Q: I want to run through winter but find it hard to get out the door when it’s so cold. How can I make cold-weather running more bearable?
A: I recommend these four strategies for improving your cold-weather running experience.
1. The cold weather may tempt you to pile on the layers, but don’t go overboard. Dress lightly enough that you feel somewhat under-dressed for the first five to 10 minutes. If you’re warm right off the bat, you’ll quickly overheat. Wear a wool or wool-blend top next to your skin because it’s insulating and moisture wicking.
Protect yourself from wind and cold with a lightweight shell jacket as long as it’s highly breathable. If your sweat is trapped inside the jacket, you’ll feel colder. A good winter running jacket, in addition to breathability, should be packable so that once you’ve warmed up, you can easily stash it.
2. Your thirst may be less noticeable in the cold since your body temperature isn’t rising the way it does in summer. And it can be hard to gauge your sweat rate under layers of clothes or dry air that sucks the moisture immediately off your skin. Staying hydrated not only maintains running performance; it supports speedy post-run recovery and prevents muscle soreness.
Even for runs of over 45 minutes, carry at least 20 ounces (heat the water so it doesn’t freeze) and sip it every five to 10 minutes to support the thermo-regulatory systems that are working overtime to keep you warm and muscles functioning.
3. Running draws cold air into your lungs rapidly, leaving little time for it to warm up before contacting the delicate tissue in your nostrils and lungs. That chilled air can feel painful when it contacts your lungs and cause coughing that can last for hours after your run. So running at low intensity (an aerobic pace at which you can talk easily) will help protect your lungs from cold-weather damage.
If you are training for a race and need to include some fast intervals, it’s best to do them at the warmest part of the day after a long, gradual warm-up so that your body is prepared for the intensity.
4. One of the hardest things about running in the cold is dealing with the post-run chills that can stay with you for hours. In winter, slowing your pace until your breathing rate comes down and you stop sweating is vital for your recovery.
Without this transition, your body experiences a shock when you move from a cold environment to a very warm one. A proper cool down may take anywhere from five to 20 minutes, depending on how long it takes for you to gradually downshift from your normal running speed to a very easy, relaxed pace to an even slower run, then a brisk walk until you’ve completely stopped sweating. This allows your thermo-regulatory system to adapt and helps prevent muscle and joint stiffness later in the day.