Runners of winter

  • Josh Patton describes the evening’€™s route for the 603 Endurance running group from inside True Brew Barista in Concord on Wednesday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • The 16th annual Galloping Gobbler 4-mile run took place at Bishop Brady High School on Thanksgiving Day. The race usually has between 350 to 500 runners, but after a major snow storm and power outages, only 187 people ran this year. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file

  • The 603 Endurance running group departs for their weekly run from True Brew Barista in Concord on Wednesday evening. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Dylan Tuttle, 20, of Alton turns the last corner on his way to the finish line of the “When I'm 64 Four Mile Race” at Bishop Brady High School in Concord on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. The annual race, which has a different name each year, benefits a Habitat for Humanity student trip to West Virginia. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 12/31/2016 10:00:11 PM

It’s common to see runners everywhere during the warmer months: on the sidewalks, on the beach or even in the woods. 

During the winter? Maybe not so much. But some brave souls still venture out during the snowy season, and with the right preparation, warm-weather runners or first-time runners can, too.

It all starts with knowing what you’re getting into. Eric Marsh, owner of the Fun Intelligent Training gym in Concord, said the first thing someone looking to run in the winter should know is that you’re not going to perform at the same level you did running in warmer weather.

“You have to ease into it with the harsher climate,” he said. 

Marsh said the best way to introduce yourself to outdoor exercise is to start slow, say with a walk or a set of intervals. You can also push yourself by finding some hills to climb, or adding a weighted pack, which will help improve your postural muscles, he said.

Breathing in the cold air might irritate your lungs, but Marsh said as you continue to work outside, your body will adjust – and even if you continue to work at a slower pace than you’re used to, you’re still getting benefits of being outside.

“Fresh air and sunshine has a host of benefits, such as helping to boost your energy levels and mood,” Marsh said. “People can get seasonal (affective) disorder in the winter because they get less light, and exercising outdoors can help with that.”

You do have to be more mindful when running in the winter, Marsh said, because there are more environmental hazards to watch out for, such as plows, ice or sidewalks that are not fully plowed, forcing you to run in the street. If you chose to run while it’s snowing, there’s a visibility factor to consider, and you have to pay attention to curbs or tree roots that may be just below the snow or ice’s surface.

When running over potentially unstable surfaces, Marsh recommended adopting an “old man shuffle” – a lower, softer gait that requires you to bend your knees and adopt a slightly wider foot stance than usual. You might feel kind of silly, but you’ll be better equipped for running in winter weather.

For equipment, a big part of winter running is having the right gear, said Jeremiah Gould, a marketer for Runner’s Alley in Concord. A critical piece is, oddly enough, not getting super bundled up.

“You want to dress like it’s 10 to 15 degrees warmer than what the thermometer says,” Gould said. “But you’re going to want to be cold, at first, because once you get going, your body will heat up and you’ll start sweating. If you feel like you could stand around and hang out for a while, then you’re too warm.”

The key, Gould said, is layers: start with a thin base layer with moisture-wicking properties that fits close to your body. The base layer should extend past the belt line to keep all of your core warm. This piece is important, Gould said, because sweat that stays close to your body will freeze in the cold air.

Next is a thicker, slightly heavier material that will leave a gap between itself and the base layer. While it might seem counterintuitive to create any space, Gould said that the space will trap the warmth you create while running, keeping you cozy throughout your workout. Layer a wind-blocking jacket, waterproof if possible, to stop icy gales from cooling your sweat.

A similar method should be followed to protect your legs, but Gould said you’re generally going to layer less on your lower half, since it’s always moving.

“When it’s single digits with a wind chill, I might wear a tight,” he said. “But if it’s above freezing, and there’s not a lot of wind? Then I’ll just wear shorts.”

Warmth levels really depend on the person, Gould noted, particularly when it comes to covering your head and hands. For those whose hands get chilly, he recommended a light liner glove paired with a mitten. And for the head, a headband or a hat works well, depending on how warm you want to be.

If you’ve got cold feet just at the idea of running outside, there’s a fix for that: Gould said a wool sock will keep you warmer, even if you step in a puddle, than a synthetic sock, and a gaiter – a piece of wind-blocking fabric you can attach over your laces and the gap between your running tights and your sneakers and socks – will protect your ankles.

Now that you’re suited up, it’s time to get outside – and find a buddy, if you can. The running group 603 Endurance, for example, meets every Wednesday at 6 p.m. at True Brew Barista in Concord, rain or shine, or snow. The group has several chapters all over the state, and Josh and Laura Patton started the Concord faction a little over a year ago.

Despite starting during the chilly season, Josh Patton said the group immediately had a core membership of around five people, which continued to grow as the weather changed.

For them, running with others is about staying committed during the winter season. Laura Patton said she always signs up for a marathon in March, so running throughout the winter keeps her motivated.

For others, it’s about the community.

“When we started this group, five strangers showed up,” Josh Patton said. “And now we’re all pretty close. It’s a good family-oriented feeling.”

And if the thought of being cold still scares you, Marsh said half the battle of exercising, whether it’s inside or outdoors, is just getting there.

“I’ve never seen anyone say they regret working out,” he said. “Once it’s over, you’ll feel so much better.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter @ActualCAndrews.)

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