As much of the United States recently experienced record cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills, runners faced challenges in outdoor training. To provide some professional advice, we checked in with Rick Muhr, founder of the Marathon Coalition in the Boston area, finisher of 32 marathons, coach of more than 15,000 runners, and a 43-year veteran of running. A New England resident and a frequent traveler, Muhr logs miles through many tough winters.
Here are Muhr’s expert recommendations on winter running, whether preparing for a race or running recreationally.
- Q) For those who live in colder climates, where temperatures, snow and ice can be issues, how do you recommend splitting up training outdoors and inside? A) Safety always determines the ratio of indoor/outdoor training. Nothing is better than training outside with respect to replicating the movement pattern of actual running. However, extreme temperatures, wind chill values and ice-covered roads can force a runner to train indoors. When possible, I recommend at least 25% of total weekly training volume be completed outside.
- Q) How do you determine whether to forego outdoor training? A) Runner safety is ALWAYS my guide. The greatest risks to runner safety are extreme temperatures and wind chill values, icy roads and sidewalks, and high volumes of snow, forcing runners into the street. Snow mounds also can block drivers’ vision, particularly in intersections, which can create hazards for runners.
- Q) What are the advantages of running outside versus indoors for race preparation? A) Nothing replaces the experience of running outside for preparing for a race. The sense of accomplishment from completing a run outdoors is difficult to replace with indoor training.
- Q) How should you dress for outdoor runs? A) I recommend dressing for temperatures 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature to avoid overheating and carrying extra clothing throughout the run. The base layer is extremely important in retaining body heat, staying dry and staving off hypothermia. The majority of body heat escapes from the head, hands and feet, so keeping them covered is extremely important. Merino wool is a wonderful insulator for these areas, as well as a neck gaiter to protect the face.
- Q) How do you keep your feet warm? A) I prefer trail shoes for extremely cold days, because the uppers tend to be more protective. I place duct tape over the forefoot of my trail shoes as an additional barrier from extreme cold.
- Q) How about safety tips for outdoor winter runs? A) Improving visibility is paramount to outdoor runner safety. My top items are a highly reflective vest, headlamp with flashing taillight on the back of the headlamp and on my waist, reflective bands for the wrist and ankles (very active areas that catch the attention of drivers).
- Q) As springtime races get closer, should you be running outdoors more? A) Running outside is always the best preparing for racing, because it replicates exactly what one will encounter during the race. One of the most overlooked benefit of running outside is the uneven surfaces and cambers of the road. The muscles, tendons and ligaments need to acclimate to theses. Muscle memory of repetitive impact is another major benefit of running outside, provided a runner doesn’t place themselves at risk by running too many miles too soon.
- Q) If you cannot run outside, what are some of the best ways to train indoors? A) By far, my first choice for running indoors is the Zero Runner. It’s completely zero impact, replicates the natural movement of the human body and activates the posterior chain (low back, glutes and hamstrings) better than other options.