Running in the cold.


Baby, it's cold outside.

We have reached that disturbing part of the year when the holidays have ended, but the winter has just begun. Here in New England, a combination of frigid temperatures and three significant mini storms have left the ground covered in either ice or snow or a mixture of the two.

It ain't pretty.

Especially for someone whose marathon training just started this week. On Thursday, I pushed the double jogger through sludge and snow to meet my five-mile requirement and yesterday, I slogged out an eight-miler with a 12-degree wind chill factor. Yep, it's winter.

It is not like this is a new concept to me. I have always run during all four seasons and some of my training runs last July when it was 95 degrees with high humidity were among the most painful runs of my life. If anything, I prefer the cold.

But there is a difference between running in the late spring/fall chill and running in the dead of winter.

A friend and fellow writer just included her tips for winter running (I am quoted in the piece, actually) and I found them very helpful, even if only because it makes me feel a little less alone on my long runs to know that others are out there freezing their tails off, too.

The piece made me think about my own must-haves and what makes running in the dead of the New England winter tolerable (and even possible, in some cases).

For me this list includes:

1.) Yaktrax: Last winter I used these almost constantly and they were a godsend. They wrap around the sneakers tightly and provide tread that running shoes alone cannot. I wore them liberally last winter, but learned to dislike them when I was running in the city (they were a must-have for my rural runs at the lake house). The metal grating at the bottom scraped the concrete and I suspected made me more prone to injury. This year I have them just in case, but have not really been using them. But if there is a snow storm some Saturday night (the night before my long run), I will be grateful I own these babies.

2.) Treadmill: Now, I know in the past, I have dissed ye olde glorified hamster wheel, but the fact remains that it is an essential part of winter training not only because it helps avoid icy patches and provides a smooth run, but also because it keeps the body acclimated to running in a variety of temperatures, which will prove useful if the temperature on race day climbs above 75.

3.) A Good Winter Running Hat: This one is trickier than it seems because wool is not comfortable to run in, but fleece gets too hot. I found a great hat that has a fleece lining but is knitted out of more breathable wool. The key to any hat, of course, is that it covers my ears. This one does so nicely. It cost a little more ($30), but has been worth it in terms of years of use and practicality.

4.) Sunglasses: The glare off of the snow can be both blinding and headache inducing. I would sooner skip hat and gloves than I would my sunglasses. Invest in a polarized, lightweight pair.

5.) Gloves: Now, I do not have one of the fancy iPod-friendly pairs that allow a runner both to manipulate their tuneage and stay warm, but I am pleased with my rather mundane North Face thinsulate gloves. They are lightweight and about halfway through my runs, I pocket them anyway. This is not to say that I would not like a fancier pair.

6.) Thick Socks: Not too thick, of course. Just thick enough to keep the toes warm before they fully warm up (about one-two miles in for me). I like Wright double layer socks.

Besides these accessories, I generally try to keep my clothing to a minimum. Very often I still wear cropped pants unless it is really cold and I am partial to my Lulu Lemon thin pullover.

Last week, my friend Julia, however, showed up to our run in short sleeves and cropped running pants (and a hat). I was in full pants, a thin jacket and a moisture wicking long sleeve shirt looking like quite the cold weather wimp. She is Icelandic, I told myself while simultaneously nursing my shame. On the plus side, I will run faster once I strip out of the layers as the weather warms, right?

And while I know there are many who can't fathom hitting the pavement at all when it is frigid outside, the reality is you warm up before you know it. Two miles in and it might as well be summer (minus the icy roads and snow glare).

In fact, the only thing I hate about winter running is the pain I feel upon returning home, when the chill finally catches up to me and I can't stop shivering. The phrase "chilled to the bones" never meant as much to me before I became a runner.

But even that is nothing a little hot cocoa and a long, hot shower can't fix. So bring it on cold. I came prepared.

Winter running: not as fun as summer, but definitely doable.

Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer, a mother and an unabashed, unashamed runaholic. Check her progress each week as she trains to qualify for the Boston Marathon.