There was still snow on the ground, but the sunshine made me do it.

After spending nearly two months on a treadmill because of below-freezing temperatures, knee-deep snow or dirty air, I couldn't wait to get back outside.

So the first day it was above 32 degrees, I put on my winter gear, leashed up my faithful running companion and took off for the trails. It was wet and muddy, but awesome!

Maybe it's because it feels like winter was so much colder and longer than normal. Maybe it's because I have been sick twice this winter, once with pneumonia. Or maybe it's just because the reasons I love to run get lost in the crowds at a gym.

Whatever the reason, 38-degrees never felt so good.

It was one of those pre-storm mornings with more wind than I like, but it was absolutely glorious to be outside. I ran six miles almost four minutes faster than I had been plodding along at the gym. I had a headache when I left the house and I was pain free when I returned home.

I felt happy and energized and the next day, I wasn't bombarded with reasons to put off my workout. As soon as my kids were off to school, I was ready to run.

I read two articles in the last month about the mental challenges of working out through the winter months. Because most runners prefer to run outdoors, it's either learn to love the treadmill or buy winter gear and head outside.

My husband bought me some thermal sweats for Christmas, and one pair in particular I just love. They're from Patagonia and they're lightweight but very warm. I went running last winter in regular sweats and by the time I got home my thighs were numb. They had that pins and needles feeling as they thawed out and I felt very stiff. I never did it again.

This year the amount of snow made outdoor training difficult. But now that spring appears to be on its way, I'm outside for my workouts. I'm wearing the winter running gear, and I even changed socks. I gave up the cotton for those fancy running socks. I didn't think they'd make a difference, but my feet actually do feel dryer!

It's important to have the right gear if you're going to run outside. I cover my ears, although I don't like hats because my head gets hot. I wear gloves — sometimes even when the temperature is in the 60s. I don't like cold hands. Also, I wear thermal socks or my two smallest toes seem to go numb off and on, and I always wear specially designed winter shirts with a vest. (I need pockets!)

I was telling my sister, who lives in Houston, Alaska, about my first outdoor run in many weeks and she told me about the 50-kilometer race that she attempted to run a couple of weeks ago. She didn't have the right gear so not only did her feet get cold (it was a snow-mobile trail) but the tube to her water supply froze and she could get very little water through it. She dropped out of the race after 10 miles and decided if she was going to do it, she'd better plan a little better because there aren't aid stations in a race like that.

The other concern I had about running outside was that it might contribute to me getting sick, and that was something I've struggled with this winter. I read a very interesting article in the February Runner's World called "The Cold War" and it had several interesting tips — including getting enough sleep and having an imbalanced diet. I'm not good at getting eight hours of sleep, and seriously, I don't think I know any working mom who does. But I did alter my supplements after reading the article and I'm hoping that helps.

Instead of just taking carbohydrates before I run, I'm drinking a mixture of the carb and protein supplement 30 minutes before a run and immediately afterward. Anything over 10 miles and I'm drinking a third bottle of water with both carbs and protein mixed in it about four hours later. I decided to make this change after talking to Ken Hollen, owner of Diet and Sport Nutrition in South Jordan, who explained to me that different types of proteins are metabolized at different rates. The kind I'm taking is available to my muscles very quickly and therefore I benefit from taking it before I run, as well as after.

The article also mentioned that most of the research showed if you're only running between 30 and 75 minutes, you may actually get a boost to your immune system. Anything over 90 minutes and there is a "temporary downturn in immunity." The article suggests more carbs before, during and after a workout, which is another reason I'm doing the mixture before and after. I really hate to drink very much at all while I run, even for a couple of hours because I don't want to have to go to the bathroom.

Luckily for me, I don't think I'm running fast enough to need much water, and I make sure I'm really well hydrated heading into a run.

I have felt great running outside, even though some days have been a little chilly. Maybe it's the mental aspect of running that is offsetting my lack of sleep, crazy, stressful schedule and often appalling eating habits because I feel better running longer and faster outside than I ever did inside.

NEXT: Conquering those hills.


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