Maine runners adapt to cold

Icy wind assails exposed ears and kindles a familiar burn in the lungs. After inhaling the first snow flurries, uncomfortable runners start eying the gym as an alternative to their usual outdoor routes. But adaptability is one of the top virtues of a cross-country runner, and although a Maine winter is nipping at our heels, the outdoor running season is far from over.

In the winter, experienced Bangor runner Margaret Capehart may change her exercise routine, but she doesn’t sacrifice her outdoor runs. As president of the Sub5 Track Club, a Bangor-based running group, she’s accustomed to practicing and racing in harsh outdoor conditions.

“People love to be outside in Maine, so why limit yourself?” said Capehart. “So much of it, in my opinion, is having the right frame of mind.”

Avoiding the icy sidewalk, Capehart frequents the Bangor City Forest’s four-mile loop of packed snow. When she does take to the roads, she chooses the west side of Bangor, where the roads are wide enough to run along if the sidewalk has yet to be cleared of snow.

“I just have to be more flexible with running outside. I look at the forecast and sometimes I can’t go when the sun is still out,” said Capehart, who wears a headlamp and reflective gear when running in the evening.

Capehart often runs with a group of high school students on the John Bapst indoor track team. Running with a group is safer, she said, because everyone is watching out for ice and the group is more visible to traffic. She also advises people take familiar routes and to avoid hilly areas where ice could become a problem.

One of her chief concerns in cold weather is frostbite.

“I wear mittens usually, and I put in hand-warmers, and that just extends my running period outside,” she said.

Running through snow is a lot like beach running: it’s slower, but it’s a great workout. Watching out for ice also tends to slow a runner down. Capehart always takes this into account. She doesn’t expect to maintain the same speed as in the summer, but that doesn’t mean she’s not working hard. In fact, her husband, Joe, trains for the Boston Marathon during the winter. It toughens him up.

Nevertheless, wind chill will sometimes force the Capeharts to exercise indoors. Wind chill below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit can be dangerous, even if a runner is wearing the proper gear.

Usually, Maine doesn’t get that cold. And because running warms the body, first-time winter runners tend to overdress. Layering clothing is a good idea. If properly clothed, a runner’s body adapts. And over time, burning lungs and aching ears won’t feel nearly as uncomfortable.

“There’s nothing a little hot chocolate doesn’t take care of,” said Capehart. “It just takes your body getting use to that cold air.”

For a fall or winter run, consider wearing:

• A hat (wool, synthetic or lined with fleece).

• A face mask or balaclava on colder days.

• Running gloves or mittens. On mild winter days, wear running gloves that wick away moisture. Mittens are a better choice on colder days because your fingers can share their heat.

• Running tights, which can be worn under shorts.

• Layers of synthetic clothing. Stay away from cotton clothing, which holds moisture in and ultimately cools your body. Start with a thin layer of synthetic material or merino wool. Top it with a breathable waterproof and windproof jacket. And if it’s really cold, add a middle layer, such as polar fleece, for insulation.

• Wool or synthetic socks.

• Trail running shoes are usually water resistant and made of material that keeps out debris and snow.

• Ice cleats are good for runners who can’t avoid ice. A popular line of ice cleats is made by STABILicers, a Maine-based company.

On fall or winter runs, consider bringing:

• Sunglasses with polarized lenses reduce glare from snow.

• Lip balm and Vaseline protect your lips from chapping. Vaseline can also be used on your nose and cheeks to prevent windburn.

• Reflective stickers, bands and clothing increase visibility in the dark.

• A headlamp is one of the best ways to remain visible to oncoming traffic.

• Water is just as important to a runner’s body in the winter as in the summer. Hydrate.

End-of-the-year races

AUGUSTA — Capital City Veterans Day 5K Road Race, 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at Cony High School, 60 Pierce Drive. For information, call 622-3229.

AUGUSTA — Gasping Gobbler 5K Road Race to benefit Cony High School athletics, 8:30 a.m. Nov. 24. For information, call 622-3229.

BREWER — Brewer High Turkey Trot, a 3-mile road race that benefits the sophomore class at Brewer High School, 1:00 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20. The kids mile (ages 13 and under) starts at 12:30 p.m. Registration starts at 11:00 a.m.

FARMINGTON — University of Maine at Farmington Fitness and Recreation Center 5K Turkey Trot and 1-Mile Fun Run, 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, 152 Quebec Street. For information, call 778-7138.

FARMINGTON — The 3rd annual Winter Dash 5K Run/Walk and Mile Fun Run, 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27, at Whistle Stop Trail. Registration starts at 11:45 a.m. For information, call 778-4971.

FREEPORT — Jingle Bell 5K Run, Walk and Kids Fun Run, 8:30 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 4 at Freeport High School, 30 Holbrook St. For information, call 800-639-2113.

GORHAM — The 14th Annual Burn off the Turkey 5K Race, 9 a.m. Nov. 26, at Gorham Recreation Shaw Gym. Registration is 7:30-8:30 a.m. Registration fee is $12 until Nov. 19, then $15.

NORTHPORT — Thomas F. Chester Frozen 5K, 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, at Point Lookout Resort, 67 Atlantic Highway. For information, call 975-0134.

PORTLAND — Maine-ly Moose Portland 5K Cross Country, 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 12 at Deering Oaks Park, State Street And Forest Ave. For information, call 603-429-8879.

PORTLAND — Polar Bear Dip and Dash, 11:15 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 31, at East End Beach, Cutter Street. For information, call 430-0127.

ROCKPORT — Penobscot Bay Y 5K Turkey Trot, 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 25, at the Corner of Limerock and Union streets. For information, call Sandra Bodamer at 236-3375, ext. 281.

WINSLOW — Fish Out of Water Fun Run, 10:00 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at Winslow High School, 20 Danielson St. For information, call 649-8054.

For a list of Maine races, visit To learn about Sub5 Track Club,

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at