ADVENTURES IN FOOD AND FITNESS: The rewards of winter running
Heater blasting, I’m trying to stretch one leg at a time against the dash of my car so I can limber up without freezing while I wait for my sister to arrive for a run.
Eyeing the frost outside, I wonder if I’m wearing enough layers.
But when I finally hop out and mention the cold to my sister, she shrugs.
“It’s not that bad,” she says. “There’s no wind.”
And just like that, I stop shivering — proving, once again, that when it comes to winter running, the proper mindset is the equivalent of an extra layer of clothing. (Show up mentally unprepared, and the same principle applies in reverse: You might as well deduct one insulated running top from your torso.)
Experts say there are solid reasons to brave the elements and exercise outside in the winter months. You may weigh less after a grueling summer run that drains your body of fluids, but you burn more calories running the same route in cold weather because your body must work harder to stay warm.
Running outdoors saves on the cost of a gym membership, helps build mental and physical toughness, and trains your muscles and joints to handle the uneven road surfaces you’ll face come race time in a way the treadmill can’t.
Years ago, when he ran everyday “come hell or high water,” former Marine and longtime Adams County runner Doug Bauman would head out for his daily three-miler even when temperatures dropped below zero.
“The cold never really bothered me,” says the 71-year-old, who now applies his disciplined fitness approach to biking and the elliptical since having back surgery a couple of years ago.
“Just bundle up and get out there, maybe wear a couple of pair of shorts to protect your ‘middle area.’ Of course, for me it was only a 20-24 minute deal. It was a run – not a jog.”
Auburn marathoner Amanda Fritz Carey runs outside year-round because her high-mileage training could lead to injury on a treadmill or indoor track. No matter how challenging the conditions, she says “I am always thankful I opted for outside versus taking my run indoors.”
The 48-time marathoner has endured deep snow and freezing rain (in the HUFF 50K trail race at Chain O’Lakes State Park in December 2016), and subzero conditions at the same race in 2017. Though she was dressed appropriately for those conditions, she takes extra precautions when running on the road, such as wearing a blinking reflective vest – and not wearing headphones so she can hear traffic.
“Safety is my first priority,” says Fritz Carey, who blogs about her running at tootallfritz.com. “I go slower and focus on footing and pay attention to my surroundings.”
Because running outside in winter can be intimidating, she recommends running with a group.
“There is safety in numbers,” she says. “Carrying a phone is smart, but the cold can drain a phone battery in record time. It’s always best to run with others in the event of an unlikely emergency.”
Outdoor exercise also helps ward off the winter blahs, which is part of the reason Fort Wayne marathoner Julie Dinger forces herself to run outdoors year round – even though she hates winter and despises being cold.
“I know it’s crazy,” she says. “But I work in an office all day, and so running outside is a way for me to get some fresh air and make myself get out and do something. It’s a way of coping with winter for me.”
Meeting friends for a group run twice a week is another motivating factor for the 21-time marathoner.
Even so, braving the elements is “a learning process,” Dinger admits. When she first started running in 2000, it’s not something she would’ve chosen to do.
“But the gear’s gotten so good, if you’re willing to invest in the good stuff,” you really can protect yourself, she says. Key items for her include a wind jacket and down-filled mittens to protect her fingers.
“Basically, I know that the first mile is going to be cold, but then I’ll warm up after that,” she says.
Tanya Isch Caylor blogs about postfat living at www.90in9.wordpress.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.