Okay, so the weather outside isn't all that frightful — even on the coldest winter days in Tampa Bay.
Still, most of us who have lived in Florida for a while (or forever) find it challenging when the temperature suddenly drops into the 40s in the morning and at night. And it's dark … so dark.
We still want to get in our walk, run, bike or other outdoor activities, but, oh, it's cozy in the house, and there are so many obstacles to working out OUT THERE.
So we asked three longtime trainers and running coaches to give us some tips on how to stay motivated, stay warm, stay safe and avoid injury during the cooler months:
Lynn Gray is a Road Runners Club of America-certified coach and owner of Take … the First Step, which offers running, walking and other exercise programs in the Tampa Bay area (firststepprograms.com). She has written three books on walking and running.
Maria Williams is head running coach with Run Tampa (runtampa.com), a customer service manager with St. Pete Running Co. in St. Petersburg (stpeterunningco.com) and a coach with On Track Running Academy (ontrackrunning academy.com). She is a USA Track & Field-certified running coach and a certified Road Runners Club of America coach.
Celia Dubey is the owner of Tarpon Total Fitness Health Club & Spa in Tarpon Springs (tarpontotal fitness.com) and a coach with the Run Vie Racing Duathlon, Triathlon and Running Team. She is a USA Triathlon coach and an American Fitness Training of Athletics personal trainer.
Make a commitment to a friend.
Arrange to meet a training partner at a designated time and place. "If it's in your calendar, you're doing it," Dubey says. You can't just press snooze and pull the covers over your head; there's someone waiting for you in the cold!
Sign up for a race.
There are dozens of regional races this time of year. If you register for one or more, you'll have to keep training or your chip time will suffer. The Gasparilla Distance Classic is a good goal for runners, Williams says, because a lot of other people are training for it and it will keep you going through February. (The races this year are on Feb. 25 and 26.)
Prepare to be amazed.
You can run faster with less effort when it's colder, Williams says, and that's enough to motivate the runners she trains. Suddenly, you're not working so hard, you're breathing better and the humidity is … not gone altogether, but less of a factor. And it's fun to see what your body can do.
Stay warm, but not too warm
Keep your extremities covered.
When it gets cold, it's all about the ears and hands, Gray says. "The feet you really don't want to mess with too much because when you're messing around with the thickness of the sock, you can create some imbalances and overload the knee. But definitely the head and hands." If you don't have gloves, a runner can use socks instead, Williams advises. They keep your fingers together, so they're warmer, and if you start to sweat, you can just pull them off and put them in the back of your pants or tights. Another bonus: If you drop one along the way, it's easier and cheaper to replace a sock than a glove.
Compression socks are a must, Gray says, especially for older athletes and long-distance runners. "Because our muscles are so dense, if it's too cold they won't stretch until 2 or 3 miles into a run," she says. Compression socks will keep your calf muscles warm, offer stability during your workout and improve recovery afterward. Gray says her other secret is to tie an ultra-lightweight jacket around her waist. Walker-joggers will love it because they tend to slow down at the end of their workout and get cold, and long-distance runners will start with the jacket on and take it off once they start to warm up. Dubey counts on topical warming agents, such as Atomic Balm ($12.91, cramersportsmed.com) and Leg Salsa ($11.99, unconmed.com), as a protective layer on extremities when it's cold outside. "One of my cycling buddies turned me onto it years ago, and I swear by it," she says. They're available at health food stores, bike shops and running stores.
Keep it breathable.
Williams says she's a fan of all things breathable. She likes long, thin tights because they work for warmth but also cut down on chafing when you're hot. "The new technology in clothing is so good that you can get clothes that are very comfortable and will change with you as your body temperature changes," she says. Go for clothes that wick away the moisture — no cotton! — because damp means cold when you stop. If you're working out away from home, bring a change of clothes so you can get dry and warm right away.
Become a bag lady.
For runners who need to shed a layer once they warm up but don't want to lose an item of clothing, Dubey suggests wearing a plastic garbage bag. (Wear it over your torso as you would a rain poncho.) If you cycle, she says, wrap your feet in plastic grocery bags. "Nothing is more effective than Publix plastic bags. You put on the socks, you put on the plastic bag, you put on another pair of socks, then you put your shoes on." If you're an avid cyclist, she adds, you should have a winter pair of shoes that are a bit larger to accommodate those layers and a good pair of gloves.
Stay safe in the dark
Get a head lamp.
No matter what your activity, our experts agree: If you want to stay safe in the dark, get a head lamp. "If you trip, you want to land on your hands," Gray says. "Don't carry a flashlight, but have it around your head." Dubey says she wears her head lamp around her waist because it's more comfortable. There are also clip-on lights for your shoes and clothing.
Make sure to get clothes with reflective piping, and stick to white or glow-in-the-dark clothing.
Safety in numbers.
If you run in the dark, bring a buddy, Williams says. It will discourage anyone who might want to harass or assault you, and it will make it easier for drivers to see you on the road.
Make eye contact when you cross.
Even if a driver is stopped at a light, make eye contact before you cross a street, Williams says. Be sure you've been seen.
Don't skip your warmup.
Give yourself a little extra time to warm up in the winter, Gray advises, especially if you're older. Go slow for those first five to 15 minutes out the door, she says, and give your muscles a chance to loosen up so you can get a better stretch. Don't forget your calves, quads, hamstrings and, especially for women, hip flexors. When it's really cold, Gray warms up for a few minutes inside the house, running in place and pumping her arms, which also makes it easier to step out into the cold.
Williams says Floridians are used to working out in the heat, so when it cools off, we're more efficient and don't need as much fluid. Drink water before you head out, then a couple of sips every 15 to 20 minutes, she says. Gray agrees. Stay away from drinking ice water at races, she warns, but do make sure to stay hydrated or your muscles will stiffen up. "Fluid for fluidity," Gray says. Water keeps your muscles warm.
Contact Kim Franke-Folstad at email@example.com.