The crazy-busy holiday calendar can easily interfere with your workout routine right when you most need to burn off eggnog and gingersnaps. And this time of year, most of the country faces an additional challenge as well: terrible weather.
Here in Chicago, we don’t let ice, snow, sub-zero temps, or even our famous wind stand between us and running outside this winter. I’m currently leading a team in the Nike Chicago Chiberia Challenge. We’re competing against four other 15-person teams to see how many members can run 70 miles outdoors in two weeks. As soon as the call for the challenge went out last week, all five teams filled up in less than 24 hours. That’s 75 Chicagoans admirably eager to brave the elements.
I’ve personally run through several brutal Chicago winters, including this past Polar Vortex. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to make it bearable:
Embrace the suck
There are lots of perks to running outdoors in winter: You don’t have to wait in line for gym equipment, you get the path almost all to yourself, and you’re immediately seen as hardcore. Enjoy these benefits and make a game out of the challenges—for instance, see how hard you can push back against the wind, or try catching snowflakes on your tongue like you did as a kid.
Layer, layer, layer
You’ll want a sweat-wicking, close-fitting inner layer (Nike’s Hyperwarm line and Mizuno’s Breath Thermo both do a great job of keeping you toasty). Next, get a middle layer to insulate—you can vary the heaviness based on the temperature, with a regular long-sleeve tech shirt or half-zip (like The Lane from Cory Vines) for milder days and a warm fleece for below-zero wind chills. Top that with a windbreaker to seal the deal and protect you from precipitation.
Don’t forget your digits
Fingers and toes freeze first, people. Two pairs of socks—or at least a warm pair from Smartwool or a similar brand—protect your feet. Inner glove liners (again, Smartwool and Mizuno have great ones) topped with thicker gloves—or even better, waterproof mittens—save your hands. And if you’ll be out a while, consider tucking a couple disposable hand-warming packets in between.
Top it off
I often double up with a headband to protect my ears and a hat for the top of my head. And for the coldest, windiest days, a balaclava or face mask can prevent your cheeks and eyelashes from freezing (I’ve seen it happen, and it isn’t pretty).
Watch your step
On our lakefront path, black ice can appear out of nowhere, sometimes beneath layers of snow. Tread carefully. If your entire route is slick, consider making screw shoes or strapping on some YakTrax for extra traction.
Pick your battles
Of course, when it’s truly frightful (windchill in the negative double digits, thunder snow, what have you), there’s no shame in taking things indoors. One option: sign up for that studio class you’ve had your eye on. New challenges keep things fun, and the group aspect can boost your motivation.