Just because the weather has shifted and the OCR season has wrapped up in most parts of the country, that doesn’t mean that we have to resort to indoor gyms or fall into a winter fitness hibernation. The truth is, this “off-season” period is the most important time to focus on addressing weaknesses. You need to be building up your workout resume rather than succumbing to the urge to stay cozy on the couch through the holidays and stall on those New Year’s Resolutions. Plenty of off season training can (and should) take place out in the harsher weather and temps, and it’s smart to know how to gear up to make the most of those workout sessions.
While the obvious focus is to stay warm, we also want to make sure we’re keeping our bodies protected while we’re out in the blustery wind or snow that everyone, except you lucky Floridians (?), might have to face for the next 3 or 4 months. I’ll admit that as a New Yorker I’m not a fan of the cold (and should indeed be a resident of the Panhandle State instead). So, although it’s not as fun as training in shorts and tee-shirt, bundling up a little will prevent everything from dangerous hypothermia or frostbite, to just annoying muscle strains or chafing.
One of the biggest troubles I have in winter weather is quickly getting numb hands and fingers, so keeping them shielded from the cold will vastly improve the quality of an outdoor workout or run. I like to wear tough outdoor training gloves on these delicate hands when it’s even under 50 degrees, but I’ve discovered a training tip that with that extra layer, I have to work even harder to hold things (for a farmer carry, let’s say). So it’s almost intentional that gloves are sometimes part of the equipment, since it can benefit your grip strength for so many other obstacles you’ll face later, when you might not have have the gloves on.
For the rest of your body, some simple rules apply. It’s no secret that you want to avoid cotton, which will only retain sweat and quickly zap you of body heat. Not mention the likelihood of a rash from chafing = not a good time! So, stick with more “tech” material and outdoor performance apparel, which will also be lighter and more comfortable. I also tend to overheat quickly, so I prefer to dress in layers that are easy to shed if needed. A good base layer is key, which can be top and/or bottom of tighter fitting compression gear, and at the very least will cut some of the wind-chill down. I get the same issue with my toes as I do with numb hands, so good outdoor performance socks are absolutely critical. Again – no cotton unless you really want some blistered up, raw, unhappy feet. And lastly, since we know body heat is primarily lost through the top of our head and I’ll sometimes even get a headache from prolonged exposure to cold, we want to keep our noggins and ears well covered. A fleece or wool hat is perfect, even if you have to take it off at some point from too much warmth, and a neck gaiter or balaclava can also be helpful for the chilliest temps.
Though it might not exactly be considered “gear”, it’s also important to mention how sensitive our faces can be to the wind and elements, so never forget to bring some Chapstick in your pocket and maybe even apply some Vaseline to your cheeks and nose if they’re not already covered. It’s also never a bad idea to wear goggles or at least some (sun)glasses to block the wind and sun from your eyes, especially if snow on the ground is reflecting the light back at you, a bad recipe for squinting, headaches, and teary eyes that will only be distraction from enjoying your outdoor winter OCR training.
There’s a lot of research in progress right now about the benefits of cold shock therapy and regular exposure to cold outdoor training. It can be hard to face the cold, but finishing a cold outdoor workout is invigorating in a way you just can’t replicate in the gym. Good luck and get out there!