CHELSEA — In the cold and dark of winter, it's easy to become a couch potato — even if you're usually active in the warmer months.
The solution, according to some New York running enthusiasts, is to keep pounding the pavement no matter how low the temperature dips, bundling up and enjoying the outdoors as many days a year as possible.
"Running, it's a great way to keep in shape, but it also gets me outside," said Peter Sokol-Hessner, 31, who tries to run through Prospect Park at least twice a week in the winter. "Being out there, all that time, I'm soaking in sunlight. That's kind of rare in the winter."
Unlike pricey, time-consuming ski and snowshoe trips, running is a relatively cheap and efficient way of getting exercise during the winter — and you don't need to endure the gloom and monotony of the treadmill.
Runners are no more likely to be injured in the cold than in warm weather, experts said. With the right clothing and a sense of determination, winter can be the perfect time to hit the city's outdoor running paths and even prepare for a race.
Here's some advice from local runners on how to conquer the cold:
Tough It Out
No one will say that running in sub-freezing temperatures is easier than a pleasant springtime jog — so be prepared for some unpleasant side effects, like a runny nose and a burning sensation in your lungs, runners said.
Some winter runners said they notice symptoms that pop up after a frigid sprint, including a dull earache or a phleghmy chest. Don't worry, though — you're not getting sick, and even the cold lung burn will go away once your body gets used to the wintry temperatures.
"The first week or two of the cold, I always get the burn," said Evan Charles-Riley, 34, who often runs four days a week from December to March. "It'll go away quick if you tough through it."
The other benefit to running in the cold is that you don't need much in the way of equipment — just some lightweight thermal clothing and running shoes. There's no need to buy big fancy sweats, since once you get going, you'll be generating enough body heat that you'll warm right up.
Get Some Help
If you've never done it before, running in the winter can be a daunting task. One group that's trying to help is the Run SMART Project, which is offering a customized, 12-week winter running program that works with both new and veteran runners to develop a consistent running plan that focuses on individual goals, including marathon training.
The sessions include outdoor running, along with gait and movement analysis and massage from Finish Line Physical Therapy in Chelsea, and a private shoe fitting and discount from the Brooklyn Running Company.
"A lot of the time, people will drop off in the winter," said Finish Line's Sara Hunninghake. "We want to help them stay motivated, meet their goals and reach peak performance."
The group programs include coached runs in Central Park and drills around the West Side. Beginner or injured runners can even start off on the facility's AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill, which lifts you up to reduce your weight and impact while running, before transitioning outside.
The sessions, which begin Jan. 19, are $299 for 12 in-person coaching group sessions, or $199 for three sessions.
Don't Stop Racing
The ING New York City Marathon may mark the end of the city's racing season and the beginning of colder temperatures, but there are plenty of other races to tide you over until spring.
New York City Runs, the nonprofit behind the Brooklyn and Central Park marathons, hosts a series of outdoor races when the weather outside starts to get frightful. These are a great way to keep you in the marathon mindset during the winter.
The group offered the Festival of Lights in November — a set of holiday-themed waterside races including the Channukah Gelt 5K, the Oy Vey 10K and the Channukah Chalf — and will also host the Hot Chocolate Race Series, a series of 5K, 10K and 10-mile races in December and January. On Jan. 25, the Brrr-ooklyn Hot Chocolate Half Marathon will race through Prospect Park.
The cold weather — and even splashing waves, freezing rain or snow — can make a race even tougher, but it also instills a special form of camaraderie in participants.
"It made it even more fun," said Sokol-Hessner, who ran the Oy Vey 10K along the Brooklyn waterfront on an icy November day. "There's a sense that we all did this together — now let's get some hot chocolate and warm the hell up."