So even as a dusting of snow still sat on the ground—a big deal in southern US—I signed up for a 15k road race to be held the very next morning. The very next morning, while we shivered at the start line, the woman next to me said, “This is a good idea, right?” We laughed.
Ironically, the shivering, the tightness in my back, and thoughts of hot coffee let me know I was dressed appropriately for the run. The saying goes, and it’s quite correct in my experience, that if you feel comfortably warm as soon as you step out the door, you are overdressed for the run.
Comfort level aside, there are some additional things to consider when pounding the pavement in low temperatures.
Changes in Performance
Most runners expect pace per mile to increase when it’s warm out, but performance can also suffer as temperatures drop below freezing. The increase in pace becomes more pronounced the colder it is outside and as the body works harder to maintain its core temperature.
Also, the body burns carbohydrates at a higher rate in the cold than it does in warm temperatures. This means that in cold weather energy stores are depleted more quickly. To help avoid disappointment, it helps to adjust performance expectations accordingly.
To state it simply, hypothermia is dangerous. It occurs when the body loses heat faster than the heat is replaced and body temperature drops below 95 degrees. While exposure isn’t the only cause, hypothermia can be a result of exposure to cold weather. Some of the symptoms include slow, slurred speech, trouble speaking, and confusion. Severe symptoms include confusion, weak pulse, and shallow breathing. If these symptoms show up, take them seriously, take steps to warm yourself immediately, and seek medical attention.
Wet clothes and the sweat that comes along with running can exacerbate the potential for hypothermia. Dressing in layers is essential, but choosing the right clothing material is just as important as layering itself. Avoid cotton base layers. Cotton absorbs and holds sweat, plus delivers a nice little bonus chill. Go instead for synthetic blends with wicking capabilities for the base layer and a wind resistant top layer.
To answer that woman’s question—you know, from the freezing start line—cold-weather running can be a good idea…if approached with a healthy respect for conditions, awareness of personal limitations, and knowledge of warning signs of danger.
We want to hear from all cold-weather athletes! Runners, cyclists, boot camp instructors, let us know in the comments how you prep mind and body for cold conditions and persevere!