Days are freshening. Leaves are turning. As that cold north wind begins to blow, it’s time to get the mental toolkit and the gear ready for running in cold weather – before the real weather arrives. And, hey, with a few basics under your belt you can turn winter from the dreaded darkness to a season to embrace.
Basic #1 – Don’t Overdress
You may have heard of the Ohio farmer who, for every winter of his adult life, shoveled the snow between his house and the barn to keep a path open. All he wore to do this were boots, gloves and an athletic supporter. He swore he felt perfectly fine for the 45 minutes or so it took him to finish the job.
Maybe you’ll need a little more than that for decorum, but you just don’t need as much as you think.
And if you sweat too much, you’re inviting problems when it’s cold outside.
Nothing quite like having to stop in the freezing cold when you’re in a lather and experiencing the remarkable cooling properties of sweat first hand – from all your soaked clothes turning to ice.
Parts turn blue.
It takes a half hour of a steaming hot shower to raise your core temperature back to normal.
And it dehydrates you – completely unnecessarily – but a little more on that later.
So, don’t overdress. Instead…
Use Multiple Thin Layers of Natural Material
Yes, there are materials specifically designed to get sweat away from your body – but none are as cheap or readily available as a simple cotton tee-shirt or long-sleeved tee.
You don’t need sweatshirts or hoodies or Thinsulate or eiderdown.
What you need are a few old cotton t-shirts (or if you need to go all downtown, merino wool) under your shell and you’ll be just fine.
If you find you’re overdressed, you can easily stop, take off a layer, and either carry it with you or stash it to pick it up later. They will keep you as dry as you want to be, without tempting hypothermia.
Keep the Core Warm
I’ve never worn a second set of socks in my running shoes to protect against the cold. And I’ve run in some cold, cold temperatures. The reason – I keep my core warm.
A warm core, interestingly, will do a lot to keep the rest of you warm.
In World War II, pilots flying at high altitude in unheated cabins suffered frozen hands and feet. This not only caused extreme discomfort, but significant loss of life. To remedy it, the air force outfitted crews with suits wired with heating wires for the hands and feet, but the suits didn’t do the job.
In another stab at the problem, they gave the crews suits that heated torsos, arms and legs – but not the hands and feet. To many people’s surprise, these suits worked. No more frozen appendages. Pilots and crews could fly in (relative) comfort. And most importantly, it reduced the number of crashes.
The core of your body, it it gets a bit too much heat, will try to shed that heat by increasing circulation to the extremities – using your hands and feet as blood coolers. If that works, problem solved. If it doesn’t, you’ll also start to sweat.
So, keeping your core warm will help keep circulation going to the fingers and toes as well – and keep them toasty.
Wear a Hat
According to the latest findings, you lose from 7 – 10% of your body’s heat through your head. Considering you make most, perhaps not all, of life’s decisions with the old bean, it probably makes some sense to cover it up for more than just thermal-loss reasons.
For guys, I offer this additional cautionary tale from the terrific little book “The Hibernation Response”:
In December 1812, Napoleon retreated from Russia, having lost some 469,000 of his 500,000 troops. Many had died of the cold, and according to Napoleon biographer Nigel Nicholson, “Baron Larrey, chief surgeon to the army, noticed that the bald died first.”
So if, like me, you’re beginning to thin out up there, a hat’s a historically proven good idea.
Basic #2 – Be Seen
If you’re in what’s known as the temperate zone (or even further north) in the Norther Hemisphere it becomes readily apparent around the first of October that we’re headed back into the darkness. It’s darker longer. And it’s going to keep going in that direction until just before Christmas.
Which is bound to force some of your running into darker periods of the day.
So, you need to be seen.
Reflective material on your jacket, socks, shoes, tights, hat, everywhere, is a must.
Most gear now has a good trim, at least, of reflective material. If you plan to run along roads or busy streets, get hold of a reflective vest for additional visibility.
Get at least one light – headlamps are the best. And a spare is never a bad idea.
And have a flashing rear-facing light as well if you’re running along roads.
Be a living lit-up Christmas tree until spring and you’ll be in great shape come spring.
Basic #3 – Take on Water
A study at the University of Birmingham concluded that at cold temperatures, dehydration (of all things, right?) can be a problem.The author lists a number of factors for this, including the fact that your body needs to evacuate more often by a process called cold-induced diuresis. (Causing the unfortunate double whammy of not only needing to pee more, but in a season where there are few leaves for cover and you have to negotiate your way through more layers of clothes.) In addition, you lose more body moisture through your breath because of the decreased humidity of cold air.
Adding on the fact that it’s cool outside – so why does anyone need water? – the fact that people tend to ignore point #1 above and sweat profusely, and the fact that drinking water is actually solid at sub-zero temperatures, and the conditions are ripe for the uninitiated to be dehydrated.
Fortunately, that won’t be you.
You’ll take on water.
Keep it Basic
These are the basics I’ve come across – through many (many) freeze/thaw cycles myself , some good, some not so good – for running in cold weather.
Just a few simple things. Don’t overdress, be seen, and take on water.
That’s about it.
And you’ll be good right through winter.
I’ll get into more specifics in another post about what to actually wear when you’re out there in the cold.
I’d love to hear your experiences with running in cold weather, and any comments you’d like to share, in the comments area below.
See you out there!