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Outdoor Running Alternatives


Runners who live in parts of the country where winter means cold temps, biting winds, limited daylight, snow and ice have to be highly dedicated (and sometimes a little crazy!) during this challenging season. Depending on conditions in your area, with proper precautions, you can run outside most of the winter. For those diehards who thrive on logging miles outdoors, consider the following:

  • Dress in layers: Wear a dri-fit shirt as your base layer; add a mid-layer such as a turtleneck in a polyester or spandex blend, or fleece. Then don a weather-resistant jacket with a hood, or a windproof, breathable shell of Gore-Tex or nylon.
  • Keep your feet warm and dry: Choose wool socks or wear two pairs of polypropylene socks. Consider using shoes with greater traction and water resistance.
  • Cover your head and hands: This means gloves or mittens, a hat and a neck gaiter or muffler. On very cold days, cover your mouth and nose to warm the air as you breathe.

It’s great to be committed, however, when the wind chill is brutal or the streets are buried in snow, outdoor running alternatives can help keep you moving forward with minimal risk. Although to true running purists, these options don’t beat hitting the road in the open air, they are safe and still satisfying workouts.

  1. Treadmill – Today’s treadmills have great shock absorption, a wide range of paces and inclines, a variety of programs and convenient features like built-in fans and TV screens or charging docks for your phone. While they don’t replicate the fresh air or scenery of the outdoors, treadmills let you complete tempo runs, long runs and speed work with water at your fingertips and without all the bulky clothing required for winter weather. Take advantage of them when necessary, and catch up on your DVR backlog.
  2. Zero Runner – This new machine replicates natural running strides but eliminates the repetitive impact, which is a treasure for distance, aging or injured runners. Independent hip and knee joints enable you to replicate your natural stride and pace, while you are suspended and free from having to pound a moving belt. It’s similar to the unweighting your body experiences with an AlterG, but much more accessible and affordable. These machines are just getting into health clubs, but a home model makes training even more convenient. Even running phenom Alberto Salazar said the Zero Runner “replicates running motion better than any cross-training device.”
  3. Indoor track – We get it, running in circles can be monotonous. But it’s still running, and again, you can complete specific workouts on the track to improve performance. Seek out the longest track you can to reduce revolutions (check local colleges and universities), create a motivating playlist and keep a water bottle handy.
  4. Water running – If you have access to a pool, you can find some underwater running workouts online that definitely vary your routine and only require minimal clothing (bonus!). Deep water running with a belt to keep you suspended can help address weak links and leave you feeling invigorated, without the typical joint pain that may accompany outdoor training. Less common but equally as effective are underwater treadmill sessions, where you battle water resistance but eliminate jarring stress.
  5. Cross training – Just because it’s not actual running doesn’t mean that you and your body won’t benefit. In fact, taking on the elliptical, stairclimber, cross trainer, rower or stationary bicycle challenge your body differently and can improve overall strength and endurance. Plus, total-body workouts address your upper body and core, which ultimately help your running performance. Cross training definitely counts!

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