft smile and laugh could ease tensions even at the worst moment. And then Sara, from Italy, working for the UN in Panama, whose passionate Italian flare came out in her beautiful singing and persuasive advocacy. Simon from Lebanon, Tiem who travelled from DRC, and Jacob from the US, whose photographs from Myanmar and South Sudan could stop even a New Yorker dead in his tracks. Spaniard Alfonso, working in Juba, who wore every item of clothing he had in his suitcase for our trip to the city centre (Oslo is a tad colder than South Sudan!). And then there was me, smiling from the inside out, feeling like I was meeting my long-forgotten relatives at a family reunion.

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Watching these guys use their advocacy, quiet diplomacy, and compassion to work through some tough emotional and ethical issues throughout the training was like a continuous slap in the face – in a good way. Obviously, as I’ve been going through this period of transition in my life, I’ve been trying to reconnect with what I really want to be getting out of life and what I should be doing. Should I be heading back into the field? Should I try to live a ‘normal’ life in a headquarters position for a while? Is it time to settle down? I think I tried to convince myself for a while that conventional was okay for me… I had good reasons at the time, of course. But life has a way of sorting you out sometimes when you lose track of yourself. I got a fairly good reminder this week of where my heart belongs and what I need to be doing. Now it is just a matter of making it happen.

Negotiating with a rebel fighter on the issue of child recruitment! (Okay role-playing...)

Negotiating with a rebel fighter on the issue of child recruitment! (Okay role-playing…)

So, back to running. As inspiring as the days were in Oslo, they were simply exhausting. Remembering some of the experiences I had in Afghanistan and hearing about the experiences of others really started to hit me in the stomach, and I was seriously in need of unwinding at the end of the day. Having packed my bag full of sundresses for the south of France, I was perhaps ill-equipped to deal with Oslo on the brink of winter, but I made it work.

Here are some tips for dressing for winter, as well as some suggestions on how to run in the snow!  Feel free to add your own in the comment section below.

Tips for Running in Winter… and in the Snow!

1. What to Wear

Footwear

In the cold and sometimes wet weather, it is really important to have the right footwear or you might find yourself cutting your run short due to frozen toes or painful falls on the ice!  The type of shoe that you wear really depends on how much snow there is on the ground.  If there is minimal snow, I might go with some goretex shoes, which can help to keep your feet dry (and warm!) on those really chilly days. A good pair of ankle gaiters, such as these ones from Inov-8, can also help keep those pesky snow chunks from falling into your shoes and melting everywhere.  However, if there is a good layering of snow, particularly if it reaches your ankle, goretex is not a good choice! They will only serve to trap in melted snow and ice, and keep your feet wet for the entire duration of the run.  In that case, I would go with some regular, breathable trail shoes and some warm smartwool socks.  I like the lightweight compression ones that are designed for skiing, seen here.

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If it is really icy and slippery, you may want to consider some kind of traction device, such as Yaktrax.  I’ve tried them before and they definitely help keep you upright. However, a word of caution – Yaktrax, and other traction devices, work by adding coils of metal underneath your shoe, which can change the position of your foot as it hits the ground. For short runs, you should be able to get away with it. However, if you don’t test them out slowly at first, you may be setting yourself up for injury! A couple of winters ago I used the Yaktrax for a couple two-hour runs and within days I was already starting to experience some knee pain. It is true, they work, but I would definitely use them as a last resort.

Clothes

For winter running, we all know that layering your clothes is key, but there are a few tricks of the trade that may help you out. One problem that I’ve always had is figuring out how warmly I should dress. Inevitably, I wind up dressing like the Michelin Man, only to find myself stripping down less than five minutes after I’ve started my run. One piece of advice that has helped me is to dress as if I were just standing or walking around in weather that’s 5-7 degrees warmer (Celsius) than the current temperature.  That seems to help estimate what you will feel like running in cooler temperatures and may help to avoid the stripping Michelin Man phenomenon!

IMG_3990We can’t always get it right though, which is where the layering comes in. Generally, you want to layer with clothes that wick away sweat and are breathable. Unless it is raining outside, I avoid wearing goretex shells or other fairly non-breathable materials because you will just sweat and get cold!  A long-sleeved shirt with a vest to keep your body core will work really well in cool temperatures, while a couple of long-sleeved layers are necessary for colder temperatures.  Sometimes, I find it is helpful to bring a very light windbreaker  to help cut the breeze – less breathable than a regular shirt, but much more breathable than a heavier shell. If you have a warm t-shirt that you want to use, put it on last, rather than first. That way you can peel it off quickly if you need to and your arms will still be protected by the long-sleeved layer underneath!

One of my favourite layering systems is Patagonia’s Capilene system. I have a number of their shirts and used them during UTMB. They didn’t let me down! The silkweight shirt in particular really helps avoid any potential chafing issues.

Finally, wearing something warm around your neck or on your head can drastically avoid heat loss. If you don’t want to go with a full hat (or toque for you Canadians out there), a warm headband can help keep your ears from falling off. Mitts are warmer than gloves because it keeps your fingers together, but not always practical. One good option is to buy a versatile glove/mitt combination, which allows you to keep warm and also use your iPhone or other smartphone device mid-run!  For a more detailed review of running glove/mitt options, check out this article on irunfar.com (it is out of date, but it will give you a good idea of brands and what to look for).

2. What to Bring

When it comes to winter running, I think it is always best to be over-prepared!  If you get lost, injured or tired, you can get really cold, really quickly. For that reason, I always make sure to bring a $20 bill, a credit card, and a phone with me in case I get in trouble.

Also, even for short runs, it doesn’t hurt to bring a pack with you. This will allow you to stuff in an extra shirt (just in case) and maybe some gloves or a hat. Again, if you get wet/cold and you need to slow down, you’ll want to change out of your gear really quickly. It also avoids having to tie shirts around your waist if you start to strip down!

As for hydration, try to find a pack that has an insulated hose. If you can’t, just make sure you continually sip your water every couple of minutes or so to keep the water flowing. There is nothing worse than getting dehydrated and finding out that your water is frozen in your pack!  You can also wear your hydration pack underneath your jacket or outer layer to keep it close to your body heat.

3. How to Run in Snow

Running in the snow or on the ice requires a slight refinement in technique. Generally speaking, you will want to take shorter, lighter strides or you will be slipping and sliding all over the place. If you concentrate on engaging your core as you run, this should give you the stability you need to tackle the icy patches. You will find that you are working different muscle groups and areas of your legs and hips when you run in the snow, so make sure not to overdo it the first time!

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Happy running everyone and stay safe. I’m in New York for the next week and a half or so, catching up with people and preparing for an interview or two (wish me luck!). One added benefit of the Norway trip is that it also got me really excited about Christmas… which is an awesome feeling. I missed out on a full Christmas with my family last year, so it feels like it has been a really long time since we’ve all celebrated properly together. Looking forward to sitting in front of wood-burning fires at the cottage, sipping rum-filled egg nog with Mom, running over crunchy snow with Dad, and lots of laughing with my siblings. But in the meantime, I will concentrate on all that this wonderful city of New York has to offer….

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Until next time!

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12 Comments »

  1. The snowflakes cascading down the page are exquisite – even if I am a palm tree kind of guy. (the very reason I moved from northern France back to a ranch in Texas with plenty of sunshine) but you recieve a round of applause for such a clever addition. It bought additional life to your story. Good work.

    • Ha, thanks Ken! I think the snow actually shows up automatically every Dec 1… I have checked the box named “surprise me” in the settings on my blog… I keep waiting for something radical 🙂

  2. Great post & happy holidays! Good luck with your interviews. I wanted to mention that I love Katoolah microspikes for snow running. They’re so easy to get on and off, so if you’re running in the snow but then hit a patch of clear pavement where you don’t need them, they’re easy to pull off and carry until you need them again. I did a post on them a while back if your readers are interested, http://www.therunnerstrip.com/2011/01/my-new-favorite-way-to-run-in-snow/

  3. Hey! Thanks for this post. Can you get away with road or trail shoes in Oslo itself? Are there any routes that are kept well swept and salted that are safe to run in? I’m a winter novice from Australia trying to figure out which shoes to pack!

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