By Genevieve Story
Running in the winter means long runs in layers, fearless footwear, fleeting daylight, adapting to the elements and a commitment to consistency.
Nothing comes easy in running, regardless of the weather. It takes an added dose of dedication, strength despite discomfort and goal-setting to overcome winter’s challenges and become the stronger, wiser and more resilient version of yourself – a winter weather warrior.
Kathy Dalby, chief executive officer for Pacers Running, is no stranger to cold weather combat. A resident of the D.C. area for close to 20 years, Dalby is familiar with bundling up and taking full advantage of the great outdoors.
“There is something so serene about a snowfall run,” Dalby said. “I find that there are meditative qualities to it. Hitting the pavement or trail on a snowy day gives you a chance to experience the winter around you. I really enjoy it.”
The weather has been unpredictable as of late – a curious blend of temperature patterns and variables, including unseasonably warm days countered with frigid wind chills. Blame it on coincidence, global warming, the rain or your worn-out running shoes.
Regardless of weather, winter isn’t just about surviving, it is about mentally and physically adapting and thriving, overcoming the ups and downs and preparing for the opportunity that awaits us in the spring and summer months.
Spring races for the local runner are in abundance, including and not limited to the hometown staple PNC Parkway Classic 10-miler and 5K, held in April. Races like these are ideal motivators, and lights at the end of a tunnel during an often difficult time of year for most runners.
“The motivation from a spring race such as the PNC Parkway Classic helps a runner invest in their training,” Dalby said. “When you have the opportunity to navigate routes that are affiliated with a race course ahead of the season, you get a boost of confidence and feel like you have a leg up against the competition.”
There are numerous benefits of running during the Northern Hemisphere’s colder months, focusing on the importance of continuity, maintaining forward momentum and exposure to the imperfect, Dalby said.
“Despite the winter, the waterfront is always open, and the trails are less crowded,” Dalby said. “Being bold on days that are less than ideal makes you appreciate a really nice day.”
Winter-weather running has proven to build mental and physical tolerance, provide a healthy dose of vitamin D and create some headspace during a frequently stressful and dormant time of year, research has shown.
However, it comes as no surprise that the winter season can present its own array of challenges. During a time of year where injuries statistically increase, it is important to consider your options and focus on the silver lining, especially on days when the elements make it nearly impossible to approach the outdoors in a safe and stable condition.
“Sometimes treadmills are a good alternative to keep your consistency going when the roads get nasty,” Dalby said. “Runners should also consider taking this opportunity to cross train and utilize all of the great boutique fitness classes our city has to offer. … Join a spin class, get in the pool or work on your strength.”
Exposure to the cold and dark winter weather demands bodily protection. Investing in quality running gear made from a combination of breathable, moisture wicking, reflective and insulated materials is critical. Requisite running attire allows a runner to tolerate the colder temperatures, maintain consistent body temperature, avoid overheating or under-inflation and be seen by motorists and cyclists.
“Making sure you are outfitted for 10 to 20 degrees warmer than the real feel temperature, is the rule of thumb,” Dalby said.
More valuable than the clothes on your back is the company you keep. Motivation, singular focus, accountability and safety are all prophesied in number.
Whether you are trying to find a place to start or gain something new, your local running group is an invaluable resource. With the sheer number of running clubs in the Alexandria area, such as Pacers Alexandria, Potomac Runners, Northern Virginia Running Club, Port City Brewing Company’s Joggers and Lagers or Murphy’s Run Club, you are bound to find your tribe, sharing in training with individuals of similar goals and ability levels during the winter months and beyond.
“Running isn’t linear,” Dalby said. “Whether you are a beginner or advanced, find a goal and stick to it. This time of year can test you, so design a plan as well as a backup and be okay with a shift in agenda to accommodate for the seasonal changes. You may have bad footing or run slower, but don’t beat yourself up about it. Just get out there and enjoy.”
The writer is a Philadelphia native, marathon runner and an experienced journalist covering military affairs. She is a contributing writer to the RunWashington editorial and is a member of Northern Virginia Running Club. Contact Genevieve at Genevieve.Story@gmail.com.