Have you ever seen those fly-by-night/spam websites that make the claim that if you follow one "trick" or "old rule" that guarantees you will lose weight or get six-pack abs? OK, this post isn't like that, well, one thing in this post might be like that, but I thought I would share a few thoughts about cold-weather running, because to me, winter has arrived!
Years ago I was at work and on December 1 we were having the obligatory "I can't believe it's December!" conversation. One guy said the way he looks at it is that winter is 12 weeks long, because by the time we get to March better weather is on its way so even if it drags on a little March is bearable. You know, looking at it that way doesn't make it seem so bad -- except for last year, there is no possible way to put any kind of positive spin on last year. That was awful.
And for me, those 12 weeks this year will instead be 10 as I will be in Mexico for a week at the end of this month, then Darcy and I are going to Dubai the first week of February. Dubai! I've already found some running routes and they have an active running club there, so there are all kinds of positives for that trip!
Anyway, I'm rambling. Here are a few thoughts and ideas that might improve your winter running.
(Editor's note: These are just a few tips I shared because they have
worked for me. I'm not a doctor, scientist, nuclear physicist, astronaut, fighter pilot, coach,
trainer or Hal Higdon-type guru. So please take these for what they are,
just a few ideas from a guy who has been there a time or two. Enjoy!)
1) Lower your expectations! You know how your car doesn't run its best in cold weather? We are the same way! In cold conditions our body works differently to keep us warm and takes away many of the functions that are needed to run our best. For most of us (as in, those of us who aren't elite athletes or high level runners) that means quite simply we aren't going to run as fast. Don't get too stressed out about your times or how you feel, the benefits you are getting from the workout are still there, and you'll see a huge improvement in your performance once the weather warms up.
2) Dress for success. Always remember that you can put stuff on to take off later, but if you don't wear enough you can't put anything back on! I tend to wear a lot on top but not much on my legs -- unless it is windy I'm comfy in shorts to about 25F. The most important thing is to keep your head and hands covered, and your feet as dry as possible, because that's where your heat goes, and with your body focusing its energy on your core those are the first places true cold sets in. Once your hands and feet start turning cold misery is not far off. And when the cold gets extreme, cover your face! The idea of our "lungs freezing" is a total myth, but you want to be able to breathe comfortably. Sunglasses on snowy days is a must as well.
3) Watch your footing! The streets, sidewalks and paths can get a little treacherous during the winter, made tougher by the fact with shorter days we all often run in the dark. I fell on a patch of ice on the sidewalk while on a run last week because a house had its sump pump draining onto the sidewalk. Needless to say, they got a call to the village for being bad neighbors. There are products out there that can help with footing in extreme weather, and depending on where you live it might be a good investment.
4) Don't be a hero! One common trait we share as runners is that we are all mentally tough. Even running a 5K takes fortitude a lot of people just don't want to summon, so we ALL fit into that category. But that trait also makes us hardheaded. I know it's cool to go out on a run knowing you are the only one out there, I've run in temps of -12F before and it is a great feeling, but there comes a point that if there is a warmer, drier option...take it! Some people prefer always running outside, and they have my respect, but if I think a run is going to be miserable, I find a track or even the dreadmill. Also keep in mind that in extreme weather (heat and cold) there comes a point where diminishing returns take over.
While I credit spending the summer of 2007 running during my lunch break in an endless line of days when the head indexes were above 95 degrees with a killer day at the 88-degree Chicago Marathon that fall, I probably overdid it in that regard. :--)
This is where the thought of "training smart" comes into play.
5) And finally, the one weird trick...cough drops! I'm surprised so many people look at me funny when I mention that I suck on cough drops in cold weather, but it helps. I have exercise induced asthma that leads to coughing almost uncontrollably after I finish running in the cold, and I've found cough drops keep it from getting too bad. I just put a cough drop between my cheek and gum (seriously) in the back of my mouth, and I've never had problems with it getting in the way, even when I'm breathing hard. I broke that out when I ran a 5K on New Year's Day of 2001 when the temp at the start of the race was 17F and it was a real help. Doesn't hurt to give it a try!
One other thing I've noticed is that when I make it a point to keep up my training over the winter, two things seem to happen: 1) the winter never seems as cold and 2) my racing come springtime is way better.
So don't hibernate during winter, look it straight in the eye and say "it's on!".