Tips for new running routine

Proper clothing, motivation and safety help during winter runs

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Ann Ryan

Running Columnist

This time of year, it's easy to get sucked into discussions of snug waistbands, regrets over holiday treats and new resolutions to lose weight and (re)gain fitness. Marketing wizards plan well ahead for this guilt-driven mindset; peppy ads for gyms, fitness programs and miracle diets are everywhere.

I'm late arriving to this resolution party, but if you're thinking about starting – or re-starting a running routine now that the calendar has flipped, I have a few thoughts. While not all-encompassing, let's touch on clothing, motivation and safety.

First, clothing.  There are many online forums that will tell you what to wear for winter running, and all will provide links to where you can buy their suggested stuff. The cardinal rules I follow are these:

(1) LAYER UP, but banish cotton. Look toward lightweight wools and polyester blends that wick sweat away from your body and fleece / light jackets to keep the heat in.

(2) Dress for 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature – start your run a little cold. I know, this doesn't help with the "I don't want to go out that door!" part, but really, after a few minutes, or what's considered the warmup mile, as your heart rate increases, you do warm up. And then you regret wearing your parka to run in.

Winter can be a tough time to start an activity that likely takes place in the cold and the dark – two pretty big barriers to entry!  One of the best tools in the motivation toolbox is a buddy; someone you can count on to join you, and equally counts on you to show up. If you don't have a running / walking buddy, consider a club – Oak Park Runners Club has group runs for runners of all paces and distances, and both Lively Athletics and Fleet Feet sponsor group runs, also at different entry levels.  There are Facebook groups as well: BFF, or Best Foot Forward is an Oak Park-based women's running group with over 100 members.

Now that I've pointed you in the direction of running buddies, people to help you on your journey and challenge you, I will climb onto my safety soapbox. I'm not well qualified in the area of personal defense, but I have a theme:  LIGHT YOURSELF UP. If you've ever driven in the pre-dawn and did the "squint-swerve-swear" to avoid a shadowy figure running in the street, you know where I'm going. If you're the driver, you don't want to be responsible for injuring the road ninja. And if you're that road ninja, you don't want a close encounter with a distracted driver. Runner, make yourself visible.  Get yourself a headlamp, an LED-lit or at least reflective vest and hand-held lights. It's a modest, but meaningful investment.  

Not related to self-lighting, but equally important safety notes: always be aware of your surroundings. Of course, if you're in a group or with a buddy, this is already a big help.  But if you're running solo, make sure you can see AND HEAR what's around you.  Also if you're solo, wear or carry an ID. (check out for ideas) And a final note; if you're in the street, run FACING oncoming traffic. And if said traffic looks like it's not making room for you, take the high road and hop onto the parkway.

Since you're dressed, partnered and lit up, all you need is the all-important existential feed. I'd like to share one of the Oak Park Runners Club traditions. Every winter, they hold a discussion of "highlights, low-lights and new goals". All are invited to share what went well for them in the past year, what may have fallen short, and what hopes they have for the year ahead. I think this is a refreshing departure from the classic "resolution" model—one is not viewing the end of the year as a downward spiral, nor the start as a painful climb toward the impossible.

At this January's meeting, members recounted some highs from their 2017 races run and lows involving injuries still being worked through. Inspiring highs involved running races with family members --bonding experiences that transcended winning or placing. Equally inspiring were stories of bucket-list hikes in our national parks and world travels—(TWO people who didn't know each other had climbed Machu Picchu. What are the odds??)  Sure, new goals also included setting personal bests or finishing big races in the year to come, after all it is a running club. But those who shared their personal goals and stories had more than medals on their to-do lists.  

Sometimes, I think just shaking myself outside of my comfort zone and being open to new experiences can yield big rewards.  Last year I resolved to participate in a 339-mile relay across the state of Iowa, ( even though I had big concerns about living and running out of a van for 3 days (even a nice van, with friends!) and it turned out to be the most fun I've ever had…Ok, the most fun that involved running.



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