My bat wings and witch hat are tucked away in an orange Tupperware, which only means one thing: the sun has forsaken us.
Winter running can be a frolic through wonderland, but it can also be quite a bummer. If it doesn't stop you completely in your tracks for three months, it will probably angle your eyebrows downward as you curse the angle of the earth.
Seasonal Anxiety and Depression
During the winter you miss out on a lot of the vitamin D you're used to during sunnier months. Your circadian rhythms and resultant melatonin productions are also thrown off by less light during the day, and longer nights.
And let's face it: even if we're not clinically diagnosed with anxiety or depression (though some are), most of us just feel a bit grey when the sun's gone by 4:00 pm.
Winter funk is not just mental or emotional, it's biological, and it can therefore be countered biologically.
The first thing you ought to do this winter is prioritize foods rich in vitamin D. If I'm right, though, even that won't cut it when you live in a less-than-sunny winter spot.
Foods high in vitamin D like 3.5 oz of salmon can get you 500 IU's (international units) of vitamin D when cooked properly. For reference, however, you'll get about 20,000 IU's during a good summer day from good old sunlight.
If you're inside most the day during the winter, and live in an otherwise sun-forsaken place, you'll want to supplement with a vitamin D pill. I can't say I've been consistent enough myself to recommend a certain brand, so do your research. Lot of no-good sugar pills out there.
Because Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can result from longer nights and shorter, darker days messing with your circadian rhythm and melatonin production, you may also want to start 'light boxing.' This is a great, non-pharmaceutical way to manipulate your circadian rhythms into believing you're getting more sunlight. Here's a great Wirecutter article with a video at the bottom explaining more.
Why Running Helps
In countries where doctors don't prescribe 10 medications before even looking at you twice (you can surmise how I feel about that) such as Australia and the Netherlands, one of the first guidelines to treat depression is exercise. If you run, you probably don't need a scientific explanation of why that's the case.
You'll get happier from endorphins, certainly, but that's not all there is to it. More recent research is currently looking into how the actual structure of the brain is altered by consistent running and other exercise.
For all you runners who have never seen snow, may God bless you even further. For the rest of us: don't let winter beat you this year.
Here's what you'll need to do:
Wear the Right Gear
I've broken it down by degree for you.
60+ degrees: Naked, or tank top/shorts
50–59 degrees: short-sleeve shirt /shorts
40–49 degrees: long-sleeve shirt, shorts or leggings, maybe gloves, maybe headband
30–39 degrees: long-sleeve shirt, shorts or leggings, gloves, headband
20–29 degrees: long-sleeve shirt + jacket, leggings, mittens or socks, beanie or headband
10–19 degrees: long-sleeve shirt + jacket, spandex shorts + leggings, mittens, beanie, windbreaker, thicker (wool) socks (for feet, not hands)
9 degrees & below: God’s blessings, long-sleeve shirt + jacket, spandex shorts + leggings, ski mittens, thicker beanie, windbreaker, thicker (wool) socks (for feet, not hands) ski mask to cover face, hot tub at finish
Above I clarify "for feet not hands" because I sometimes skip gloves, and wear socks which allow my fingers to ball together, and keep them much warmer. This is when I can't find my #$%^&* mittens.
In the snow, you'll also want to consider investing in some trail shoes, even if you typically run on the street. The grip tread may save your life, but it will always make your run less irritating when you're not slipping with every step. I use Asics Trabuco 10 and Trabuco Max which both grip extremely well, and feel good.
Winter running is not as tricky as it sounds, or as terrible as it seems (most the time), but it does take some planning. I actually find that I can run a bit faster in colder temps because my body is under less heat stress.
Look at it like a vacation from oppressive heat. By the time you warm up only a few minutes in, it's usually pretty good so long as you're dressed well.
The rule of thumb before heading out is to pretend it's 10-20 degrees warmer outside before getting dressed to compensate for your body temp. Make sure to factor in wind chill.
On really bad days, and if you hate the treadmill as much as I do, find a local indoor track. Many of them will be open, and not too crowded if you go at the right time of the day.
The difference between running out the door, and warming up beforehand is night and day, or shall we say... winter and summer.
I notice a LOT more aches and pains in my joints when I haven't warmed up a bit. That translates to roughly 1-2 mins slower per mile for easy runs. Big difference.
Stretching is up to you as far as I'm concerned, but warming up in the winter before running is a must.
Just a few sets of some simple, core activation exercises along with some mountain climber jumps or squats will do the trick.
You’ll be surprised how quickly your body tells you to take off the third jacket you thought you needed.
Either tie extra layers to your body somehow, or if you’re like me and hate to carry anything extra, find a sneaky spot to pick it up on the way back. I emphasize sneaky. I once had to pull my $150 jacket out of the park’s garbage can.
You’ll also be surprised how quickly your body demands a hot shower once you’ve stopped moving. If you don’t have access to a shower, you’ll really want that third jacket, so to level up, layer up.
Pad the Extremities
10 minutes in, your core will be alright, even in 15-degree weather. Your ears and fingers will not.
For ears, go beanie or headband. Hoods don’t work as well as you’d think when the blowing wind turns your head into an ice parachute canopy.
For fingers try gloves, but they actually make my hands colder because they keep my fingers from huddling up. Mittens work much better, but if you’ve recently moved and can’t find your &*^#@ mittens, ball your hands together inside the gloves, or use socks. I can personally vouch for socks.
If you're wearing shorts and your knees get a bit achy like mine here's a...
PRO TIP: rub a bit of Vaseline over the usually-achy joints. It keeps in the heat a bit, and blocks wind without reducing mobility.
Put your lotion on before the run if your skin gets itchy due to dryness like mine does.
Face the Wind
If you can, plan to run into the wind on your way out, and use the wind to bring you back. Running into the wind at the end of any run is bleh, but especially if you’re sweaty, and the wind has ice in it.
The Icy Conclusion
Run during the winter if you can. Even a couple times a week will do so much for your mental state during the dreariest parts of the year. Here's the Mayo Clinic's opinion on it in case you're a nerd.
Whatever you end up choosing to do, in 3-5 months you'll be...
A) grateful you took a wonderful break from running
B) cursing the cold day that broke your running streak, and made these Spring miles feel so much harder
C) miles ahead of your competition who is still thawing out
See you out there on the ice rinks we call roads. 🥶