For runners undeterred by snow, sleet, or icy temperatures, a big challenge is convincing your nonrunning friends that you're not crazy. "People have a fear of running in the cold," says Bill Rodgers, winner of four New York City and four Boston marathons, who still competes in the 55-59 age group. "There's a myth that running will freeze your lungs, and of course that won't happen." Rodgers, co-owner of the Bill Rodgers Running Center in Boston (billrodgers.com), has plenty to say in defense of winter runs. "I think running in winter is really stunning. You can train well -- better than in the summer when you're perspiring more."
While treadmills are fine, "I've always been a runner who wanted to go out," he says. "The trickiest thing I found was not snow, but the ice. I take my corners really slow. On bad-weather days, I cut back. But sometimes I like to go out there in a blizzard -- because it's fun."
How does Rodgers get the most out of his workout when the weather isn't cooperating? "I would say the No. 1 thing is a winter running suit, in Gore-Tex," he says. "You'll be relaxed and comfortable and get more out of your effort." You also need a good pair of mittens and, he adds, "a cap -- not a baseball hat. You lose about 40% of your body heat through your head. A warm woolen or all-weather hat will keep your head warm."
Of course, with a hat pulled over your ears, you can't hear as well. So be extra vigilant when crossing intersections or moving along busy streets. "If you're running in the city, or even in a park," Rodgers says, "you want to be alert and know when you're being passed by faster runners or cyclists."
Rodgers says a good one-hour run in the winter would consist of 10 miles (for him). He suggests starting with an easy jog for 1.5 to 2.0 miles, then doing a sequence alternating faster and slower intervals. Begin with a lower number of intervals, and build gradually. "The first week you might start with two times three minutes [three minutes fast, recover, three minutes fast again, recover]. Then, after a couple of weeks, add a few more pickups. Your body adjusts to training, and your average pace runs will feel easier." Rodgers recommends stretching after the workout, when the muscles are loose, to prevent soreness.
Lots of runners go through post-holiday blahs but this, too, will pass. "We need rest, too. I think a lot of runners neglect that," he says. "Once you make it back outdoors, you may be surprised how many runners are out there." Pick a race and enlist one of these hardy souls as a cold-weather training partner. Then, Rodgers says, "nothing can stop you." By Christine Summerson