Running, especially running outside in winter (that’s Canadian winters, btw) has had a significant impact on my ability to regulate my thoughts and emotions.
Running outside in the cold has not only the “typical” physical health benefits associated with exercise, but it also greatly improves my focus and impacts my ability to manage stress throughout the day.
Is it hard to run outside in winter?
Well, believe it or not, running in cold temperatures, or Canadian winters, is not as bad as you think. It’s actually quite fun, and probably one of the coolest things I have going on in my life right now.
But it happened progressively.
How I started running in cold weather
I had been running for about 8 months when winter came and I kinda felt desperate. I did not want to stop running!
I could not stop. Running outside had become essential to my wellbeing. It’s one of the first things I do when I need to pull myself out of a downward spiral. Without it, I’m drowning.
But during the pandemic, there were no gyms opened. And I had to continue running. So…
I am not a “runner”. I mean I do it now, but if you were to make a list of all the sports that exist on the planet, and asked me to sort them in order of preference… running would have probably been at the bottom of the list. No joke.
That is, up until a few months ago. Because ever since I started running in cold weather, I enjoy it so much more! I swear, it has changed me. It literally calls me.
I don’t know what happened. I don’t think it’s the running itself. I think it has to do with the cold. I think there is some magic to winter but we don’t see it because we fear it so much.
But what is it like to run in such cold temperatures, you might ask? So many people ask me in disbelief “how do you do it?”. I’ve asked that question myself, so many times! I had a colleague who used to bike 20 km to work everyday, all year round.
I guess my answer now is similar to his then: It really is not as bad as you think.
What it actually feel like to run outside in winter
1. Excuses lose their power
I don’t look out the window. It doesn’t matter what the weather looks like, that it’s raining, or snowing, or that it’s windy.
If I start to think about it, then I will start to make excuses.
And the excuses really don’t matter. So often I’ve told myself in the past that I would have a “bad” run, that there was no point in even trying. That I was too tired, too hungry, too sore, too cold, too hot, too this and that. But every time, really, every-single-time, I was wrong. As a matter of fact, on those days, I usually had my best runs.
Btw, If I go outside and I hurt myself somehow, or I am not able to run for x or y reason, well I am no dummy… I will just come back home. But this has only happened once in the past year.
2. You feel the power of nature
So now I just get up and get dressed as soon as I have the thought: “I kinda want to run”. If I thought it, then I want it.
So, I simply get dressed and open the door, step outside and take a deep breath.
I am usually greeted by a sudden gust of wind. I love it so much! I am learning to fully feel and appreciate the force of nature instead of fearing it and hiding form it. It used to intimidate or scare me but, not anymore. Now, I want to feel it.
Have you ever stopped to appreciate the power of the wind? It can either play a soft music in the tree branches, or carry a whole house. It is soft, melodious, powerful… humbling. Do you feel the rain drops on your skin or the snow flakes melting on your face?
3. 10 degrees, 0 degrees, or minus 15 degrees… it’s all the same
In terms of difficulty, I don’t see a big difference between running during Fall, or running during Winter. Really. I don’t even dress that much differently. I simply add a balaclava, thicker gloves. Maybe a warmer base-layer.
As soon as you start moving, you warm up anyway.
Now, I am no specialist, but maybe running in extreme cold is more physically demanding/tiring? Well, that’s how it feels at times. But beyond that, I don’t find it harder. I actually find it more enjoyable. Way more enjoyable than running in + 30˚C in August. This… I find very, very difficult! Painful, even.
4. That focus is gold
The main challenge is to not slip and fall.
This used to scare me because I suffer from Rheumatoid arthritis, and the last thing I want is to fall on my knees or my wrists. But it hasn’t happened so far. And I concentrate so much on the road, that it actually makes me even more focused during my run, which, in my opinion, is a big plus. I don’t run to think, I run to “stop” thinking and be present.
The best part is, this increase in focus follows me in other areas of my day.
So, I walk for a few hundred meters, and then I start to jog once I arrive in the park. I feel the air on my face, in my lungs; I admire the trees; the pond; the colors, a wonderful mix of blue (the sky), white (the snow and clouds), green (the pine trees), brown (the trunks) etc.
5. I don’t feel the cold the same way I used to
I don’t feel the cold anymore. I don’t think it’s because I’ve “gotten used to it”. I think it is because I have changed my diet.
Up to a few weeks/months ago, my body used to be in a permanent state of “over heating”. You know how your old laptop went wild if you watched movies for days, while laying it on your bed covers? Well, that was my body… 24/7. All day, every-day.
That was until I switched to an anti-inflammatory diet.
I recently started to follow (or I am attempting at least) the Wahls protocol for my RA. No more bread, pasta, dough, cereals… gone. I also eat more meat. The impact this has had on my overall health is unbelievable. But one of the more surprising changes is how much more resistant to the cold I have become. I can literally sit in front of an open window on a freezing night, and actually enjoy the cold breeze on my skin!
6. I have fun
So that’s it. I just run.
I create paths on the snow. I run after squirrels. I talk to the trees. I laugh, jump, slide… But I also watch my steps. I listen to the noises of “nature” (I mean, I live in a city so…). I enjoy the fantastic view (and yes, “naked” trees are still beautiful). I nod or smile to the other runners, bikers, snowshoers who still decided to go outside despite what many people would have called “bad” weather.
7. I am just like you
While I run, I sometimes feel so… badass! I am running in the snow/the rain/the cold/the mud/etc. I can’t help but think: I am the kind of person who does this sort of thing!? Last year me would have never believed that.
This is such a wonderful (and much needed) boost on my self-confidence and my morale. After I’ve done that, it is so much easier to face the other challenges the day inevitably throws at me.
By the way. I am no “exception” and I am no athlete. I am a very skinny petite woman with rheumatoid arthritis and ZERO experience running. I took up running last year, on my own and learned along the way. I actually started very slowly about 2-3 years ago, first walking and then running. Not so long ago, I was weak, very weak physically and mentally and I had (still have) health issues. But I’ve done it. Very slowly, gradually, at my own pace, and on my own.
Oh, and did I mention that I come from a tropical island?
Seriously, if I can do it, most people can.