Colorado has the lowest obesity rate and the second lowest rate of cardiovascular deaths in the country. It is no surprise that Coloradoans are serious about their fitness. But what happens when the weather turns frigid and leaves many runners devoid of their natural gym in Colorado’s great outdoors?
The cold weather doesn’t stand in the way of avid runners, but it does require them to change up their regimens. Cold weather running is a time for maintenance and strength training, not a time for improving speeds.
According to Ryan Lassen, manager of the Boulder Running Company and passionate mountain and trail runner, as long as you layer up properly, running the trails during the winter is actually a little easier and less risky.
“I would argue that the trails are safer in the winter,” Lassen said. “The trails that are usually rocky and technical become smooth from the packed snow.”
Lassen is no stranger to the winter running scene. On Saturday, Nov. 15 he began a 100-mile race that he completed early Sunday morning, the first of many chilly winter runs.
The most extreme conditions that Lassen has ever endured occurred during a run up Bear Peak during a snowstorm at midnight with a friend in over a foot of fresh snow, a feat he insists should absolutely not be done alone.
When it comes to running in the winter, the best time of day to hit the trails is with the sunrise. With shorter days and long work hours, sometimes it can be difficult find time to get outdoors when the sun is out. By waking up early every morning in the winter, runners can get their day started and even catch a little vitamin D.
Layers are crucial to keep your body warm during these frigid morning runs and every decision you make for apparel should be made based on how cold it is, how windy it is, and how intense your workout will be.
For men, there is one more item Lassen said you simply can’t leave home without.
“For guys, windproof runderwear. Life changer,” he said.
Runderwear, or running underwear, give a high level of support all while increasing core warmth. In addition they are moisture wicking which helps reduce irritation from dry winter chafing.
If you’re only running on paved roads and bike paths around town, the average traction running shoe is still a safe bet, but when it comes to running off-road, your choice of shoe can be crucial.
“If you’re hitting the trails or running in deeper snow, there are winter specific trail shoes that keep your feet dry and warm,” Lassen said. “Any trail shoe that has GoreTex will provide you with a substantial level of warmth compared to a shoe with no waterproofing.”
21-year-old Christian Martin, a member of both the cross country and track and field teams at the University of Colorado Boulder, says that he doesn’t run a day in the winter without the assistance of his Yaktrax, a metal, sleeve-like pad you can place under the soles of your shoes to help grip the ice and snow.
The Kahtoola MICROspikes are another great shoe device for trail runners, which help dig into the more packed snow and ice.
“If you plan on hitting the trails, always carry traction,” said Lassen. “I probably spend about 90 percent of the winter just carrying my MICROspikes in my pack, but when I need them I’m super happy to have them. They can save your butt…literally.”
While proper layers and attire can make winter running more comfortable, performance will decrease significantly the more the temperature goes down. However, when temperatures begin to reach sub-zero, there can be a legitimate concern for your health.
According to Martin there are some perks of running in the colder weather.
“I can see my breath so it’s easier for me to focus on my breathing and staying relaxed,” he said. “I can also focus on my form more in cold weather because I don’t want to run carelessly and slip on ice.”
As temperatures decrease, it is important to allow your body to slow down. Many runners will get frustrated with declining performance speeds, but this is caused by a number of reasons. At cooler temperatures, the body is using more energy to produce body heat resulting in less energy leftover to contribute toward running.
Another factor is the body’s inability to contract muscles with the same intensity as they do when it is warmer out. With less powerful muscle contractions, running speeds will be increasingly slower. Because of this it’s important for runners to stretch twice as long before a run as they do in warmer weather to prevent serious injury.
No matter the weather, most avid runners are in it for the same reason.
“I love running races,” said Martin. “Plain and simple.”