"If Chicago had weather like San Diego there would be 40 million people living here." True, but we don't have that kind of weather in Chicago. Unless you bounce between San Diego and Chicago, well, you better learn to dress for the cold. Running outside in the tundra of Chicago isn't as horrible as many would have you believe. No need to retreat for the "dreadmill" unless you are doing a specific session. Running in this cold actually lends to several advantages.
Cold doesn't seem to bother these Chicago area runners.
Deal with the Cold
Tony Robbins teaches about starting with your mental state. If you are saying to yourself, "This is going to suck. This is going to suck." Guess what? You may get done and feel it sucked. Start off positive. I run with a fun group. Regardless of the weather I wake up thinking, "Man, I can't wait to see John and Dean and tell them that joke I heard." My first 20 mile run was done at -10 F (warmed up to -2 by the time we were done); I've never laughed that hard in my life for that long. (Thank you Pat and Bill.) I didn't feel super tired until 18 and then we only had two miles to go. The thought of warm coffee and bagels kept me going. Laughing at breakfast and shooting coffee through my nose wasn't in that visualization - but it was fun none the less.
This is "spring" in Chicago.
There is no bad weather, just poor clothing choices and excuses.
Earlier in this blog I told you my first 20 miler was at -10 F. It isn't that hard. Dress in layers. Tech clothing is coming down in price and you could always add an old sweatshirt and cheapo windbreaker. You don't need to be decked out in Craft Wind Stopper head to toe. That said... I LOVE the Craft winder gear. 2XU makes a great cycling vest. Pearl Izumi has some awesome wind stopper jackets and gloves. Find what works for you and ask for it for Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries - whatever. You'll be glad you have that gear when the first spring rides start out at 40 F or if you go to San Diego and it is "cold" in the morning before Swami's ride. After a few runs you will be amazed at how "warm" 20 F feels.
Start a little cold
Dress for temps about 15 degrees warmer than the current and expected outside temperature. If you are too warm you will sweat a ton and that puts you at a greater risk of hypothermia AND in the end you will feel COLDER for dressing warmer. I use a glove that allows air to pass through. Once I've warmed up I really don't notice the cold.
In spite of being cold at the start, allow your body to warm up. Don't start off at 6:00/mile pace and slow back to aerobic pace. Everything is cold. It's only a few minutes of cold. Suck it up.
Leave the cigarettes in the car, that's not what I mean. I'm amazed at how stupid so many runners are. My car doesn't have an infrared windshield. I don't own infrared glasses for night driving. I don't know you are out running at 6pm in 10 F weather. Wear a reflective vest. Get reflective tops, gloves, hats and lights. I'm partial to the Pulsar lights by RoadID and the headlamp from Petzl. These might just give you that extra split second to dive off the road when "Happy hour Harry" or "Harriet") heads home. **When I'm out on the road I assume EVERYONE out there a) cannot see me b) is homicidal c) is drunk and high d) has a loaded weapon in the car.** I live where there are no street lights. This is mandatory equipment unless you have a death wish. Lastly, be smart. Where I live and where my in-laws live there have been coyote attacks. Don't think that a few hungry coyotes won't try and take you down. Last spring I had three following me out of the forest preserve. My easy run turned into a hard cross country run as I hoped a fence and got onto the road ASAP. They ended their pursuit. These animals are trying to make it through the winter. Late December through late February they need food. My running vest was hanging next to the dog food AND I found a few puppy cookies in the back pocket.
Trails, Snowshoes, XC Skis and Soccer Fields
Frozen trails can be just like asphalt and concrete. Go off roadin'. I run around flood control "hills" and fields a lot. It keeps me off the same old streets. Try snowshoes. They will get your heart pumping. I XC ski a lot in the winter. I live right off of a long trail. It's wonderful fun and my dog can sniff the bushes at the side of the trail too. Soccer fields... not just for soccer, but also running across them in the winter will get you strong.
Bring Water, Gel and a Towel
I'm amazed at how many folks don't bring water on a run in the winter. If GSSI taught me anything, they taught me to always have something to drink and extra in the car. I normally have extra drinks in the car. I always have a gel with me. A nice, big, dry towel in the car afterwards can make you feel a lot better too.
Instead of running a hard loop like the Home Economist (Fisher Nut) in Barrington, IL - run the out and back first. If you can handle that a few weeks then go for the full run. No sense in getting eight miles from the car and realizing you are bonking badly or can't run another step and now will freeze solid as you walk back to the car.
When you are expending energy to stay warm your bodies immune system will need more fuel to fight illness. Taking something like Zone Diet's fish oil, vitamin C and CoQ10 will help you stay healthy at a cellular level. Think this is a joke? Look at the people around you who eat like crap relative to those who don't. Who is sick more? Who has more energy? Who is happier? Additionally, there was a recent British study that found taking fish oil helps cure the winter blues.
Lastly, when you run outside in the morning and the sun starts appearing earlier and earlier you will feel better in the spring having toughed out a winter running season in Chicago.