Oooh, now there’s an oxymoron from my standpoint. Cold weather AND running should be the title.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a cold weather weenie. To me, there are only three reasons for winter to exist, snowboarding, biting insect die off, and it’s pretty to look at. Other than that, winter is something I endure until spring rolls around again. And I bitch and moan incessantly about being cold. Just ask my lovely wife or my long suffering friends. I would be perfectly happy living in Hawaii or someplace with similar weather. My favorite temperature for running? From around 65 to 95 degrees. When I hear that the forecast for the Wasatch 100 will be hot, I just smile knowing that most everyone will suffer through the heat while I revel in it. Bring it.
I think most of the reason I don’t like cold weather is that I get cold very easily. My hands and feet are constantly cold to the point of being very uncomfortable and even somewhat painful. If I can keep my hands and feet warm, then I’m a happy camper. Unfortunately, that isn’t very often during the winter.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times that I go running outside when it’s below 70 degrees, and even below 25 degrees, and I have an awesome time. I went running with my lovely wife the other day and while the temperature was around 30 and dropping, running on the packed snow with her was delightful. I had a great time. I didn’t get cold until close to the end of our run. When we got home I ate hot soup while standing by the fireplace, then spent about 20 minutes in a blistering hot shower trying to warmup. As I write this, my office at work is around 75-80 degrees and my hands are cold to the touch. It’s a good thing that I don’t share an office with anyone.
So what do I do to cope other than complain? Several things.
First, I do run outside, but only in specific conditions. No wind and generally warmer than 10 degrees. If it’s windy and cold, I will be uncomfortable to the point of being miserable. A sunny day helps. I have lots of black running clothes to absorb the pitiful amount of warmth the sun gives off during the winter.
Second, as far as clothing, I have a pair of winter running tights that do a great job of keeping my legs warm. I also layer like you’re supposed to. Generally about eight or nine layers suffice. Just kidding, I generally will wear two long sleeve tech t’s and a light fleece type jacket. I can shed the jacket if need be. I always wear a beanie. I read somewhere that 25% of heat loss is through your scalp. I’m not contributing to global warming by letting my body heat escape out the top of my head. For my hands I can usually get away with a pair of gloves down to about 30 degrees, after that I dig out some glove liners and wear my snowboarding mittens. Now that will keep my little fingers warm. For my feet, if it’s really cold I’ll wear my snowboarding socks and a pair of Pearl Izumi Gore-Tex trail running shoes.
Third, I have a treadmill. I’m a big fan of using it for, you know, running. It is not a clothes hanger, in fact the only thing that hangs on it is a towel for sweat. I use that treadmill religiously during the winter. Three or four times a week I’m on that thing cranking out a few miles.
There are numerous great reasons for treadmill running besides it being colder than a well digger’s ass outside.
I use a treadmill in the winter to focus on specific training. Just running on it at a constant pace is indeed kind of boring, even with the television on or music playing really loud.
Try doing intervals on a treadmill. My go to interval workout is a one mile warmup at a 10 minute pace, then 4-5 half mile intervals starting at around a 7:30 pace and decreasing the pace with each one down to just below a 7:00 minute pace. Each interval is followed by a half mile at a 10 minute pace. Each week I try to bump the interval speed up just a bit. Do a one mile cool down and before you know it, you’ve knocked out a solid 5-6 mile workout. How fast should you go? Well, I try to go fast enough so that by the last 0.1, I’m breathing really hard and starting to struggle a bit. The good thing about intervals is that when you get to the last 0.1 of that high speed action, the treadmill doesn’t slow down like you might if you were running on a track. This forces you to get into that uncomfortable state and realize that you are capable of keeping that speed up. This is where you really show gains in your fitness. It’s tough but even us ultrarunners should be doing speedwork if you want to get faster.
Try doing tempo runs on treadmill. What I do here is to once again do a one mile warmup, then I bump the speed up to roughly a 10K pace, or even a bit faster, and keep it there for 3-5 miles. The pace should be high enough that it would be a bit of a struggle to carry on a conversation.
I even do really long runs on the thing. I’ve done a 50K on mine. For something like that I have to start mentally getting ready early in the week. But 10-20 miles while watching some Sunday morning car shows on Spike works for me.
I also use treadmill running to develop mental focus because my mind tends to wander rather easily (squirrel!!). Trail running makes it easy for my mind to wander and lose the focus I need to really train rather than just go for a run.
Other uses for your treadmill? How about hill repeats, power hiking. Another good thing about treadmill running is that it provides a controlled environment to assess your fitness level. As an Engineer, I’m all about controlling variables during an experiment to better determine the outcome. I can assess my fitness level on a treadmill much better than I can while running a trail somewhere.
What I have found over the years is that when I do the treadmill training during the winter, the running is much easier when I do get out on the trails as the weather finally and thankfully warms up
So use that thing that you spent a crap ton of money on for something other than a clothes hanger. Who knows, you might find that your running will actually improve.
So what do you do running wise to cope with the cold weather?
Editors Note: We publish this article as we are about to have a solid week of 60 degree weather here along the Wasatch. We hope this article will be a great resource NEXT WINTER! Enjoy the sunshine and dry trails folks…
Joel is the co-founder of TrailManners.com, owner of KatBlu Web Designs, and Owner of Bomber Athlete.