By Clara Santucci
Exercise Physiologist

How did you handle Winter Storm Jonas? Did you take time to appreciate the power and beauty of it?

Over the past few days since that huge snowstorm, many people have asked how I train during the winter. I’d like to share answers to some of the most frequently asked questions I get about quality winter training, especially when preparing for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on Feb. 13.

How cold does it have to be for you not to run outside?

There is no limit for me. The coldest temperature I’ve endured while running was 8 below zero, but it felt like 20 to 30 below zero! I know others have run in much colder temperatures.

The key is preparing properly. Cover all exposed skin either with clothing or Vaseline to create a barrier against frostbite when there is a risk for it. Layer your clothing, including socks, gloves, and a hat that covers the ears. After 10-15 minutes of running, nothing should hurt or feel numb anymore. If it does, add more layers to those areas. If you feel too warm, take off some layers. The sensation of cold weather running can be invigorating when it’s done correctly!

Do you run on the treadmill, or do you run outside no matter what?

I do run on the treadmill when it can be more beneficial than running outside. Those situations include:

  • If it is cold outside and I am preparing for a race in a warmer climate,
  • If I want to run fast paces and the ground outside is too covered in snow or too slick to be safe for fast speeds, or
  • If I feel like I have may overused a muscle group that has been sore. For example, hamstrings are used more when running through snow.

There have been many great runners from northern states and countries who have trained on treadmills and have been very successful in road and track races. The treadmill can benefit running at times, although running outside is something I enjoy much more!

How do you run in this snow?

I just go out the door and do it!

One thing to realize is that your gait will be different. You’ll slip back a little more on each step, you might have to lift your knees up a little higher through deep snow, and you’ll have to be very careful when making turns not to fall. You can wear YakTrax, snowshoes, or trail shoes that have a good grip. I like my Saucony Xodus 6.0 GTX trail shoes. Special footwear can help you get through the snow with a little more ease.

Still, the same effort you exert for fast running will be used even at a slower pace. But running in the snow can build physical and mental toughness. You will work muscles a little harder, you will get to enjoy the fresh air and beauty of the pure, white landscape, and you’ll probably feel a little like Rocky. I know I do!

Stay safe and enjoy the season!


WVU Medicine is proud to partner with Clara Santucci as she chases her dream of joining the U.S. Olympic Team in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For more information, visit wvumedicine.org/clara.