Running in the Cold – Part 1

Running in the cold doesn't need to be scary.

I didn’t used to enjoy running in the cold. Sure, getting out in a fresh snow was fun… for a while, but winter running had always been hard for me. Moving to Wyoming, where winter weather can reach 35 degrees below and it feels like the wind never stops, seemed like a change that would only make the winters tougher.

But I’ve changed… adapted, I suppose. On today’s run, it became clear that I look forward to my runs now, despite the single digit temps. My winter running has become fun, comfortable, and beneficial. Sharing the reasons for that change may be of use to others who have to deal with running in the cold. This is part one of a three-part series on running in the cold.

How you respond to the cold.

First off, I want to talk about factors that effect how you respond to the cold. There are a lot of demands on your body’s energy supply. Thinking, breathing, digesting food… everything your body does uses energy. Regulating body temperature burns calories, too… a lot. If you’ve slept poorly, have a lingering cold, didn’t eat breakfast and then you jump out bed first thing in the morning and run in frigid temps, I can guarantee you’ll feel colder (given the same clothing) than you would rested, healthy, and with fuel in the tank.

Hydration also will impact how the cold affects you. Even in very cold weather, it is important to stay in the habit of drinking water. Dehydration puts additional demand on your body that takes away from your ability to stay warm. Uncontrolled shivering and hyperventilation can result in extreme cases of dehydration.

Humidity also plays an important part on how your body deals with the cold. High humidity in the air causes the heat to be conducted from your body more efficiently. That is why a damp drizzle at thirty-four degrees feels a lot colder than a dry twenty degrees. It also the reason that, if you overdress, work hard, and get sweaty, the result will eventually be chilling as you start to tire and slow down. (More on effort during the cold later)

Very cold, dry air is harder on the lungs, actually holds less water vapor, and therefore it is more difficult for your body to get the oxygen it needs from it. Less oxygen means your perceived effort can be badly skewed, simply because you are breathing hard.

Finally, age and the efficiency of your circulatory system have a dramatic impact on different parts of your body. Now that I’m older, I notice the cold in my fingers and toes more than I did when I was young. Years ago, one of my fingers was almost cut off in a table saw accident. The tip of this finger is the very first spot on my body that reacts to the cold.

Being aware of all the above factors is extremely important in making the right choices when you are deciding what to wear for a run in the cold. Tomorrow’s post will deal with dressing for the cold. Much of it you may already know, but I bet I’ll have some different and valuable recommendations for even the experienced cold-weather runners.

Part three will deal with the good things about running in the cold and how to make every run fun. Find the E-mail Follow button in the right column, so that you don’t miss any of them.


Filed under Fasting and Health, Running

5 responses to “Running in the Cold – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Running in the Cold – Part 2 | Michael Selmer

  2. Pingback: Running in the Cold – Part 3 | Michael Selmer

  3. Pingback: Why I Love Cold And Snow | Young's Blog

  4. Krista Burrill Lewellyn

    I have just accepted a job in Wyoming and will be moving there next summer from VA – biggest concern is winter and as an avid runner I am finding your blog really really helpful!

    • It may take some getting used to, but we moved from Maryland in 2010 and enjoy running in Wyoming. Adjusting to the altitude and wind is the toughest, but you’ll enjoy the low humidity.

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