Wind-chill factors, black ice and snowbanks shouldn't signal the start of couch potato season. If you're an avid runner the rest of the year, you can keep pounding the pavement when the temperature drops. Those who have braved frosty conditions in their New Balances - and lived to tell - share their tips on winter running.
1. PILE ON THE LAYERS
That down-filled parka may be your best defence against the elements when you're out for a skate, but it's not ideal for a 30-minute jog.
John Stanton, the Edmonton-based founder of The Running Room, swears by layers. The base should be a synthetic, moisture-wicking fabric; the middle layer should be a fleece; and the outer layer should be a windbreaker to protect against blustery weather and precipitation.
But you don't want to feel toasty.
"You should dress to run so that when you run out of the door, you should feel cold," explains Stuart Phillips, a kinesiology professor at McMaster University in Hamilton. "At the end of the run, even if it's only 20 or 30 minutes, you're going to be sweaty."
Thick cotton is a go-to winter fabric for everyday use, but Bryan Smith, the Toronto-area manager for The Running Room, learned to edit it out of his running uniform early on.
"I like to describe cotton as a greedy fabric," he says. "It absorbs moisture and holds onto it."
When cotton fibres get wet, they become coarser, he says. "You get a great breeding ground there for blisters."
Synthetics with "dry fit" or "dry weave" labels are best, or wool-synthetic blends.
2. INTERIZE YOUR FOOTWEAR
The most common injuries winter runners suffer are falls, Mr. Phillips says. It's a combination of overconfidence on ice-covered roads and using summer running shoes.
Mr. Smith used the same runners year-round through six winters before he bought a pair of shoes designed for the season that are more wind and water-resistant with a multi-directional tread pattern on the soles.
If you don't want to make that kind of investment, you can strap traction devices - such as the ones manufactured by Yaktrax - onto the soles of your running shoes to get a good grip, says Mr. Stanton. A DIY option he suggests is putting sheet metal screws on the bottom of your shoes.
"It's like the studded tires on our cars," he says.
Runners should adjust the type of training they do in the winter even if they have weather-appropriate footwear, Prof. Phillips says: The cold-weather months are a good time for working on endurance, rather than speed training.
"Even if the sidewalk is cleared and even if it's salted, sometimes the salt people throw down [has]chunks in it. It's a different kind of adjustment for your foot to make."
It might also be worth upgrading the size of your shoes for the winter to accommodate double-layered socks, says Vincent Perdue, founder of the Sudbury Rocks Running Club, in Sudbury, Ont.
"If you have a shoe that just barely fits you, it takes the insulation value away because you're not leaving any air space," he explains.
3. CHOOSE CLEARED RUNNING SURFACES
One of the most challenging winter runs Mr. Perdue can remember was a February jog around Lake Ramsey in Sudbury. For three to four kilometres, he and his group trudged through knee-deep snow at a mere two kilometres an hour (as opposed to the 10 kilometres an hour he usually pulls off in the winter).
"You could walk much faster on the ground," he recalls. "One person takes the lead for a while, and then they would get tired and fall back."
You may burn more calories trying to race through piles of snow, but a cleared sidewalk, road or trail will help you maintain a steady pace.
4. PROTECT YOUR FACE
It was 10 years ago, but Mr. Perdue still remembers the coldest temperature he's ever run in because it earned him some serious bragging rights. He survived a 45-minute run in Kapuskasing, a small town in Northern Ontario, when the mercury dropped to -47 C. The only reason he made it through the unforgiving cold was because everything but his eyes were covered.
"Absolutely nothing is exposed on those days," he says. "It was about 15- to 20-kilometre [per hour]winds, which is deadly when you get to 20 below zero."
On milder days, Mr. Perdue doesn't cover his face completely, but he usually slathers a protective layer of wind-blocker on exposed skin. His budget-friendly pick? Vaseline, though many sports stores carry non-greasy formulas that can be applied with a stick.
5. USE THE ELEMENTS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Before you strap on your gear for a January jog, check the weather conditions, advises Mr. Stanton. Even more important than the temperature is the wind direction - make sure you're running against it first, and with it on the way home.
"The time to stress yourself and put yourself under the worst conditions is at the start," he says.
You might also want to adjust your running schedule in the winter when daylight hours are limited, Mr. Perdue says.
"It's amazing the difference between running at 20 below zero in sun and 20 below zero in the evening," he says. If you can't run in the afternoon, opt for the evening rather than the morning - it's usually warmer then.
6. KNOW YOUR LIMITS
On particularly frigid days, Mr. Stanton executes the "10-minute test."
"Give yourself 10 minutes," he says. "Get dressed and go out for a run and if you're still feeling it's too cold or too wet, go back. The beauty of that is that you've still got 20 minutes [of running]no matter what."
Prof. Phillips says countless runners pull muscles or suffer overuse injuries because they don't adjust their intensity when they run.
"If you have a sore knee or sore shin … you just have to listen to your body and back off," he says.