Running on Ice

How do I run in the snow? I get this question a lot. The most honest answer is that I just do it. The longer answer? I do it. Slower. Carefully. With a lot more clothes than when I run in temperate weather. Let’s talk about warmth first.

I hate being cold. My hands and feet are almost always cold. I have medical condition called Reynauds Syndrome that prevents my blood from flowing to my hands and feet and fingers and toes regularly. It’s particularly bad if I touch something cold– like the steering wheel of my car first thing in the morning or run my hands under cold water. The ends of my fingers turn white and get tingly. Sometimes they stay that way for the better part of an hour. It’s miserable.

So, when I run outside in the cold, my first concern is making sure I will be warm enough. Or at least as warm as I can manage without turning into Randy from A Christmas Story. Layering is the key. First, the base layer. 



I wear fleece lined running tights in the winter. My favorite pair comes from Athleta. They are ridiculously expensive but really warm. My second favorite is Zella (Nordstrom store brand.) they are only about $20 cheaper, and also warm. On top I wear long sleeved tech shirts. I have three Nike shirts that I bought on clearance and one Zella brand shirt. I have worn them each for hundreds of miles, at least, and all are holding up pretty well. My oldest Nike shirt has some pilling now but that’s it.

Next layer is a light weight pair of windbreaker type pants. I bought these at The Gap last fall. They are good for retaining some body heat around your legs, especially if it’s windy. On top I pull on a long sleeve fleecy shirt. I have two that I rotate. One has a hood and one has a head swallowing funnel neck. Both are good for retaining some of your body heat on cold days. 

Lastly, I cover my hands and my head. Did you know that you lose a significant amount of body heat through the top of your head? Wearing a hat is a good way to keep some of that heat from escaping. I have several handknit wool hats that I rotate on my runs. Taking off my hat mid run is also a good way to cool down if I get too hot. I often take my hat off and shove it into the back waistband of my tights in the middle of a run. 


Hands. My hands are the hardest thing to keep warm. I usually wear two pairs of coverings on them in the winter: a pair of either cotton or tech gloves and a pair of wool mittens over top of them. Even so, I often am a couple of miles into a run before they get warm.

Once I’m out the door I can shed some layers as I run if I get too warm. Gloves and hats can be shoved into the waist band of my tights. If I really get warm I can also pull off my fleece shirt and tie it around my waist as I run. 

Ankle Breakers

Yesterday was another day when I questioned why I was out in the slush. My feet sunk and then slipped backward a little with each step: sink, slide, push, step, sink, slide, push, step. Several times I had to readjust my balance midstride to avoid falling in the wet, cold, granules. When I started my run I had planned on running a little over 3 miles but by the time I crossed the Post Street bridge I thought, “well, I can do 4. Maybe 5.” As I climbed the hill under the Monroe Street bridge I knew that the next mile was going to be slushy. I knew it was going to be a challenge for my hips and my back. But I also knew that I would feel better for having made it. 

So I pressed on. It was eerily empty once I got past the new business district at Kendall Yards. I kept a close eye on the river side of the trail as I ran. My second biggest fear while running is being surprised by someone. Normally there are other walkers on the trail but not this week– not with the arctic chill, followed by epic slush right before Christmas. 

By the time I made it back to the Y I was satisfied with my run and sore in other than usual places (low back, hips and left knee.) Yesterday was much like many other days in my running life– there is no why. To quote Scott Jurek– sometimes you just do things. 

The First Step

Is always the hardest one. Especially this time of year. I’m always cold but when it’s well below freezing? It takes a real mental feat to convince myself to step outside and subject myself to the kinds of temperatures that make your face go numb and hurt. That cause my feet to go numb for the first mile or 2 until the pounding on the pavement forces my body to pump blood to my toes. So cold that sometimes I can’t feel my hands for the first half hour. So cold I can feel the wind through 3 layers of fleece, drying and cooling the sweat on my chest and arms. So cold it’s hard to take a deep breath. 

But then there is the beauty of it. The still quiet of snow. The softening of my footsteps beneath me. The absence of other walkers, runners, people. And the cold itself. Hard. Sharp. Like a concrete barrier at its worst. On the cold days I feel like I am most inside myself. Enveloped in my own world of forward motion — step, step, step, step, step. And on and on. Thousands of times. The only thing I have to do is take that first step out the door.