Chalk it up to my northern roots but I find running in the cold dry snow to be not so bad. Definitely better than running on a treadmill. And I don’t hold a grudge against treadmills just because of that time I fell on one in front of my model cousin when I was 13 (the safety belt is there for a reason!).
Before moving to KZ, I had never run in subzero temperatures before. Vancouver rarely dips below 0°C and the only other place I’d run outdoors in was Kauai, where I made a poor showing by melting into a red blotchy puddle after 2k of light jogging. On any given day, I would rather run in -°C than +25°C.
The first time I ran in -°C, I wore a toque, top, jacket, and one pair of spandex pants, lent to me by a friend. It felt okay! But then when I took the pants off at home, my skin looked as if someone had thrown boiling water on my legs and my thighs were in the beginning stages of frostbite. Someone asked me how I knew it was frostbite but suffice to say it’s gross.
So I had a lot to learn. Here is my accrued wisdom – learned the hard way so you don’t have to!
I could go out and buy all the proper gear but my foreseeable future doesn’t involve cold regions and while you can get sports gear here, it’s generally more expensive than it would be in the western world. Another friend of mine kindly lent me a muffler and another pair of pants and recommended wearing shorts too. This formula seems to work for up to about -15°C. When it gets to around -20°C, my teeth start to hurt and so I base my running schedule on the weather forecast’s predicted <-15°C days.
Run like a burglar.
My outfit consists of:
- Wool toque
- Running tank
- Running jacket that has flaps that go over your hands like makeshift mittens
- Running shorts
- Full length running pants
- Full length spandex pants
- Running socks
- Running shoes
First I put on the shorts, than the running pants, and then the spandex pants. I find it easiest to keep my hair in a braid so it fits under my toque and muffler. I don’t often keep the muffler over my face since I find it annoying but I will for brief spurts. I keep my iPhone in my shorts pocket, between the layers, close to my stomach so that it keeps warm – otherwise it will shut down from the cold.
One of my friends runs in up to -25°C and he wears one more layer of pants, and two more layers of tops than I do. And a toque that’s actually meant for exercise.
The sidewalks are not always cleared of snow here and it’s so dry that the snow tends to get packed into ice. I always run in the snow to avoid the ice, even though it’s like running through tires and a lot more work. Sometimes your eyebrows freeze over, which is kind of neat!
I have many more close calls with slipping on ice in my day-to-day walking than I do with running. Actually, I fell so hard on my tailbone this weekend when I stepped up an icy entryway that I won’t be able to run for a week or two (I couldn’t tell if I was crying for pain or for sadness at having to be sedentary).
You can also buy some fun spiky things that strap on under your shoes to help grip the ice.
If you have an Astana number, then you get a text telling you when the wind reaches over 15km/hour. It is windy so often that I can’t really base my runs on it, which is for the best since the weather forecast doesn’t say anything about wind. I just make sure I’m running against the wind for the first half of my run and then I turn around for the last half. It is brutal and sometimes it feels like I’m barely moving. But I am building so much character!
You are going to be slower. Come to terms with that. And run for distance/length of time and totally forget about speed until the snow clears and the weather rises above 0°C or else you are going to be constantly disappointed.
I always run up the 10 flights of stairs in my building to warm up afterwards, which sounds terrible but it’s very effective. Also, Astana is so flat and I’m doing a half-marathon in Almaty in April, which is more undulating, so this is my way of elevation training.
I find if I have a hot shower right away it irritates my skin and it’s better if I stretch and give it a bit of time to adjust first.
Running in the cold is hard. You’re bulked down with tons of layers, fighting against wind through fields of snow and your body is working so much harder just because of the temperature. But it’s totally doable and kind of magical in its own way. Take this as one of the very few opportunities to go outdoors this time of year, especially in Astana, which is not a city designed for strolling.
It is also worth it for how AMAZING it is when the cold lets up and you get to run in only one pair of running pants.