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Winter is coming. Should we all lock ourselves at home? Probably not. Swedes are exercise lovers and spend a lot of time outdoors, but how does that work in the winter? More importantly, how does exercising work when you are a foreigner not used to cold winters at all? Travel experts say one should do like the locals to better experience and/or survive a new place.
My first experience of the Swedish winter was around New Years Eve, in 2009. We spent the first evening in my boyfriend’s family home, sipping tea around the fireplace, even though the fire was not really necessary, as the house was well warmed up. The outside temperature was very negative and the sky was pitch dark, but the landscape was lit up by this luminosity that only a nice layer of snow can bring.
All was nice and cosy until the next day, when I heard the dreadful question: Shall we go for a walk? My face became a giant question mark and almost in shock I questioned: Outside?????
Yes, they had meant outside. The thermometer marked -12 ºC at noon. During our walk around a frozen lake, we came across a family of four having a barbecue. That was also the first time I heard the famous quote “det finns inga dåliga väder, bara dåliga kläder” (there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing). I survived that day and many other days after that. Nowadays, years later, I even manage to run on snow! Below I wrote some things I have learned with my experience. Some the hard way.
How to be prepared for a run outside?
Running is usually described as a simple sport in which one only requires a pair of running shoes. That’s not really true in the winter, where it can be hard to find the right clothing. What you are looking for is to be just warm enough without over sweating. The colder it is the more layers you will need and here are some essentials.
- Layer 1: Wear a sleeve shirt to transport the sweet away from the skin. Go for a shirt made of merino wool or technical fabric. Avoid cotton.
- Layer 2: Something warm. You can vary how warm/thick this piece is or use more than one layer, if needed.
- Layer 3: Rain jacket/wind breaker – because there will be one or the other one. Or both.
- Bottoms: Warm and long. Add a pair of shorts underneath or on top if needed.
- Accessories: Gloves and hat/headband (there are specific ones for running). Mask if it’s extremely cold. There are also accessories to put under your regular running shoes if you are planning to run on snow. Otherwise, you can run in the pedestrian paths in the city, where the snow usually is removed quite quickly.
Long necks are great to protect your throat. Zippers are also very helpful and make your clothing much more flexible, since you can open and close them as needed. I wear all of the three layers when the temperature drops below 7-8ºC and I use a t-shirt as second layer instead if it’s 8-15 ºC. This can vary considerably from person to person. It might take a few trials before getting it right, but don’t give up. One should feel slightly cold at the beginning of the run and never sweat too much during the exercise.
Final tips before you set off
- Warm up before going out: do a few exercises, walk up and down the stairs, do some cleaning, or anything that makes you move.
- Don’t be afraid of the rain, snow or wind: face it instead, you will feel great afterwards.
- Change quickly afterwards and have a hot shower: the best part of the run!
- Forget speed: the point is to maintain fitness levels, speed work in freezing weather won’t be very pleasant.
One can, of course, exercise indoors and there are a lot of fun things to try there too. Nevertheless, it is wrong to think that winter means that’s the only option. If running is not your thing, you can cycle or simply go for a walk in the forest. Most tips work for any of these exercises. It is not only possible to go and exercise outdoors during the colder months, but it is essential and a great way to fight winter depression. So, off you go!
Stay warm and motivated!
All photos by Sara Costa