Fair Weather Fitness

It’s difficult to get out of the house in the winter.  The temperatures are dropping, the sun is setting too early, and a mug of hot tea is tempting you back to the couch.  Unfortunately, this time of year also coincides with New Year’s Resolutions, and many people have resolved to improve their physical fitness.  While a lot of these “Resolutionaries” will take shelter in a new gym membership, there are still plenty of outdoorsmen and women that will brave the elements in any weather.

This past year, on average, was unseasonably warm.  In fact, the United States had its warmest year on record in 2012.  The National Climatic Data Center crunches the numbers every January, and the greater D.C. area experienced higher temperatures than normal for the 2012 calendar year.  Of course, that does not mean that the region never experienced colder temperatures—November was a significantly below average temperature month in this region.

For some people, adverse weather conditions are rarely a deterrent to their dedicated workouts.  Matt Rydzik, 25, is a marathon runner and recent transplant to D.C. from Wisconsin.  His marathon training requires months of consistent exercise routines, but the Midwestern winters were rarely compliant in providing a welcoming outdoor experience.  Blizzard warnings, frostbite advisories, and a couple of unseasonably warm summers kept many would-be athletes indoors while Matt trekked out on twenty-mile journeys.

“One time we hit a warm snap in the middle of winter and tons of people were out on the trails,” Matt recalled.  “I had been out all season in the snow and cold, and these people only came out once the weather improved.”

An informal survey of regular athletes on an online running forum confirmed the phenomenon elsewhere in the country.  A Seattle-based runner commented that the milder weather in the Pacific Northwest seemed to encourage a larger community of consistent runners than during her time spent in Maryland.  A New Yorker recalled his time spent as a runner in Texas as more dedicated given the significant heat and humidity in which they ran.

In this area of the country, severe winter weather is less common than in the Midwest, but events like Hurricane Sandy, the summer derecho of 2012, and the unprecedented amounts of snow during the 2009-2010 winter are likely to deter otherwise committed runners.  I spoke with Rick Amernick, President of D.C. Capital Striders, about the commitment of this area’s runners throughout the year:

Q: Your members include some of the most committed runners in the D.C. area, would you say most of your active members attend events year-round, rain/snow or shine?

The most active members are running year round.  I say this because if you are training for a half or full marathon, you really don’t have the time to take off because of weather conditions.  Most seasoned runners have running gear for all conditions and dress appropriately.   We also heavily encourage our participants who participate in evening runs in the Fall and Winter to wear headlamps and most do.

Q: It’s Resolution season.  From year to year, do you see fewer new runners in January during a snowier or colder winter?  Conversely, are you anticipating more runners at events this upcoming weekend (1/12/13-1/13/13) given the forecasted warm-up?

Every new year brings a new crop of runners to the running group.  Our numbers increase in January and February for sure.   I expect A LOT of runners to be running this weekend since the weather is supposed to be gorgeous.  The trails will be packed.  I also expect many runners to be sore come early week because if the weather is nicer, most people might log more miles than they might be ready for.

Q: If you have an available frame of reference, how would you compare the commitment of D.C. runners to those in other regions with more adverse weather conditions, such as northern Michigan or southern California?

I haven’t had very much experience with other running groups in other cities, however, I do know that the Washington DC metropolitan area has a huge running community, and from my personal experience, everyone is very friendly and encouraging, regardless of your running experience.