Newbie outdoor runner Macy Sarbacker put Uniqlo’s HEATTECH pieces to the ultimate test: Seven straight days of frigid Madison Wisconsin mornings.
Most mornings in the winter, I shiver my way through the couple of minutes it takes to chip the ice off of my windshield. Then, as I’m driving, I’ll see them: runners, still out there pounding the pavement as the Wisconsin winter sets in. Who are these brave, dedicated souls? Are they crazy? Are they not freezing? Is it possible that they like the frigid air?
I wonder, could I do that?
I graduated from college like most students these days: broke, overweight, unemployed, and stressed. The answer, I found—after packing up my car to the brim and moving back in with my parents—was controlling the one thing I really could: my health. Too broke for a gym membership, I got a FitBit and set an initial goal of 10,000 steps per day, most of them outdoors. Over time, I lost 15 pounds and gained a true passion for taking care of my body. Eventually, I got certified as a personal trainer and started doing HIIT workouts and lifting weights. I run now, too, but in cold weather, it’s always on the treadmill.
Those crazy outdoor runners got my wheels turning recently. So I decided to set up a new challenge for myself. I committed to running outside daily for a full week. And yes, I really did run every morning for seven days straight, including a day when I woke up to a record-breaking low of 12 degrees! Clearly I didn’t freeze to death since I’m writing this story. But I did learn some useful lessons along the way.
I knew that I needed some new cold-weather running gear that was functional, but for extra motivation to get out of my warm bed, I figured cute would help, too. I decided to give UNIQLO gear a try. I mean, something called HEATTECH has got to keep a girl warm, right?! I layered a thin long-sleeve HEATTECH T-shirt under the HEATTECH Stretch Fleece Hoodie and was nice and toasty. It was super-warm. The HEATTECH Extra Warm Leggings on their own were all I needed for late fall, but I might opt for the HEATTECH Ultra Warm Leggings when the temperature goes truly arctic.
The hardest part of running outside in cold weather was mentally preparing myself to do it. Getting bundled up helped. But I also decided to keep my path close to home, a quick two-mile loop around my neighborhood. That way, if I froze my booty off, I could get back home in a jiffy.
The first run started off great! I was warm, I was pumped and I was ready. About halfway through, I pushed past my thoughts of cold thighs. By the time I finished, I was surprised by how well I’d fared.
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Back at home, sitting under a blanket, I did a little research. Did you know that cold weather is actually ideal for running? “Heat and humidity place significant stress on the cardiovascular system,” says exercise physiologist Tom Holland, M.S., C.S.C.S., author of The Marathon Method, told me. “When we run in warmer temperatures, our cardiovascular system is ‘conflicted,’ pumping blood to both our working muscles and to our skin to help regulate the body’s core temperature. The hotter it is, the more blood goes to cooling us down instead of helping us run. This is why running in cooler temperatures feels easier, and you can go faster and longer.”
This makes a lot of sense to me based on my experience running in the cold; it was easier to breathe, and I had no issues with my sometimes-painful knees. And while a week of running usually isn’t enough for me to see any big physical changes in my body, I could tell that my stamina had definitely improved. Win!
That physical boost can give you a mental one, as well. I spoke to Rob Sulaver, founding trainer of Rumble Boxing and founder of Bandana Training, who grew up running outside in the winter to train for wrestling season. He says, “at the end of the day, cold-weather runners are too busy making progress to make any excuses.” Love that.
Additionally, I’ve always heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the bad case of the blues and even depression that some people experience when the days get shorter in the winter. While I have no formal SAD diagnosis, I notice that my mood tends to be lower during the dark, cold days of winter. This week of outdoor running really seemed to help with that. Being outside while the sun was rising in the morning boosted my spirits. And even later in the day, I found I had more energy and a more positive outlook.
Overall, running outside in the cold temperatures was a more challenging workout—and a better one than I would have gotten on the treadmill. Having the right gear definitely made a huge difference, but my experiment was also a true test of my willpower, much like in those early days post-college when I was getting a handle on my life. In the winter, the weather may be beyond my control, but I do have choices I can make: what time I get up, whether I work out, and what kind of mood I will be in for the rest of the day.
Though I probably won’t continue to run outside every single day this winter, when I need a little pick-me-up, now I know exactly what to do.
Source: Women’s Health Mag