Years ago in a running magazine, a runner wrote in to ask an expert about adding a dash of vodka to his water to prevent it from freezing in the winter on long runs. My immediate thought: Genius! I bet lemon vodka would be a tasty solution! Not, the expert columnist – he made fun of the man’s idea. It made me realize, most runners don’t run in frigid Alberta winters.
I run all through the winter. Unless it’s below -25C (-15F), I’m running outside in the dark at 6am. Running in the winter can be challenging, cold and very rewarding. Running forces me outside – it prevents me from simply doing the house-garage-car-work-car-home shuffle. I love the fresh air, quietness and beauty of a winter run.
To enjoy winter running you need to invest in quality gear and adjust your training mindset. Having running partners can really help with motivation (thank you ladies!). Let’s start with gear – you’ll need a lot of it. When I first moved to Edmonton from the west coast, I had “winter” running gear for the gentle climate of Vancouver. Running in the winter in Edmonton required some serious new technical winter running gear. It’s can expensive to buy the right clothes and accessories to make running in -20C enjoyable but worth it!
My advice: Invest in quality gear, wait for a good, heavy snowfall, then go out and play.
Here are my top picks to survive winter runs in Canada. (tip: You’ll likely need to shop at both technical running stores and outdoor specialty shops like Mountain Equipment Co-op).
Keeping Your Legs & Bum Warm
Winter running requires lots of layers – even on the bottom. I always start with a winter running tight to keep my legs warm. My favorite winter running tight: Lululemon’s Toasty Tech Tight. The inside boasts a soft-fleece-like feel plus the high-rise waist offers additional warmth. Another great choice is The North Face Winter Warm Tights with nylon fronts to block winds and double-layer insulation.
On the chilliest of winter running days, tights alone aren’t sufficient. Especially for me because my bum always gets cold! One way I add warmth is with Sugoi Women's MidZero Bun Toaster. I first spotted these shorts in Gord’s Running Store in Calgary – I knew right away, I was buying them. These undershorts pack some serious heat to my bum layered underneath my tights.
I am NOT a running skirt girl. When Lululemon first released its Hot Cheeks Running Skirt – I laughed. I even joked with my running friends about its silliness. In January I wondered into a Lululemon store and found the Hot Cheeks skirt on the sale rack. The sales girl convinced me the down-filled skirt great for winter outdoor activities. So, I bought it… and now, I love it! It may look a little silly, but it keeps me warm with no restriction to my running stride. Canada Goose also makes a down-filled technical skirt.
Cold Weather Running Gear for Your Torso & Arms
How I layer on top varies greatly with the temperature. I always start with a great sports bra and usually a layering tank made of moisture wicking technical material to pull sweat away from my body. Next, I’ll add a long-sleeved top. On really cold days, a merino wool top is the only way I stay warm. My top pick is the Icebreaker Pace Long Sleeve with a zip neck collar to guide against the wind. If it’s warmer outside (above -15C), I’ll simply layer any technical long-sleeved running top. The final layer is always a jacket. My advice: buy your running jacket one size larger than usual to allow for all the layering and still provide movement to swing your arms. To be honest, I have yet to find a winter running jacket I love. There are many winter running jackets on the market but none combine warmth with technical performance to my satisfaction. Often they add too much bulk to deliver warmth (like this cute, but not practical) or are so flimsy, it’s obvious they were designed for winters in Arizona. Next year, I might try the Running Room’s Extreme Element Run Jacket.
Cold Weather Running Accessories
For slightly chilly days, Lululemon’s Brisk Run Gloves are fun because the touchscreen-friendly finger tips make changing my iPod easy. When my hands really need protection from the elements, I wear Outdoor Research’s double-layer fleece mitts. The palms have added grip so it’s easy to handle your keys, iPod or water bottle. These mitts are so toasty, I won’t wear them unless it’s below -10C. Full disclosure: my hands rarely get cold while running – and neither do my toes; I’ve never had chilly feet. Just this past winter, I discovered the best socks for mile-weary feet: Feetures. The socks are form-fitting (no blisters!) and they actually last! Blowing through $15 socks isn’t fun – Feetures last for months making the expensive socks worth it. On my head, the Seirus Wind Pro X Treme Dome Hat is wind and water-resistant and full covers my ears (on warmer days, I’ll opt for just a headband). On really cold days, I also wear a neckwarmer. My go-to is the cheap (only $8) Polartec fleece neck gaiter from MEC.
Winter Running Shoes
Some shoes are designed specifically for winter running, but very few styles exist. I find it easiest to simply buy trail running shoes. Trail shoes provide traction, grip and support on uneven trail (or routes covered in snow and ice). This winter, I ran in the New Balance Minimus 1010 Trail.
Winter Running Beauty Products
Two absolute musts: sunscreen to protect your face and lip balm to prevent chapped lips.
Winter Running Training Tips
- Know which trails are cleared. The city of Edmonton does a formidable job clearing snow off trails. Within 48-hours of a snowfall event, the Parks staff are clearing trails – in particular the 13KM winter jogging loop that runs from Cloverdale to Kinsmen to Louise McKinney Park to Government House Park. A total of 37 km of trails throughout the city are maintained during the winter. These maps show the trails that are cleared. (Thank you City of Edmonton!).
- Be bright. Running in the winter likely means running in the dark. Wear reflective and fluorescent gear, plus use a headlamp so you can see where your’re going and more so people can see you. (Surprisingly, a lot of walkers and bikers who use the trails in the winter.)
- You are not fully in control of your training schedule. If you’re training for an event, map out your training schedule and then adjust weekly/daily based-on the weather.
- Do some of your speed work at an indoor track (Kinsmen Centre or the Butterdome) – you’ll feel so fast after running on ice and snow for months.
- Your iPod/iPhone will likely turn itself off in really cold temperatures. Keep it in the pocket closest to your body to keep it warm enough to work.
- Your water will freeze. Rather than wear a fuel belt, I place a small bottle in the closest pocket next to my body. If running 2-3 hours, I try to plan a route with a pit-stop to refill.
The Best Running Stores in Edmonton
Fast Trax Run Shop (7326 101 Avenue): These folks who work here are competitive runners. In my opinion, they are the most knowledgeable about shoes, performance training and proper running techniques. This is your best bet if you’re looking for a shoe designed for performance, trail running or barefoot running. (They have a speedy run club too!)
Lululemon (10558 Whyte Avenue): In my opinion Lululemon makes some of the best gear. A few years back, Lululemon’s gear was a little too cute and not functional enough. Now, it’s one of my go-to brands. They understand the importance of well-placed pockets for gels, keys, hair elastics, lip balms and whatever else you might need to stash on a long run. I just wish some of Lululemon's cold weather gear was designed for chilly temperatures in more northern climates.
United Cycle (7620 Gateway Blvd): This store stocks good
basic running gear from Asics and New Balance. Some of the staff is
exceptionally well trained to help you select shoes – other staff members are
clearly not runners themselves. If possible, go during the day on a weekday to
get help from the knowledgeable full-time employees.
The Running Room (8537 109 Street): The store is best for beginners. If you’re just starting to run, The Running Room offers a very supportive environment and great run groups. From a gear perspective, I think it’s OK. They carry some big running brands, but I find these brands don’t offer a great selection for cold temperature running.
Mountain Equipment Co-op (12328 102 Avenue): This outdoor store is getting serious about running, especially trail running. When it comes to winter running, MEC stocks the best technical gear - just get out of the running section. Go check out what people are buying to wear ice climbing or cross-country skiing. Likewise, Campers Village sells an impressive line-up of Icebreaker merino wool clothing and my fav Feetures! socks.
Has anyone tried Lole? The Canadian company just opened a store in West Edmonton Mall. The gear on the Lole website looks pretty sweet!