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Tips for training to run or walk through the Ottawa winter

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By Julie Ennis, PhD, Research Fellow and Dr. Ellen Conte ND

As the temperature drops and snow fills the streets, the temptation to cozy up at home on the couch is often stronger than ever. Cold weather and slushy streets may seem like a roadblock for your running and walking training; but with proper planning, winter may become your favourite season to train! 

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

Research shows that exposing yourself to cold temperatures can increase your metabolism! 

Here you’ll find some tips to help you train smarter and safer throughout the winter season. 

First and foremost, monitor the weather forecast. Armed with information on temperature, precipitation and wind, it will be easier to make the best decisions on when and where to run and what to wear.


Tips for training in COLD TEMPERATURES

Cold temperatures require some planning when heading out for a run or walk.

Here some tips for planning your training based on the temperature:  

  • Try to fit your run or walk in at the warmest time of the day. If your schedule allows, getting out for a lunch time run or walk is a great way to take advantage of the daylight hours when it tends to be warmer.
  • Dress in layers. Layers allow you to make adjustments as your body temperature changes throughout your workout.
  • Pay special attention to keeping your head, hands and feet warm.
  • Opt for materials that breathe and wick moisture away from the body. Synthetic fabrics like polyester and polyester blends (nylon, spandex) and merino wool are great options.  Repeat after me, I will not wear cotton! Cotton retains moisture. As you exercise, cotton will absorb sweat and will leave you feeling damp and chilled.   
  • Limit the exposure of bare skin.
  • Plan your route so you don’t travel too far from home. This allows you to stop in to add or drop a layer part way if you don’t feel comfortable (or head inside if it is too cold). 
  • Head indoors and change into dry clothes quickly after a run.
  • On very cold days, consider hitting the gym and using the treadmill or an indoor track. Many large sporting events do not recommend doing high intensity exercise at temperatures below -20°C to prevent lung damage, we agree with this suggestion.
Photo by Frano Duvnjak on Unsplash

Tips for training in BLOWING WINDS

Blowing winds can make a world of difference in how cold you feel on a winter day. If the forecast suggests high winds when you are about to head out for a run or walk, adjusting your route may help make the run easier and more enjoyable.

Here are some tips for windy days:

  • If you start your route heading into the wind, you will have the benefit of the wind at your back for the last part of the run. Not only will this make running easier, it will help avoid risk of freezing on the return trip. Even better- try to find a route where you will be sheltered from the wind by trees or buildings.
  • Protect exposed skin from the wind by using lubricants like petroleum jelly or BodyGlide.
Photo by Daniel J. Schwarz on Unsplash

Tips for training in SNOW, SLUSH and ICE

Snow, slush and ice provide an added challenge on a winter run. Here are some tips when facing less-than-ideal footing on your workout:  

  • Explore your neighbourhood to get an idea of which sidewalks and paths tend to be clearedand salted most frequently.
  • Adjust your pace and stride to help with footing on slippery terrain. If you want to increase or decrease your pace or change directions, do so gradually to avoid slipping.
  • Head to the gym for any speed training. Fast paced runs are best saved for dry terrain.
  • Sports and outdoor stores sell products to add to shoes help with slippery terrain which may help make you feel more comfortable.
  • Wear socks that wick away moisture. If you want to avoid wrinkly toes, avoid cotton socks!
  • Be flexible with your workout schedule. Safety should always come first.

General tips for RUNNING SAFELY

General running safety tips are always important, but more than ever during challenging weather conditions.

  • Be sure to include warm-up in your workout. Start slow and gradually increase your pace.
  • Make sure that you are visible to vehicles by wearing reflective clothing and safety lights.
  • Carry some money, your cell phone and ID during your run.
  • Let a friend or family member know when you are heading out for a run and around what time you think you should be home.
  • Exercise with others! Particularly if it is dark, cold or snowing.

Winter workouts may not be for everyone. If the thought of winter running or walking seems overwhelming, hit the treadmill or try some cross-training activities. Some activity is always
better than none!

Dr. Ellen McDonell ND, began running as a way to stay fit after she stopped competitive swimming in her late teens. What started as a way to exercise, soon became a great source of enjoyment and fulfillment. Ellen also enjoys swimming and cycling, which provides great variation in her workouts. Ellen has competed in races ranging from 5k-half marathon, and has completed several triathlons both as an individual and as a relay team.  Exercise and running in particular have become a way to get away from everyday stressors, spend time in nature, and have time in solitude, or with friends.  Ellen is currently training for the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend half-marathon, and the Ottawa River and National Capital Triathlons this summer. 

Dr. Julie Ennis, PhD, has been running since she can remember- but the real passion started when running became a way of managing the stressful years of her PhD degree. She found that lacing up her runners and getting outside was a great way to clear her head so she could tackle the work in the lab. Over the past few years, Julie has participated in many running events of different distances. Her favourite running moment has been completing the Boston Marathon in 2015 with her father, Bruce Mason. She is currently training for the Toronto Goodlife Marathon and the Ottawa 10k in May. 

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