The 2nd Annual Ryan’s Reindeer Race and Family Fun Fest is THIS Saturday December 17 at Blue Claws Stadium in Lakewood! A great event for a great cause!
Running in the winter is easy! Wind chills in the teens, who cares? Snow covered streets, no problem! Hey, its always sunny and 70 on a treadmill. There’s a lot to be said about never having to worry about layering or whether to wear gloves or mittens. It can be below zero with snow coming down and there you are in shorts and a singlet. How cool is that?! I certainly understand the appeal but to me, there’s only one problem, you’re inside.
I’m one of those runners that just hates being inside. Don’t get me wrong, I like being warm and comfortable just as much as the next guy. I just enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to be comfortable outside while Mother Nature is at her worst or, in my opinion, her best. Dressing properly is a good start to winter comfort. That doesn’t mean throwing on multitudinous layers of thermals, sweaters, coats, hats and gloves. Bundling up like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” will have you sweating like a mule on the equator and make you just as uncomfortable as being under-dressed. Nope, the trick here is to dress specific to the day’s conditions. You want to feel just a tad under-dressed when starting out because as you begin to move and get into your flow, your own body heat will warm you up. Before you decide on what to wear, think about the temperature and the wind conditions on your planned route as well as how long you’re going to be out there. I know some runners that will absolutely not deviate from their daily route so their clothing choice must match up with whatever that route brings, weather-wise. On the other hand, having some flexibility allows you to avoid the worst of those conditions or at least being able to use them to your advantage. Having those blustery northwest winds to your back requires a lot less protection than does running directly into it. If you are doing an ‘out-n-back’ route, run into the wind first. This way, if you work up a sweat, it’ll be on the way home which saves you from having to run into a cold wind with damp clothes. This brings up the subject of ‘sweat’ and the challenges it brings.
Winter running doesn’t mean you’re not going to sweat, you will. It might not be much but even a little has the potential to cause discomfort if not transferred away from your body. This highlights the importance of proper base-layer clothing. Base-layer is the clothing item closest to our skin. It is crucial that this item be made of a fabric that wicks the moisture away from our skin, either to another clothing item or the air where it will evaporate. Another description of the process is “moisture transference”. Most of these fabrics are made in some version of polyester. Poly has two essential qualities; it can not absorb and hold moisture, it transfers it. The clothing item will retain some dampness but it will not be soaking wet. The other important quality of polyester is it will still retain thermal properties when damp so it will still keep you warm. The one fabrication you do NOT want next to your skin is cotton. Cotton is like a sponge when it comes to moisture, it sucks it up and holds it. Making matters worse, wet cotton has no thermal value so you’ll quickly get chilled and stay that way. Wool is not ideal in the sense that it, too, will retain moisture although even when wet, it will keep you warm. This brings up the next important clothing item, the outer layer. Usually, this is a jacket or shell, depending on the temperature, wind, etc. Here again, this needs to be constructed in fabrics that will continue the moisture transference. The fabrics used in high-end jackets and shells are woven in such a way as to allow the smaller molecules of dampness to travel to the jackets’ outer surface where it can be evaporated but tight enough to keep rain out. Some jackets are water-proof while others are water resistant. The other role these jackets or shells serve is that of a wind breaker. When it comes to what we wear on our legs, we have some options based, again, on the conditions. A lot of people will go bare-legged even on the coldest days. I’m not a fan of doing this because while my legs may be able to withstand the cold, they get chapped and raw. Running tights follow the same principles as base layer tops in that they will wick moisture away from the skin. Tights aren’t for everybody, especially guys who are self-conscious wearing something that form-fitting. They might prefer running pants that are, shall we say, less revealing. Gloves and hats are another crucial aspect of winter comfort. Here again, you don’t want a big ol’ bulky knit hat soaking wet from sweat. Look for ones that have wicking properties. Gloves are fine on most days around here in the winter but on those super-cold mornings, mittens will provide better warmth.
As mentioned above, flexibility in choosing a course or a time to run plays a big part in winter running. We do the same thing in the hot weather. Have a few different course options that will allow you to minimize the time exposed to strong winds or wet, slushy surfaces. One word of caution when it comes to winter running, ice. Ice is the one factor that will keep me indoors, especially if I’m planning on a run in the dark. If you are not 100% sure that your course options are ice-free, you probably want to stay inside. In cases like that, I’ll switch around my schedule to do some weight training or Yoga and save the run for better conditions. While avoiding a run on icy surfaces, I absolutely love running in snow. As long as the roads aren’t slippery, I love nothing more than a run as it begins to snow. It goes without saying that particular caution needs to be paid to running on snowy roads with heavy car traffic. As a rule, I’ll hit the boards for a snow run. Try it, you’ll love the experience. I also love a run on those days where the weather reports are warning everyone of record low temps and eye-watering winds. I may not be out there long but I love the thought of people seeing me thinking, “look at that idiot, he must be out of his mind running on a day like this”. I’m not going to tell you that running on brutally cold days is all peaches and cream cause some days, it’s downright unpleasant. I always give myself the ’20 minute rule’ which basically says that after 20 minutes, if I’m not getting comfortable and enjoying myself, it’s time to call it a day. A word of advice; if you’re going to use the 20 minute rule, make sure you’re back at your starting point at 20 minutes!
It’s that time of the year, the “Dog Days of Winter”. Not quite as well known as the "Dog Days of Summer” perhaps but none the less, they exist and we’re in ‘em. I define winter’s dog days as the “ary” months, January and February. November and December bring the onset of the cold but are camouflaged in anticipation of the holidays. All that “good will towards men” distracts us from what’s to come but once that calendar hits 1/1, life changes with a cold dose of reality. The beginning of January brings some novelty as it finds us with that false bliss of empowerment from all our resolutions. All forms of previous year's dissatisfactions are wiped away with the promise of life to be lived better.
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>> Lose 30 pounds…check
>> Stop keeping the breweries in business…check
>> Qualify for Kona…check
>> Come up with a Middle East peace plan…check
>> Well, come the latter part of January, reality sets in and the only resolution still in place is the old standby, “next year I’m gonna do better. I’ll use this year to get it all out of my system”.
>> So now what, how do we keep our sanity for these next couple of months.? After all, spending the next two months doing nothing but wishing them to be over is tantamount to wasting 1/6 of our lives! Well, here’s what I think.
>> Aside from those of us that are skiers, most people find the biggest challenge of cold weather is to maintain their fitness programs. It’s REALLY easy to postpone a run or walk when faced with wind chills in the single digits coupled with icy sidewalks and roads. Postponing things until tomorrow is one thing but postponing them till May has its drawbacks. With all the new clothing technology out there, it is a lot easier staying comfortable while running or walking but let’s call a spade a spade, it’s still cold out there. Biking loses its appeal when you have to put enough clothes on to look like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. I used to surf and paddle board in the winter but as I’ve gotten older (and wiser), just the thought of that cold water diminishes my enthusiasm.
>> The first thing I suggest is to accept the fact that with very few exceptions, most people’s activity levels in their chosen sports slows down. In some ways, I theorize this to be a good thing. It gives our bodies a chance to recover from any nagging injuries. After all, rest and recovery are known to be just as important as training and proper nourishment. For many serious athletes, ‘rest’ is the hardest of these 3 components. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we do nothing for 2 months, not at all. I’m simply saying that once you accept the fact that your training plans will be altered, it makes it easier to accept the next step.
>> These couple of months are the perfect time to add activities that are not only done indoors in the comfort of that thing called “room temperature” but in addition are great compliments to our chosen sports. There is not a runner or biker out there that won’t admit that they wouldn’t benefit from more stretching. As we get older, stretching ceases to be something we ‘should’ do and evolves into something we ‘must’ do. Runners and Bikers have significant imbalances in their lower bodies based on the primary muscles used for their sports. Our Quads provide the majority of power in running and biking while our glutes and hamstrings more or less go along for the ride. Over time, this imbalance will result in weak, tight hamstrings and glutes and that causes many of the chronic discomforts that comes with age. Right at the top of the list is the dreaded calf strain that so many older runners experience. Yoga provides a way to help offset these afflictions while adding strength and balance. There have never been more places to learn and practice Yoga than now. Pretty much every gym and health club has classes available to all levels. In addition, Yoga studios are popping up everywhere. I strongly suggest anyone interested in trying Yoga to do so initially in a class with a certified instructor. Sure, you can find an infinite amount of videos and you tube demonstrations but having an instructor means you’ll learn the basics while insuring proper form. Injuries can and do happen from poor form but an instructor will make sure you avoid many of the mistakes that cause problems. The beauty of Yoga is that with the proper instruction, you’ll learn poses that can be done pre and post workout that will help in avoiding injuries.
>> Those who have read my ramblings know of the importance I put on strength training. I will not bore you any further with one of my typical diatribes on strength training other than to say EVERYONE needs it, everyone. Find a gym and have someone walk you through the basics of lifting weights. Its warm in those gyms and your body will love you for it. In addition, it’s kind of cool when you put a bathing suit on for the first time and someone says “wow, you look great, what have you been doing”.
>> If you’re lucky enough to have access to a pool, swimming is an ideal cross-training activity. The benefits of swimming and water exercises are well known. You may not be too amped up swim laps in an indoor pool when the weather is nice but when it’s freezing outside, that warm water is inviting. Knocking out laps in the winter will allow you the fitness needed to swim jetties in the summer, a great mid-day workout when you’re at the beach.
>> I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the many indoor fitness classes being offered like “Boot Camp”, “Boxing”, “Cross Fit” and any number of other group activities. These class are based on multi-functional exercises as opposed to one dimensional movements. These classes are hard, make no mistake about it but they do give dramatic results. One word of caution: leave your ego in the locker room when you start one of these programs. No matter how fit you think you are, you’ll be doing movements you’re likely not used to and trying to push beyond your current capabilities will cause injuries, sometimes bad ones. When people of differing abilities are in the same class, it’s easy to get competitive. You want to push yourself to the max but understand, that can come with risks. Be patient, whatever the next guy is doing that you can’t, you’ll get there and beyond in time.
>> These next couple of months are tough on those of us who prefer outdoor activities but the days are getting longer and there’s light at the end of tunnel. In the meantime, adding something new to your fitness regime is a great way to keep active while getting you ready for the warm weather ahead.