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Cold Weather Running Tips

In Texas, the saying goes that if you don’t like the weather; wait 5 minutes, it will change. This week alone it’s been 70 degrees and 24 degrees. No wonder the whole world is sniffling. Personally, I hate the cold. I’m a tiny person so I’m very cold intolerant. My bike goes inside on the trainer when the weather hits 40 degrees and I look like an Eskimo running. How do we keep motivated during the winter? Things seem to change for me when it’s cold outside. It seems much harder to get out of bed, much harder to run out the front door and a whole lot harder to finish a long run.

In spite of my obvious aversion to cold temperatures, I have trained for years all winter long. In Texas, this means crazy temperature swings. As a teen, in Rhode Island, it meant bitter cold and snow. In fact, I can remember as a high school cross country runner racing in snow and ice and wearing shorts. Training in the cold can make you tougher, but take some advice and dress for the elements. Thank God they finally invented cold weather gear that does not weigh a ton and make you look like you are ready for skiing, not running!

The real goal of cold weather running is to maintain motivation, not get too cold and not get too hot. Easier said then done! One solution to this is to just head indoors and stick to the treadmill. I absolutely despise running on treadmills much more than running in the cold, so unless it’s raining; I’m outside. In addition to the boredom, the repetitive motion of the treadmill can put you at risk for other injuries such as stress fractures. It’s best to have some variety.

The key to staying comfortable and cold weather condition is to be prepared for changing temperatures. Dress in layers and don’t be afraid to overdress. Wear a hat and gloves. I even pull out chemical finger warmers if it’s really cold. If it all possible try to run small loops somewhere near your car or a place where you can discard layers if you start to get hot. You don’t want to be nine miles from home and running with hat in hand, sweating with two jackets tied around your waist.

If you are overloaded with too many layers, you can just as easily overheat when it’s 30° outside. This will make you nuts because you will lose the energy needed to finish your run, just like a hot day, and you may become soaked with sweat be more prone to thermal injury such as frostbite. As soon as your run is over, do not stand around outside. Immediately change into dry clothing. Your core body temperature will drop precipitously immediately after a run. This is why they always shroud you in a blanket at the finish of a marathon, even when it’s hot outside.

Aside for making sure that your temperature is regulated, there are special environmental considerations when running outside in winter. If it happens to snow where you run, you obviously have to watch your step. Be very careful running on ice. Running on snow is easy, but ice will put you on your back before you know it. If you’re lucky it’ll just be an embarrassing fall, but you can get seriously injured this way.

Always wear a hat to keep your head warm. This can be a baseball-style cap, but once it gets colder than about 40° however, you will likely have to switch to a knitted cap that will do a better job of keeping your head warm. It likely goes without saying that you should avoid natural materials such as cotton, that retain moisture and can put your risk of getting too cold. Always use synthetic materials.

As a general rule, you can get away with shorts or tights and a long sleeve T-shirt when it’s in the 50s. If it drops down into the 40s, you need to add a hat, gloves and an additional layer on top. A vest is a nice addition. Once it gets down into the 30s, it’s better to stick with tights or pants and wear three layers on top, as well as hat and gloves. If you’re brave enough to run when it’s in the 20s, you might also want to wear a jacket on top of your many layers. Unless you really like to torture yourself, or live in Alaska, it’s probably better to just stay inside when the temperature drops into the teens.

Keep in mind, your body can become acclimatized to colder temperatures if exposed to them often. However, for people like most of us who are only rarely exposed to cold temperatures, they’re more likely to be a poor judge of when frostbite or other cold injuries are starting to set in. Use common sense. Texas weather is nutty, so the layered look is a must this time of year!

Run Happy! And Bold in the Cold!