Running in the Cold
Winter is in full swing, but if you’re anything like me, that won’t stop you from lacing up and going for a long run. Winter running comes with many benefits, like burning more calories, building mental strength, strengthening your heart and improving your physical endurance, but in order to feel these in their full effect it’s important to stay safe and away from injury amidst the winter training.
Today, we’re gonna discuss how to maximise the benefits of running in the cold.
I know you just wanna get out there and run, sometimes. You might think, “What’s the point of stretching when you’re about to run?” “That’s just gonna waste my time” but please hear me out.
If you do a thorough warm up, inside, spending more time than usual doing dynamic stretches to loosen your leg muscles, from you calves to your quads, when you get outside, you won’t feel as stiff as you would, otherwise. Stepping into the cold, your muscles are tighter than usual, your joints are stiff and just going off for a run without taking more time to raise your body temperature and get a quick muscle pump on will increase your chance of injury. Without warming up, you can kiss your PB goodbye, because you’ll probably feel some niggles or hurt yourself midway through your run.
If you can’t warm up inside, wrap up warm and warm up for 15 minutes.
Keep your Hands, Feet and Head Warm
This one goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. There are few things worse than freezing fingers, so put some gloves on when you go for your jog. Your hands will definitely get cold, otherwise. This is because your blood vessels constrict, or get smaller and less blood can get to the extremities (fingers and toes). With the cold comes a drop in body temperature so in order to counteract this, your body raises its average temperature through a process called homeostasis, but this means that blood will flow to your important organs to keep them warm, leaving your hands and feet behind. So, if you don’t want to freeze your hands off, please wear gloves.
Your head is pretty important, in case you had any doubts. Your brain is there and you know how your brain controls everything your body does? Yeah, don’t let it get cold or you won’t be able to properly function. Wear running beanies, keep your head, ears and brain warm - you’ll thank me later.
Continuing the theme of dressing well, it’s important to wear thermals or a base layer. Base layers are great because they keep you warm and are generally made of moisture wicking materials like polyester. What I mean is they will help you retain your body heat, which will potentially make you sweat, but they will also move this sweat away so you don’t get uncomfortable and you won’t smell too bad, which is a plus! So look for compression tops and bottoms and you’ll be good!
Dress Like it’s 10 Degrees Colder
Now, I understand this might be a bit confusing after being told to wear something that will keep you warm and make you sweat, but you need to balance this by dressing like it’s about 10℃ colder. With you moving, obviously you’ll get warmer and you don’t want to overheat because of your body temperature rising and being under plenty of layers. I understand this may make it harder to get out there, but trust me, you will warm up if you run and this is the safer option.
So what does this look like?
Just don’t wear a massive hoodie or huge jacket, but instead, if you must, wear a thinner running jacket and don’t wear thick woolly socks, but go for compression socks instead. Changes like these will make your run a lot more enjoyable and safer.
Wear Grippy Shoes
In the cold you need to watch out for wet and icy roads, pavements and frosty grass. The best way to ensure safety and minimise slipping would be to wear trainers with outsoles with great traction. If you’re running on roads, you don’t need to worry about getting trail shoes with deep lugs and grooves because that will likely cause you to slip more. If you think about it, the depth of the lugs on the trail shoe would mean there is a smaller surface area of the outsole actually on the ground which would mean you would slip more. Instead, your normal running shoes would be best. On the grass, however, those studs, effectively, on your trail shoes would be better because they will go into the grass and therefore provide more grip and stability.
Don’t go too Fast
Chances are, you can’t run a sub-10 100 m, so stop acting like it and run a bit slower than you would when it’s warmer. Stay in the “aerobic zone” where your heart beat is around 130 bpm to 150 bpm. You’ll put less stress on your muscles and your lungs, but you'll still get the same effects. Yeah, you’ll have a slower run, but that run will still bring plenty of benefits as you strengthen your cardiovascular endurance and you increase your VO₂ Max.
Make sure you also don’t stay out for too long. 30 minutes to an hour should be sufficient. Firstly because, why would you want to stay in the cold for longer? Secondly, and more importantly, staying out for too long can put your immune system at risk.
This is a major key. Always. You won’t sweat like you will in summer, but you still lose fluids and it’s important to stay on top of that. Don’t drink too much but make sure you get a couple of sips in.
Get Back Inside.
Your body may feel warm after your run, but your body temperature will drop quickly afterwards so don’t be stranded in the cold post run. Get in the car, go to a coffee shop or go home, just be inside to prevent injury and illness.
I know you don’t want to but for similar reasons as to why you warm up, you’ll need to cool down. Stretch and keep your muscles supple so you’re ready for recovery and your next run.
I hope I was able to help you today and I hope you’re fully equipped with the know-how to maximise the benefits of winter running. Now that you know this, go execute!