Chicago Marathon Training: Tips for Cold Weather Running

WANAKA, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 27: Competitors run in the Winter Triathlon during day 15 of the Winter Games NZ at Snow Farm on August 27, 2011 in Wanaka, New Zealand. (Photo by Camilla Stoddart/Getty Images)

While running in low temps can be challenging, there are things that you can do to make it a good run.

Many of my friends think I’m nuts! I seem to be always racing or training to race, but it’s the racing that keeps me going. This time of year I must get a little nuttier because there’s nothing that I love more about running than getting outside for a long run on cold days. There is something to the crisp cold air, seeing my breath as I run, the steam coming off my head, and seeing the beauty of the snow covered landscape in my hometown to get me out the door. But before heading outside you have to be prepared, so here are a few tips to keep in mind.

The most important is to make sure you are dressed properly. You will want to dress in layers (the number of layers depend on the actual temp/wind chill), with as many form fitting clothes as possible. As you run, your body temp will heat the air between the layers, keeping you warm, The form fitting clothes are better because the looser fitting clothes let the cold air in. Moisture wicking materials are best, as wet = cold, and these will keep you as dry as possible. I like to go with a tight cold weather base layer and go from there depending on the temperature. I have not noticed any significant difference from one brand to the next, as long as it’s designed for cold weather. Some type of waterproof windbreaker will help keep the cold air out as well as any snow flurries that you may encounter. Gloves and a hat are a must since we lose most of our heat thought our heads and fingers are often the first to get cold. One word of caution, when you dress keep in mind that you will be running, so your body will warm up, if you are good and warm when you start after a few minutes you will be sweating and wanting to shed clothing. It is ok to be a little chilly when you start because after a mile (give or take) the activity will warm you up. If you are new to winter running, experiment a little with shorter runs before you head out on a long run.Once you leave your home (or other starting point), this is where the fun starts. One of the first things that you will notice is that it may be a little more difficult to breathe. This is due to the dryness of the cold air and your lungs are not used to it. The cold air will not do any damage, but it can be a little uncomfortable, and if you experience this, try covering your nose and mouth with a scarf or mask which will warm the air up before breathing it in.

You will also need to pay extra attention to where you are going, even if it means slowing down a little. Nothing will ruin a good run faster than stepping in a cold puddle, slipping on ice, or getting sprayed with slush from an oncoming car (that’s happened to me a time or two). If there does happen to be snow cover, look for snow that has been packed down, as it will provide more traction. If it’s too bad (snow or ice), take your run inside to an indoor track or treadmill where there is less chance of injury. Depending on the time of day you are running, reflective gear and a head light may be a good idea. Finally, be sure to tell someone where you are going, and if possible carry your cell phone and same cash, just in case. Good rules for running outside anytime of year.If you are new to winter running, try it, start small, run until you warm up and go from there. I know that I am a little nuts, but I much prefer to run when it’s 10 degrees than when it is 80 degrees. I seem to recall in 2011 I ran on the coldest day of the year (zero or below with ice on my eyelashes) and also the warmest day (95 degrees), and the cold was much easier for me to tolerate then the heat. I find that in cold weather I am able to go longer and harder, and while the runs tend to have less exciting routes as the trails are often not plowed (I have not gotten into snowshoeing), but running in the cold air really makes me feel alive. I also enjoy the little extra sleep on Saturday mornings as I do not need to get up to beat the heat. I would encourage you to try it and if your nuts like me and already enjoy the cold, it’s nice to know that I’m not alone.

Brian Gold is an experienced marathoner and runner who provides training tips throughout the year for races of all distances and all types of weather.

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