Winter Training Tips from a Texan in Boulder

Having lived in Texas for 90% of my life, I might not seem like the most qualified person to give winter training advice. But hear me out: I’m entering my third winter season in Boulder and have run a solid marathon buildup in each one so far. I’m still learning the safest routes for icy mornings and ways to keep my fluids liquid on long, sub-freezing tempos, but I’ve come a long way since my first winter here.

Here is the most practical advice I have for anyone wanting to do winter training right:

  • Mittens save lives. If you invest in one piece of cold weather gear, a thick pair of mittens should be it. I trained exclusively in flimsy cotton gloves through the majority of my first cold season in Colorado and assumed that frozen fingers were just something to tough out. Only when I experienced the difference that a good pair of mittens makes did I realize what a mistake that was. They’re not the sleekest or hippest things you’ll own, but the advantages of having fingers instead of icicles attached to your wrists are so worth it. If you don’t already have some, go get yourself some hand ovens, stat.
  • Overdress. It’s easy to shed layers, but not so easy to procure ones when you need them. For me, it’s also nearly impossible to warm my legs up once they feel like they’ve frozen. So when the temperature dips below 50, I usually start in half or full tights, a long-sleeve, and gloves, minimum. When it’s really cold—below freezing—I’ll substitute mittens for the gloves and add a lightweight jacket and ear warmers, plus a bigger jacket and second pair of pants if necessary. If it’s a workout day and I warm up sufficiently, there’s a good chance I’ll strip down to shorts for the efforts (and maybe even a sports bra for the last set). But it’s best to play it safe and dress for the tundra.
  • Stash extras. In that vein, it’s a good idea to keep spare layers in your car for days when the weather worsens as you go, you underestimate just how chilly it is, or your friend from Texas shows up wearing $1 Target gloves for a snowy long run. Cute.
  • Warm up well. Gone are the days of jumping straight into a hard workout from a warm-up jog. That was much easier to get away with in Houston (though I’d still recommend a few drills and strides under any conditions). But in places with real winters, it just doesn’t fly. On cold days, I often spend as much time warming up as I do working out; the key is planning for that so I’m not scrambling to spike up when my body is not ready. I’ll go through my full warm-up routine in a future post, but essentially it entails active stretching followed by quicker form drills and ending with a good hard set of strides before I toe the line for rep one.
  • Embrace the ‘mill. Treadmills might be the most polarizing topic in the running world. Fair enough: We still have a lot to learn about how treadmill running translates to land, and some people just aren’t into the whole hamster wheel thing. (I’m not one of them.) There’s something to be said for muscling through a foot of snow and 40mph winds—but there’s also something to be said for a high quality workout with real time feedback. When the roads are slick and trails are buried, I find treadmills to be a safe and handy alternative.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Have a great run, wherever you are!

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