It’s Cold Out There!
By Lena Hollmann
When you read this, the days are already getting longer. But they are still about as short as they will be, and it’s cold out there! Maybe not compared to what it is like in Maine or Michigan, but probably cold enough for you to wear a long-sleeve shirt, and possibly also tights and gloves when you go for a run.
It is always an adjustment for us runners in the fall when the days get shorter and the weather gets colder. I welcome the cooler weather because it’s easier to race in, but I often struggle with what to wear during my training runs this time of year. It may be 40 degrees when I start at 8 am, but the forecast says it will be 55 when I finish at 9:30. So, should I wear my tights or not? If I wear them I will be mighty warm during the last part of my run, but if I leave them off, my legs will feel like icicles the first couple of miles!
Even though I am originally from Sweden, I’m not a “cold weather person.” And it is easy to get wimpy when living in a place where the temperature rarely goes below 20 degrees, even on January mornings! I have adjusted to the mild Southern winters, and when it’s below freezing I usually don’t feel like going running because “it’s so cold!” But I also know that once I am off, it can be very invigorating. Even in a snowstorm I can enjoy my run provided I am dressed in layers with my windbreaker on top.
Dressing in layers is the key for being comfortable during a cold weather run. I often take my gloves off and tie my jacket around my waist after a few miles. It is also important not to under-dress, and to protect your skin against wind chill. On the 40-degree morning I described above, my tights would definitely be part of my outfit.
I used to have it down to a science, exactly what to wear depending on the temperature. Long-sleeve shirt if below 55 degrees, tights if below 45, a vest and earmuffs if below 40. But once it got close to the freezing mark it became more challenging how to dress, because wind chill played a bigger role and also because we don’t get that much experience running in sub-freezing temperatures here in the South!
As I got older I have modified my criteria a little bit. I sometimes grab my long-sleeve shirt even if it is almost 60 degrees, and usually my tights come on if the temperature is below 50. I dress warmer on cloudy and windy days than when we have bright sunshine. Maybe this tendency to dress warm has more to do with getting slower than getting older, but since the two are related I can rightfully claim that with increasing age I’ve wanted to bundle up a little more during my runs.
Sometimes I miss the simplicity of a hot weather run -- no dickering over what to wear, just put on shorts and a singlet and go out there! I tend to forget how uncomfortable it can be to keep going after a few miles.
In the winter it’s the opposite. When I first set out I ask myself “What am I doing out here?”, but after a mile or two I feel great. And non-runners are often amazed that we are out there at all! They are more likely to drop their chin to the floor when we go for a run in the winter than during the peak of the summer heat. What they don’t know is that there are many more lurking dangers associated with running in the heat than in the cold. Unless we are dealing with extreme cold, like 25 below zero or more, running when it is chilly carries very few hazards for healthy individuals. Or at least the cold per se hardly causes any problems. Provided we are dressed correctly, running or performing other outdoor exercise in the winter chill could actually be good for us, and it could even slow down the aging process according to some sources! But the latter should probably be taken with a grain of salt. Or at least it is more likely the exercise than the cold that causes our bodies to stay young.
The real challenge this time of year is not the cold, but darkness, snow, and ice. Every runner, but older runners in particular, need to take some precautions while running on a slippery surface, or in the dark. Both make it significantly more likely that we will slip and fall. Even if you are running in a neighborhood that is considered “safe,” obstacles like branches and curbs are harder to see when it’s dark, and after one of those crippling ice storms it may not be possible to run outside at all!
Depending on where you live you may not have to deal with snow and ice very often, but if you have a day job it can sometimes be hard to get a run in during daylight hours. Or you may have to choose between running in the cold at the crack of dawn, or in the dark after work. Everybody’s situation is unique, and therefore also every solution. But here are some general tips to keep in mind that will help you get through another winter season of running:
Stay hydrated. We may not get thirsty like we do during a run in the summer, but cold and dry weather causes moisture to evaporate from our skin. This is why we have to reach for the hand lotion and chapstick all the time in winter. Make sure you drink fluids before and after your run, and if possible have a water stop during your long runs also.
Be aware of wind chill. Your iPhone app may say it is 32 degrees, but when you go out it feels like fifteen! Wind chill also presents a challenge because it will feel much colder running against the wind that with it. Plan your route so that you have the wind in your face when you go out and in your back on the return.
If possible, run during daylight hours. If you have to run in the dark, run in well lit areas and on sidewalks if possible, and wear reflective gear.
It may be OK to run on snow, but not on ice! If you miss a day or two of running because of an ice storm it is not the end of the world. Maybe you have a treadmill or other cardio equipment at home. Or,if you have a gym nearby and are able to get there, do some cross training instead. Stay tuned to the weather forecasts and be prepared to switch your schedule around if storms are approaching.
Consider replacing your run with other endurance training one or two days a week. Take a spinning class at the gym. If you are decent swimmer and have access to an indoor pool, use it. Or try a Zumba class!
When running outside, dress in layers. It will take some experimentation to find out what works for you at different temperatures and wind chills, and it might change as you get older. And be aware that what feels right for your best friend may be too warm or too cold for you. If your buddy likes to run in shorts when it is 25 degrees, it doesn’t mean that you will be comfortable doing so!
To sum it all up, get ready to strike back at Old Man Winter! When he gives you a punch, bounce back even stronger. Be creative and you will find ways to run and exercise even when the weather is at its worst behavior. Don’t give in to hanging out on the couch, except maybe during the Super Bowl. And remember that winters are short here in the South. Once you have figured out a routine and attire that works for you, you may find that springtime is just around the corner!