Colder than normal to sub-zero temperatures do not have to be a reason to stop outdoor running during such seasons. Generally speaking, even running in sub-zero temperatures poses no real concerns to safety as long the runner is prepared. There are challenges, though, to running in the cold and most tend to think that simply, it’s too cold to run. This may keep most people from going outside to run and find themselves running indoor, not running as much as normal, or simply not running at all. I’d like to believe the benefits outweigh the challenges and this article will set out to look at both sides of the coin when asking, should you run in the cold?
Low temperatures and wind chill present the highest level of challenge when it comes to running in the cold. The exertion taking place during a run in the cold may cause issues such as a dry cough. But respiration in the cold is less intense and breathing through the nose will be enough air to maintain the respiratory systems.
Comfort levels for most will likely be a sticking point for runners. We want to maintain a temperature that is comfortable and for most of us that is what we set our home thermostats to during the day; 68-72 Degrees Fahrenheit (DF). There are many solutions to combat the cold while running and we will take a look at these in the preceding topics.
Exercising, including running, creates more of a strain on the immune system. When that system dries out, it means that the body can no longer transport the germs out of the system through the digestive track. This will leave the body more susceptible to settling and spreading, becoming viruses. To battle these viruses we will need to ensure proper nutrients and vitamin consumption. Take care of yourself, not only during the run, but before and after, as well.
Heart rates and dehydration levels are lower in colder conditions, meaning there is less stress on the body. Sweating will decrease as this is a way to get rid of heat and the body will require less water. Additionally, the heart tries to move heat to the surface of the body and in colder temperatures the body looks to retain the heat. This means there will be less strain on the heart in these environments.
Let’s take a look at those heart rate changes. As runners, we know how heart rate is effected with consistent exercise. We know that a healthier body can maintain itself with fewer beats per minute than a non healthy one. Elevated heart rates mean that we are putting more strain on the heart to perform tasks associated with keeping all of our systems operational. Diet an exercise is a way to decrease heart rate during exercise and rest, increasing performance during normal and strenuous activities. With the lessened strain on the heart during cold weather, we are performing at even higher levels.
Not that performance is what we are after in the cold…it does mean that we are performing at higher levels, even when conditions are not as comfortable as what we would like. The runner has to weigh the options of performing better versus the perception of comfort. Below we will discuss how to prepare oneself to being more comfortable in the cold weather conditions.
Cold Weather Running Gear
Gear will be dependent upon preference, weight, and size of the person. The broad ranges of comfort are directionally related to the options of gear that one may want to wear. These should be catered to the specific person and once the person has run in specific temperatures multiple times, they will get a better understanding of what clothing will be best for the environment.
Will the warm up be done in the cold environment (which is encouraged) or indoor? Doing this, along with stretching, in the same environment will ensure proper attire for the workout.
Below 60 DF: Some runners will be comfortable in short sleeves and shorts, while others will require a long sleeve shirt.
Below 50 DF: Long sleeve shirt will be a must with shorts and some will require, minimally, compression socks, up to tights.
Below 40 DF: Long sleeve shirt and shorts or tights. Additional coverage on the upper body will be a must for some along with coverage for the hands and ears.
Below 30 DF: Two layers on the upper body with shorts and tights or pants. Coverage for the hands, head, and ears.
Below 20 DF: Multiple layers as needed on the upper body and tights and/or pants. Coverage for the hands, feet, face, head, and ears. An additional wind breaker layer should definitely be considered for both the upper and lower body.
As the temperature decreases, understand what your body is telling you with respect to the cold. Layers will be your friend and be sure to be over prepared for all potential conditions. Hoods, hats, gloves, and windbreakers come with options that allow you to discard even during the run itself.
Checking the weather before each run should be routine before going out, as in-season temperatures can be unpredictable. Have enough clothing in your inventory to accommodate for each level of temperature you prepare on running. Understand your energy loss versus gain and make sure to feed the body what it requires. Knowing that your immune system is under more stress should have you looking at additional methods for fighting viruses. Combating the small challenges and protecting yourself during physical activity in the cold will allow you to reap the benefits associated with running in this environment. Many runners have noted their personal bests in cold temperatures. Be prepared and enjoy the open air, running year round.