How to run in the cold

When in training you will have to learn to love to run in the cold. Well, maybe love is a strong word to use here.  It’s probably more like eating asparagus or taking out the trash.  Just one of those things you gotta do.  Let me tell you, there were many mornings during training when my alarm went off at 6 am and I looked out the snowy window and thought “Holy Schnikes, it’s freezing outside.” 

This is where we separate the schlubs from the runners.

You are faced with a question, do you hit the snooze and stay in bed? Or do you make the right choice and hit the road?  Yeah, you know what you need to do.  We will go over some coping strategies to help as you begin running in cold weather.

running in cold weather

How cold is too cold for running?

First things first, we are all about safety here at Chubby Runner. And you may be thinking, is running in cold weather safe? When I first started running I thought that running in cold weather would freeze my lungs, or at the very least, freeze my lips together causing me to drown in my own snot. Death is the worst possible outcome. Of course, none of these are true when running in certain temperatures.  It’s not something you need to lose any sleepover.  According to Dr. Jack Daniels, a leading expert on cold weather running,

“The pulmonary system is very very good at warming air.  That doesn’t mean it’s going to feel good to go running at 40 below, but it probably won’t freeze your lungs.

Dr. Daniels goes on to state that when the temperature drops there is less moisture in the air. So the death by freezing your lungs is less likely. However, you can dry them out Your throat and lungs can crack and bleed if they become too dry. The only other physical hazard you may face while running in cold weather is slipping and falling on a patch of iceYou will need to change your running style to more of a shuffle to maximize the surface area of your foot that comes in contact with the ground to get more traction.

Slipping on ice is NO laughing matter… unless it’s somebody else.

How sick is too sick?

We’ve all used the fake cough or phony sniffles to stay home from school or work. You may be tempted to use the same excuses while training for a marathon. The difference is that for marathon training you are only accountable to yourself.  If you don’t get up and train, it’s on you. But it happens. I have used the “I’m sick” excuse a few times to get out of a training run. In this game, if you feel crappy, you have to gauge your crappiness. Only you know how much you can push yourself when you’ve got the sniffles. All I can do is give you some guidelines and then you take it from there.

The prevailing wisdom from doctors is that if the sickness is below your neck then DON’T RUN. If it’s just sniffles and sinuses, you’re probably okay.  This is a general rule in running, but is compounded when it’s cold out. When you have a cough, your lungs and throat are already weak and inflamed, you don’t want to add to those problems by beating them up with dry, cold air.

You may have heard the old running adage that when you run in the cold you should breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. The theory behind this is that as you breathe in cold air through your nose it warms the air better than when you breathe in through your mouthDr. Daniels points out, that most healthy people simply can’t get enough air when breathing only through their nostrils.  When you add a stuffy nose and cold air to the mix the whole theory kinda goes out the window.

Warming up 

A big mistake a lot of people make when running in cold weather is that they decide to do their warmup inside, where it’s toasty and warm, and then head outside for their runSounds like a good plan, except for one little thing which makes it a terrible idea: sweat. “You’re going to build up a sweat, and then it will freeze when you go outside,” says Daniels. “You really want to stay dry.”

Go outside and start running, just go very slow and easy until your muscles warm up on their own, then you can speed up to your normal paceDon’t rush it, it’s easier to tear a muscle, tendon, or ligament when your muscles are cold and tight.

Watch the wind

One thing that you’ll probably figure out the first time you run in cold weather is the wind direction. When you get out there and run against the wind and your eyes are watering and it freezes to your cheeks, you’ll know what you need to do.  RUN THE OTHER WAY.  Not only is running into the wind a lot harder, but it can freeze you to the very core.  You can use the wind to your advantage when running in the cold.  If there are strong gusts and you think you can tough it out, run into the wind on the way out and use the wind to push you on the way back.

What to wear 

In previous posts, we have chatted about the best clothes for any condition.  While running in cold weather there is general consensus that you’ll want to wear a fabric that doesn’t absorb moisture (e.g. not cotton).  Synthetic clothing is generally very good at not absorbing sweat, wicking it away. Surprisingly wool is great when it’s cold because it will keep you warm even when you’re sweating like a crazy person.

Dressing in layers is best because as your body heats up you can unzip or remove clothes to maintain the perfect temperature range for you. Wearing long-legged and long-sleeved compression undergarments helps to keep the heat close to your body.  Got Wool? Although it is sometimes more expensive, wool is great for winter running.  Hat, socks, and jackets are a good wool purchase.  Check the sales, get a deal, find some great wool running clothes.  You’ll thank me later.  You will also want a layer that cuts through the wind.  You will look for wind-resistant or windproof.  Find a good pair of wind-resistant gloves.  It may take some time to get the right temperature, but as you adjust you’ll find the right temp for you.  While running in cold weather, staying warm is as important as staying cool.  It’s about finding the right balance for you and your body.

The Dreadmill

If you head out on your run and you feel like crap because your snot is freezing to your face, don’t kill yourselfHit the gym and run on the dreadmill.  It has to be arctic weather outside to drive me to run on the dreadmill.  I know a lot of people hate dreadmills, but you can achieve results on them.

If you plan on running on a treadmill when its cold, make sure you have something to entertain you. Catch up on old Family Ties episodes on Netflix, sha na na naaaa, or like I said before, the Godfather series, sans the third.

Parting words

There are worse things than running in freezing cold weather. The View or The Kardashian’s for instance.  I hate it when it’s 30 degrees when the wind is howling, and it’s sleeting sideways.  Wet and cold is no Bueno. Bottom line, Keep your feet dry!

The most important thing when trying to run in the cold is how you feel. Pay attention to your body. You will know what feels most comfortable to you. When you come home freezing cold, slurp down some hot chocolate and take a hot shower. This will help warm your core temperature until you hit the frozen pavement tomorrow.