Tag Archives: Cold

Running in the Cold – Part 3

The first two parts of this series –  “How You Respond to the Cold” and “How to Dress for Success” – were designed to prepare you for Running in the Cold. Why? Because now I plan to convince you that you should.

How to embrace your inner polar bear and enjoy your winter running

Winter is often the time that runners either: 1) Head indoors to the dreadmill, 2) Cross-train on an elliptical, stationary bike or some other type of cardio equipment, or 3) Simply stop running. The first option is great at maintaining your run-specific running fitness, but is among the most boring activities known to humankind. Option two can add some variety to winter training and improve your overall fitness, but is still less than stimulating. With the third option, you lose all that hard-won fitness that you spent seven to nine months developing.

If you’ll suspend your disbelief for just a short while, I think I can persuade you that running outside in the cold is not only worth it in terms of improving your running, but also can be fun and rewarding. I’ll do this by giving you some reasons and strategies for changing your outlook concerning Running in the Cold.

First, the reasons. By running outside in the cold, you’ll experience things that you would miss otherwise. And I’m not talking about chapped lips, frostbite and a red nose. Some of the most beautiful and amazing sights and sounds that nature has to offer are on display during the winter. Many can only be found by getting  out in the cold.

These are things that enrich one’s life: colorful, refracted rays of the sun through thousands of tiny icicles hanging from a skeletal shrub along a creek bank; amazing contours of snow, chiseled by the wind on the prairie; other-worldly tinkling of ice crystals as they are shaken from a bare tree by a passing breeze; the eerie, grinding clash of ice-flows on the river; the squeaking crunch of your shoe fall on a field of fresh snow…

Bizarre, massive sculptures formed by the melting and freezing of snow on a sun-drenched mountainside; the sunrise on cold day as the brightness grows over a frozen valley and everything appears sharp and clear through the frigid air; a cityscape under a blanket of white, looking cleaner and more peaceful than it could ever truly be.

There is no end to the beauty you can find if you just go out and look for it.

Another reason: Running in the Cold is more challenging. Do it, and that 45 degree 5k you run in April will seem a lark in comparison. Do it, and you’ll become stronger and tougher because you did.

If these reasons aren’t enough, I have some strategies to trick yourself into enjoying your winter runs anyway. They are; transference, distraction, ignorance, and exaggeration.

Transference is often referred to as a negative. People transfer their insecurities, fears and anger onto others and usually cause them pain. But I’ve learned to transfer the positive things instead. And I transfer them onto my running. Last night I slept poorly, and when my alarm went off early this morning, I had every intention of shutting it off and going back to sleep. But I decided to check my e-mail first, and there was an exciting one that let me know my debut novel – “Harvest of the Heart” – had been chosen as a “Yummy Read” by Bookie Jar, the site where I have been doing a pre-release test market of my book. I immediately transferred that excitement into motivation to get myself out of bed, into my running stuff, and out the door, despite the sub-zero temps.

Take the good news, the things that make you happy, the joy you receive from friends and family and carry them with you when you run. I guarantee they’ll help keep you warm.

Distraction can be an easy way to divert your mind from the discomfort that may arise from running in the cold. If you have a problem at work, a stubborn passage in a book you are writing, something that you need to talk to your spouse or a friend about; work stubborn issuees through in your mind while you are out on your winter run. This is one way to make something that could be a negative work for you.

Ignorance is bliss, they say. In this case, I’m thinking it is more like a way to get yourself out the door. Don’t think about the weather. Just mechanically go about taking each step necessary to prepare, and then grab that doorknob, open the door… and step out. By the time you realize what you’ve done, it is too late to turn back!

Exaggeration is another method I occasionally use to maneuver myself into a run. I tell my self it is 30 below zero and the winds are gusting at 50 miles per hour. When I get upstairs and find it is only 5 below and the winds are only 20 miles per hours, I can convince myself I am disappointed at having such a weak challenge that day. The run seems a lot easier than what I had braced myself to expect.

Another important thing about running in the winter is that all the other reasons you have for running still apply. Let me ‘splain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up. :-) Health, fitness, weight control (Just think how guilt-free the Christmas feasting could be if you are running every day!), stress relief and all other reasons still apply.

Prepare properly and give it a try. The colder the weather, the better. COME ON! Embrace your inner Polar Bear and get out there!

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Running in the Cold – Part 2 (A)

One of the things that makes the cold enjoyable here in Wyoming is our backyard steam sauna. Nothing chases the chill away like sitting in there for a half-hour or so. After a steaming ten minutes at 110-120 degrees, you can just step outside into the -12 degree night air, grab a handful of snow, rub down… and start all over. I must have some Scandinavian blood in me somewhere, because this is almost heaven for me. It is truly exhilarating. In the picture here, my daughter, son-in-law and I show that the cold doesn’t scare us. The steam off our bodies billows and floats away. That steam, and the flash, and maybe the camerawoman’s shivering :-) teamed up to create a pretty bad picture, but you get the idea. I spent an hour in and out of it… now I’m all warmed up for another sub-zero run tomorrow morning.

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Running in the Cold – Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I explained a variety of factors that impact how the human body reacts to cold. Today I want to go over the clothing and accessories that can help you conquer the cold.

How to dress for success on your cold weather runs

Many… OK, most people dread the onset of winter; runners especially. I believe this is due to an unreasonable view of cold weather as the enemy – a force that is trying to stop you from running. I’ll admit to harboring that view myself for much of my adult life. With some running wardrobe additions and willingness to ignore curious looks from those who see me out on the road, I’ve come to embrace and enjoy my winter runs.

Everyone’s heating system is, to some degree, unique. So some experimenting is necessary in order to achieve the best results. But it shouldn’t be hard for you to reach the point that you can easily select the best outfit for any cold-weather conditions. The rules and suggestions that follow give you a guide for doing that experimenting.

The most important rule is one that is known universally (or at least throughout the running community) – LAYERS. You never want to go for a thicker or heavier single layer in place of adding additional, thin layers. But wearing layers isn’t as simple as throwing on a bunch of t-shirts. What follows are my recommendations for your upper body layers.

The first layer should be the best “tech”, moisture-wicking, short sleeve t-shirt that you have. If you have one that is tight-fitting but comfortable, that is even better. Subsequent layers depend, of course, on the temperature and wind conditions. For me, that tech t-shirt and my Under Armour Cold Gear top (the blue top in the picture above) are enough for non-windy temps down to about 30 deg F. If it is windy, I have two long sleeve, microfiber Under Armour Cold Gear compression tops that I wear instead of the t-shirt. The lighter weight top I use for windy temps, or non-windy down to 25 degF. The heavier one is good down to about 0-10 degF. A fleece top is also a good option, since fleece also wicks moisture away. The blue top is always my last layer.

If you don’t have Cold Gear or comparable clothing, you can do what I did today, when it was -21 degrees at the start of my run. My 1st layer was the short sleeve tech shirt I got at the Colorado Marathon; 2nd was my Boston Adidas long sleeve; 3rd was a medium-weight long sleeve cotton t-shirt (Which I would have skipped if it was above O degrees ; and finally, my blue Under Armour top. Any warm jacket that helps cut the wind and has a zipper that allows you to control venting would work. It wasn’t windy this morning, or I probably would have added an additional layer.

All of the above is also dependent on another very important factor: how hard you intend to work, and for how long. If you are going out for a quick, hard, 3-5 mile tempo run, you would wear less than if you were going for a long, slow recovery run. For a very long, hard run, you need to be especially careful that you have layers that can be adjusted somewhat to changing conditions and the fact that you will likely tire at the end of the run. The last thing you want to do is get hot and sweaty early, and then tire, slow down, and get very cold later in the run.

Layering is something people don’t often apply to their heads. But they should, since successful heat management is primarily accomplished through the head and neck. I have a thin balaclava that covers my entire head, except for my face. When it is windy and/or colder, I’ll add a stocking cap on top of that. I can remove it if I start to get hot, but my ears are still protected. I occasionally wear a pair of 180′s ear muffs, either instead of, or with the above. My lungs don’t deal well with very cold air, so when it is 20 degrees or colder, I add a Seirus face mask that covers my mouth and nose. It has tiny holes that allow me to breathe easily, but it lets the air warm a little before I breathe it in. Today, on top of that, I wore a neck gaiter that I had pulled up just below my eyes. I finished the run a little warm at the back of my neck, but my lungs felt great, they were not bothered at all by the cold.

The hands are a problem area for me. At -21 today, I had a pair of thin cotton gloves, with a pair of insulated mittens on top. It wasn’t really enough and my hands were cold for most of the run. I plan on getting a pair of insulated glove liners and then a better, bigger pair of mittens. I managed today by trying to keep my fingers moving during the run.

On the other hand, my feet were fine with just a pair of running socks. They weren’t even that thick. My toes were cold, but it didn’t really bother me. I have thicker socks that I could have worn, but I’m glad I didn’t.

Your legs are the part of your body that should be the easiest to manage. If you will be running fast, tights are probably all you need for almost any conditions. All I wore today were medium-weight, cold weather tights and they were perfect. If it had been very windy, I would have put a pair of wind-pants on top. One strong piece of advice for men… pull at least your first layer of shirt down and tuck it under your… privates. That is one part of your body that is surprisingly susceptible to frostbite if not properly protected. Did you ever have your hands get very cold? Remember how painful it was as they thawed out? That should be warning enough.

Another important part of cold weather running is lip balm. I use it a lot, even on my nose. Moisturizing lotion like Aquaphor is also good for your hands and face… and your feet.

As I mentioned, my run today started in minus 21 degree temps. There was a light wind (3-5 mph). When I finished, it was a sunny minus 10. I was out for over an hour and a half and ran 10.6 miles. During the entire run I was comfortable, except for my hands being a little cold. I even got a little warm as I worked harder the last mile, knowing that it wouldn’t matter if I got a little sweaty at that point.

It was an enjoyable run. Tomorrow’s post will cover why winter running can be fun, what you miss when you are stuck on a treadmill, and how you can learn to embrace your inner polar bear.

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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.

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Filed under Fasting and Health, Running