Indoor, outdoor running during winter offers many health benefits


Photo: Tim Reuter/Iowa State Daily

Members of the running club go out for a jog near Beyer Hall on Monday, Nov. 7.

Claire Kruesel

With 60 degree days this winter, don’t be surprised if cabin-feverish legs are overtaken by the urge to run.

“This winter has been amazing for runners,” said Emily Hampton, owner of Ignite Yoga, 2707 Stange Road, and an avid runner herself.

While it’s warm out, how does one properly layer for the wind and cold that are more typical of winter weather, or decide when it’s wiser to run inside?

Mason Frank, president of the Iowa State Running Club and senior in mathematics, reported that members of the cblub will run in pretty much any weather. In fact, he said, “Last year when we had a blizzard, we were excited to run in it. … Yeah, your eyebrows may freeze during the run, but it is so much fun.”

Frank makes an exception for cold rain or sleet.

“[The club decides] for our health it would be best to run indoors,” Frank said.

To make outdoor winter runs safe and comfortable, he recommended layering according to conditions: one to two layers of running tights and two running shirts. For temperatures less than 25 degrees Fahrenheit, he suggested two long-sleeved shirts. If it’s warmer, wear a long-sleeved shirt over a short-sleeved one.

Jordan McCrea, employee at Jax Outdoor Gear on West Lincoln Way, recommended base layers from Under Armor’s Cold Gear line or SmartWool as flexible and comfortable. When it’s warmer out (45 to 60 degrees), she suggested Brooks’ Silver Bullet gear, which is embedded with aluminum particles and provides lightweight comfort over a wide range of conditions.

There is room for personal variation, however.

“It’s basically a preference on how you want to feel for the first couple minutes of your run and whether or not you feel comfortable leaving your clothes in a bush,” Frank said.

Frank added that if you see clothes in a bush, leave them alone — they probably belong to a runner who will be back for them soon.

When deciding on specific gear, Frank advised considering what the fabric will be like drenched in sweat, because “when you run in the winter, you still sweat.” A lot of runners prefer technical gear for this reason, which can be found at outdoor activity outfitters such as Jax.

McCrea said that along with shirts and running tights, it’s wise to wear gloves and a hat. Jax carries windproof, lightweight gloves and runner-specific hats with ear coverage and holes for ponytails, though Frank mentioned that many Iowa State Running Club members use cheaper gloves that work just fine. McCrea suggested trying neck gaiters, which protect the face and neck from windburn or frostbite.

Research shows that exercising in nature — even if it’s just the lawns and trees of residential streets — improves mood significantly more than doing the same exercise indoors.

“I like to balance my running with changing scenery no matter what time of the year,” Hampton said.

Along with a mood lift, outdoor running has practical benefits. Frank stated that “[the running club runs] outside because it is best for injury prevention. Running around a track with 90-degree angles is a great way to injure yourself if you are doing it more than once or twice a week.”

To reduce risk of injury running outside, the club adopts a slower pace when running on ice and snow and takes wider and slower turns. There are gear options to increase grip on ice, as well. Though Hampton said she prefers to take her running indoors when it’s icy or snowy outside, she said “you could wear special shoe accessories called Yaktrax that help prevent slipping.”

Yaktrax secure metal coils across the sole of the shoe with a rubbery band. They can be purchased at Jax.

For safety outside, McCrea suggests reflective gear, which can be anything from clothing with reflective details to a lightweight vest. In March, Jax will stock Mason emergency wristbands, which can hold emergency information.  They also have the ability to sync with a debit card so you can purchase food, drink or anything else you need while running outdoors.

If you’re running outside, especially at night, let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back, or run with a friend.

Though many outdoor runners take to the sidewalks or streets, there are several places in Ames that make a special run. Try the ISU Cross-Country Course, Ada Hayden park just off North Grand Avenue (it’s bike- and pet-friendly too), or carve a path through Iowa State’s campus.

Indoor running can be more than just a fallback option for icy conditions. If you’d like to run with a friend who has a different pace, side-by-side treadmills offer an option for running together. Some runners like tracking their pace on a treadmill and indoor tracks are made with special cushioning material that some runners prefer.

If you’d like to run indoors, Lied Recreation Athletic Center and State Gym both offer many treadmills and tracks. Faculty and staff can access these facilities with purchase of a special pass.