The Challenges of Cold Weather Running

Feb 13, 2013

Written by Rodney Jenkins, RPM Instructor @ O2 Fitness Fuquay (+ Marathoner and Ironman)

This is the time of year that can really challenge a runner. Cold weather, occasional rain and even snow are not conditions that everyone including myself wholeheartedly embraces. Some of us however simply do not have a choice. My wife and I are already signed up for the March 2, Umstead trail marathon in Raleigh and the April 6, Golden Gate Headlands Marathon in San Francisco.  We ran two turkey trot half-marathons over the Thanksgiving holidays so we have already been training for several months in cold weather.


So by now, some of you are probably thinking, “the heck with that cold weather running, I’ll train for my spring race on a treadmill.”  For the sake of fitness, the treadmill is a great option but if you are training for a road race be it a 5K, 10K, half or full marathon, you need to include some outdoor training runs.  I am a Wake County classroom business teacher so I have to be at work at 7:30 am and usually leave for home at 4:30pm.  When daylight savings time ended, that meant that my weekday runs would be in darkness or on a treadmill.  Most of us already know that running in the dark can be unsafe depending on where you run so on those rare days when I am on the road, I wear a headlamp and reflective clothing.  But most days I opt to run on my treadmill at 5:00 am in the morning.  I must confess that I do not love the treadmill but safety is certainly one of its greatest benefits.  The downside and this is a big one is monotony and boredom.  So, for our Saturday morning long runs we are outdoors.

Our favorite place to train is Umstead State Park.  The soft wide bridle trails are hilly and challenging but the beautiful scenery makes up for all of that.  At this point in our training, we are running anywhere between 14 to 20 miles in temperatures that can range anywhere between 20 to 40 degrees.  Brrrrrr!  Yes, it is cold but we survive.  This is how we get through it and trust me, you can too.

If you are running in cotton, stop.  Cold or warm weather, cotton should be banished from your running wardrobe.  Why?  It holds on to moisture and sets you up for a wet, cold uncomfortable run.  If you are running in cotton socks, a blister is surely in your future.  For a runner, a blister can be death to your training and can certainly prevent you from finishing a race.  I have seen blisters cause very strong runners to crumble in pain and quit at mile 24 of a marathon (the marathon distance is 26.2).  So what do you wear?  The answer is Dri-fit clothing.  This type of clothing literally wicks moisture away from your body thus keeping your core area warm and dry.  The trick though is finding the right mix which means wearing layers of dri-fit clothing.  If you wear too much, the breathability of this technical fabric goes away and you could find yourself soaked in your own sweat.  If you don’t wear enough, you freeze.  Thus, you layer.  As your body warms up, you peel off clothing and wrap it around your waist or stash it along the trail.  Experience with different temperatures will eventually teach you how much clothing you should be wearing.  I primarily wear Nike clothing but own some Under Armour as well.  My running sock of preference is the Belega Hidden Comfort and the Thorlo Experia.  My wife prefers the smartwool brand.  As is the case with running shoes, find a brand of clothing that works for you.  We have found all of the brands that I mentioned to be both durable and functional.

Lastly, it would be remiss of me if I did not mention hydration.  Don’t wait for the run to drink.  You should be drinking all day long.  In cold weather, you may not feel the need to hydrate as much as you do when the weather is warm but do not make that mistake.  You should always carry a running bottle or wear a fuel belt.  If you don’t want to wear a belt (I do) or carry a bottle ( I do that too), you may be able to find a water fountain, go by a friend’s house or stash something to drink along your training route.  Just remember that dehydration, regardless of the weather can be life threatening.

Oh, can I mention one more thing?  Don’t forget the sunblock and happy cold weather running.

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