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If real pearls aren’t going to be under the tree this year, just substitute these “pearls of wisdom” about running, walking and keeping fit during the winter months.

I encourage people to continue running outdoors when they can, because with a few adjustments it is still a great workout.

Obviously, what you wear is most important, starting with lights, lights and more lights. Look at most running tights and heavy pants and they are all slenderizingly black, as in “no one can see you in the dark!”

If you are a runner or walker before or after work, ask Santa for a headlight, or an illuminated safety vest, a hat with blinking lights or even a flashlight. Then, remember the 20-degree rule, which means check the temperature (and wind chill), add 20 degrees, then dress for that.

Although there is not much difference when it is 2 degrees and you dress for 26, it is still cold. But don’t be a weenie ... you know you will start sweating within the first couple of miles, and off come the mittens, down goes the coat zipper, and the sun glasses fog up. That’s why a jacket with pockets is a necessity, and why we finish our runs and walks looking like a stuffed turkey. We all know how to layer.

A base layer of a moisture management fabric is going to help in keeping you warm because you are dry. A long-sleeved shirt (or 2) under a good wind-and-water-resistant jacket will do the trick. Absolutely no cotton shirts or socks are allowed.

On extremely cold days, consider gloves under mittens, unless you have high tech mittens or ski mittens which you can wear alone. Ear cuffs are ideal for keeping your ears warm without a hat if it is not too cold. On bad days, I wear both.

To stay upright, which is always a good thing, check out the terrain you will be running on. Streets with freshly fallen snow, regular running shoes or trail shoes will suffice.

When it gets a bit colder, the mesh on running shoes to help them breathe becomes a liability. Get some trail shoes, which are great to have anyway, or double up on the socks although it may affect the fit of the shoe. Gaiters are good to have to run in, snowshoe in and cross country ski in.

When that snow becomes ice, or has melted and leaves an under layer of ice, be careful. Shorten your stride, and try to run with your feet hitting as flat as you can, and invest in some YAKTRAKS.

YAKTRAKS are great to attach to the bottom of your shoes and gives you the confidence you need to run without falling. Be careful of other types of terrain, like slick sidewalks, black-ice patches on the street and even slippery snow on the trails. Bruised knees, cracked heads and twisted wrists are all waiting for you out there, so be armed. Or go to the fitness center and get in a great elliptical workout.

Speaking of the indoor workout ...

When it gets too much to handle, the gym is a great place to work out.

Do yourself a favor and try something new this year. Sign up for a few sessions with a trainer. Plan intense speed workouts in spinning class or on the treadmill. Build or strengthen your muscles with weights, after an expert has shown you a good workout. Do weights at home, do a Wii session at home, do “Yoga with Elizabeth” in front of the TV. Just do something, and make it different and make it fun.

Because when the Shamrock Run arrives in March, you want your winter workouts to count. As in “Where did you get that buff bod?” or “When did you get so much faster?”

Your secret is safe, because Santa left you a few pearls under the tree this year.

Kate Novakovich is co-director of the Montana Marathon and a longtime member of the Yellowstone RimRunners.

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