Winterized Running: Why it is NOT too Cold to Run!


(Todd and I)

Running is meant to be adventurous. However, the invention of the treadmill took the adventure out of it for most. Adventures come in all shapes, sizes, elevations, speeds, and temperatures, and if I am running 6 days a week I need some variation.

When people ask  me about my training in the cold they express concern that I might die. They state that the following will happen: frostbite, possibly die from my lungs freezing, hypothermia,  pneumonia (kind of weird), any many other random ideas.

First, let’s talk about frostbite and hypothermia. I am not going to define these terms, I am sure you know the definitions by now. Instead,  I want to focus on how to avoid these potential problems.

Obviously (hopefully so), the goal is to prevent heat loss. This is done by protecting the body from moisture, cold air, and wind. When I refer to moisture I want to make it clear that excessive accumulation of sweat is often times more of a threat then cold rain/snow. Thus, protection comes down to clothing that can protect you from external threats (really cold air, rain, snow, etc.) and internal threats (sweat). We are talking multiple layers of clothing… do NOT stick to just one thick layer, or you will only trap in tons of sweat and not be able to pull offn layers if heat increases. Lightweight layers allows sweat/water to escape while still keep your body warm. The first layers on your upper body (core layer) should not be cotton. This layer should be one with wicking properties… a shirt that will move the moisture to the next layer. The second layer should be more heavy and loose (but still not too heavy). This layer needs to be one that can be easily removed. If it is extremely cold you might throw on a third layer, which should be something like a microfiber jacket to protect from wind, snow, etc. This layer also needs to allow ventilation of moisture!

Lower body seems easier to protect. I have ran in as low as -15 F, and only had to put on cold weather running tights. For the men out there, it would be a good idea to place a sock in your tights so you can still claim you are a male after the run. Otherwise, it may hurt to pee for a couple hours after you run (and other undesirable side effects may occur)!

Keep those toes warm. I waited until SealSkinz waterproof socks went on sale at REI. These have been incredible. I have worn these over some good wool socks and not had any problems with excessively wet feet. I have ran thru waist deep rivers and knee deep snow with no major problems! Winter weather gaiters can also help keep snow/cold water from entering your shoes. If you will be running for several hours take extra socks and shoes!

Keep those fingers protected!! My hands freeze easily, so this is big for me. The best gloves I have came across that still allow me to use my fingers for fuel/water are from North Face. I am still open to try different gloves!!!

Of course, wear a hat… but if it is below 15 F I will wear my face guard, as well. If the temps are below zero F I wear some form of glasses or ski goggles to keep my eyes protected. It is not always too fun having my eyelids freeze shut when I am a few miles away from home.

Don’t be silly, stay hydrated. Focus on keeping hydrated and water from freezing. They go hand in hand. Place your camelpak under one of your layers and drink water very often to keep your hose from completely freezing over. It may also be wise to take a couple dollars along so you can stop in at convenient stores for some water/sports drink! Just remember to include hydration in your winter running plans. People quickly become dehydrated in cold temps!!!

Extreme cold is probably not the best time for speed training. Muscles will not be warmed up enough for the quick contractions. Keep it to mild-moderate speed. If you are protected and prepared you can go long and have fun. There is not much like being out when no one is near and all you hear is the sound of crunching snow beneath your feet. If it is slick (ice, lots of snow) put on some yaktrax or screws!

Now, do your lungs freeze, or even become cold? NO!!!!! Just look at actual research. My favorite information comes from a pulmonary specialist, Own Hanley, MD. He says, ” It is easy to develop frozen lungs.

You simply have to die in the icy outdoors, and then your lungs will freeze along with the rest of you. ”  Just think about it, or maybe not… just run!!!

Enjoy the winter fun, stop making excuses that it is too cold, and get create new adventures for you, your family, and friends!

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