I am from the mountains of Western North Carolina and have run several races in very cold weather. The temperatures are bitterly cold around here so in an effort not to hurt myself or become defeated, I researched the best ways to run in the cold. Follow these 6 research-based tips to keep your body healthy during chilly running seasons.
6 tips for running in the cold
1. Accept it (and the possibility of a lower time): Accept the fact that it’s freezing outside so your pace/mile may be a little off. It will take your body little longer to warm up. While your pace/mile may be a little slower, you may be able to run further in the cold because after a while, the cooler weather actually feels good. It’s much better than running in the blazing heat.
2. Dress in layers (and err on the side of overdressing): During cold races, a person can actually over-dress. A couple of years ago, I ran a race in 30-degree weather. I wore several layers of clothing and ended up getting really heated during the race. It was a bit complicated to continually shed layers of clothing while trying to run, but then again, I’d rather shed clothing than my toes and fingers get numb. It’s a fine balance, and I think the more I run in cold weather, the better I’ll get at dressing for a frigid run. Below is helpful advice from runnersworld.com.
30 degrees: 2 tops, 1 bottom. Long-sleeve base layer and a vest keep your core warm. Tights (or shorts, for polar bears).
10 to 20 degrees: 2 tops, 2 bottoms. A jacket over your base layer, and wind pants over the tights.
0 to 10 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms. Two tops (fleece for the cold-prone) and a jacket. Windbrief for the fellas.
Minus 10 to 0 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms, extra pair of mittens, 1 scarf wrapped around mouth or a balaclava.
Minus 20 degrees: 3 tops, 3 bottoms, 2 extra pairs of mittens, 1 balaclava, sunglasses. Or, says Arribas, “Stay inside.”
3. Warm up well and stay warm until the start: The muscles are more stiff during extreme cold so the risk of pulling them are much higher. Also, the blood vessels are more constricted when you are cold. For these reasons and more, it’s extremely important to warm up really well before a cold-weather race; however, don’t allow yourself to stand around and get cold again before the race starts. This can rapidly undo any vigorous warm-up you’ve done beforehand. For optimal performance, stay warm right up to the second the race starts.
4. Be aware of cold-induced diuresis: During a winter race, I constantly feel like I have to go to the restroom before running, and the lines in the bathroom are always ridiculous at a race. I Googled a few things and learned about cold-induced diuresis. If you’ve never heard of this, outsideonline.com describes it like this, “When your temperature starts to drop, your body will attempt to reduce heat loss by constricting blood vessels and reducing blood flow to the surface of the skin. When that happens, your blood pressure will rise, because the same volume of blood is flowing through less space in your body. In response, your kidneys will pull out excess fluid to reduce your blood pressure, making you have to pee.” Two things will greatly help with this. Be sure to use the bathroom right before race time and again, stay super warm until the race begins.
5. Stay well-hydrated and nourished: Before race time, ensure that you are well-hydrated and have eaten complex carbohydrates. Your body needs extra energy anytime you’re running, but it especially needs more energy when it’s battling extreme cold on top of everything else. Be mindful of how your body is reacting.
6. Run with a friend to stay motivated: Everything is more fun when you have a friend to share it with. The two of you (or group of you) can learn about running in the cold together and share advice and information based on individual experiences. A friend or running mate also helps with accountability. When it comes to running, it’s easy to slack off during the colder months, but if your’e dedicated to your fitness or training for a big race, it’s important to continue training, even when the temps are quite chilly.
Good luck to you in your training journey. Stay warm and keep running!