Chronic Illness, Running, Type 1 Diabetes

How I Get Through Outdoor Runs During the North Dakota Winter

I’m sure many of you know by now that I live in the warm and sunny state of North Dakota. Just kidding. It’s the beginning of October and there was a blizzard a few days ago. It’s the opposite of warm and sunny here. Despite the fact that I complain about the weather a lot, I love it here. I love the size of Fargo, the friends I’ve met here, the running community I’ve found, and most importantly, I love my job which is the main reason I moved here. One of the biggest events in Fargo is the Fargo Marathon which takes place in early May. For those of you who have trained for a marathon, or any race, you know that it takes a few months of preparation before hand. This means that each year I choose to run the Fargo Marathon I get to train in the DEAD of winter. While some days the arctic wind chills keep me inside on the treadmill, other days I run outside in the wind, snow, and cold. Am I crazy? Probably, but these conditions won’t ever change so I might as well adapt.

Winter running also means running over snow piles

Last winter was rough for a lot of us in the Midwest. Here in Fargo, we are not strangers to sub-zero temperatures, wind chill values of almost 40 below zero, and blizzards. That means running in the winter can be unpredictable. When I started training for my first full marathon in December of 2018, I knew that I’d be able to run some of my long runs outside, but some would have to be done on the treadmill. I spent A LOT of time on the treadmill last winter, and while I do need to be careful about running in cold temperatures because of my insulin pump and my continuous glucose monitor, I really tried my best to get outside when I could. Of course, that meant that I needed to make sure that I was prepared for running in extreme conditions. Here’s how I run during the winter in the Midwest.

Clothing

The first, and most obvious thing to cover, is what you would even wear when you go for a run in arctic temperatures. This may go without saying, but it’s important to keep as much skin covered as possible; even if you think you’ll be too warm. I like to dress in layers because if I do end up getting too hot, I can take something off.

Base Layers

My legs stay the warmest during winter runs so I don’t usually wear double layers on my legs. Instead, I opt for cold wear gear from Under Armor or Nike, or pants that are lined with fleece. (A lot of my workout gear is from Target and the brand Champion really works for me!) If there’s one thing I’ve learned from running in the cold it’s that there is nothing worse than having any part of my ankle exposed to the bitter cold. I wear crew length socks during the winter to make sure that my whole leg is covered, and that I can avoid any unwelcome breezes. Keeping my arms warm is a bit of a different story though. Unless the temperatures are hovering near freezing, I need to wear a long sleeve or short sleeve shirt as my first layer. Overtop of that shirt, I wear a fleece lined zip up.

Outer Layers

While I keep myself warm and cozy with my base layers, I still need to prepare for the bitterly cold wind that Fargo is known for, and keep my hands and ears warm. If it’s a particularly windy day on the plains, which is more often than not, I wear a wind breaker jacket over my zip up. It also happens to be neon yellow which helps keep me visible and safe during the darker morning hours. The sidewalks are usually snow covered during the winter months here which prompts me to run in the road. If I’m wearing dark colors, or even white, I try to wear some kind of bright color to keep drivers alerted to my presence. If it’s not terribly windy outside, I usually opt for a vest as an outer layer. It gives me an extra layer of warmth while running, but doesn’t make me feel overheated. I also never run without gloves! This may seem like a no brainer, but I’ve definitely walked out the door for a runs without them. Having something for your head, and the rest of your face some days, is also a must. I have a larger headband that doubles as an earmuff, but I also have a hat that I wear if it’s windy or below zero. If the wind is really bitter, I’ll wear a scarf around my face to help keep me a little extra warm.

Fuel

I think the hardest part about running in the winter is fueling yourself. I normally use gels to help fuel myself during long runs, but I found out the hard way that they don’t stay in gel form in the cold weather. (Even under all of your layers.) I had to adapt and break my runs into parts. Whether I stop halfway at my apartment or at Fargo Running Company, I usually refuel inside to ensure that my gels or wafers aren’t frozen. This is also how I go about re-hydrating. I try to make pit stops inside so I can drink some water that isn’t frozen solid..

Things to Try in 2019-2020

This past winter was the first time I tried my best to get my long runs done outside because the majority of them were over 10 miles. Since winter is coming up, I’ve brain stormed some things I’d like to try this coming winter.

  1. Hand warmers. Out of everything, my hands just never wanted to stay warm. For the first mile they would be frozen, by the second or third mile they’d start sweating, but then they’d just freeze all over again. I tried wearing multiple pairs of gloves and even mitten over them, but nothing kept them warm enough. This year I’m going to try putting hand warmers inside my gloves and see if that helps. There is nothing worse than running with frozen hands!
  2. Traction cleats. With snow comes ice, and there’s nothing worse than seeing your life flash before your eyes when you slip on it. Last year I got through running outside without falling on any ice, but I had some close calls. My worst nightmare is putting in all the training and then have everything fall apart because I slipped on the ice and broke something. (Been there, done that.) For my birthday this year my sister bought me a pair of traction cleats, and I’m excited to be able to run outside with them in the snow and ice.

Cold Weather & Medical Devices

For those of you who are unaware, I’m a Type 1 Diabetic. I wear an insulin pump which is a device that continuously delivers insulin to my body, and I wear a continuous glucose monitor that relays my blood sugar levels to my phone every five minutes. I use my best judgement when running outside in such cold conditions with these devices. There are certain temperatures that are just TOO cold for anyone to be running in, let alone someone who has expensive medical devices on them. If I feel it’s too cold outside, I will go to the gym and run on the treadmill or track instead. I don’t usually run with my Omnipod PDM, or the part of my insulin pump that I physically use to dose myself with insulin.

I’ve also been asked a lot about how my insulin itself fairs in such cold temperatures because frozen insulin is not good insulin. My pod is usually covered under a few layers of clothing, and I’ve never had insulin freeze in my pump during a run. I also haven’t had any issues after my run that would make me think that my insulin was frozen in my pump at some point during the run. I think the biggest thing to take away from this is when running with medical devices, always, always, always use your best judgment.

8 miles in a winter storm

Running in extreme cold weather certainly isn’t for everyone. I run in the cold weather because I can only mentally last on a treadmill for so many miles before I start to feel like I’m going insane. Winters in North Dakota aren’t going to get any warmer so if I want to avoid running on the treadmill, I have to learn how to love running in sub-zero temperatures. Hopefully after reading this post you’ll feel a little more prepared on how to run in bone chilling temperatures.

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