Winter Warrior

img_6789-editUnless you live in Southern California, you are probably aware of how cold this winter has been. Inspired by the “Polar Vortex,” here are some tips for how to train outside as safely and comfortably as possible.

Training for a spring race (especially a marathon!), fitness goal, resolution set back on New Years Eve – often requires getting out of the gym and into the fresh air. If conditions are dangerous – icy, deep snow, high winds – sometimes heading to the gym or taking a rest day is the smart decision. However, if you can stomach the temperature, here are a few tips that can make your miles as safe and comfortable as possible under the given conditions:

  • Hats and gloves are a must. You lose heat from your head, which is good in summer but bad in Winter. Keep your head covered, and you’ll hold onto your heat. Hands and feet will quickly lose heat, as your body will work hard to regulate your core temperature, pulling blood away from your hands and feet and directing it towards your core. Gloves and compression socks can help you feel better and reduce the risk of frost bite.

  • Adjust your pace for extreme temperatures. Just as I’ve mentioned in the past that extreme heat has an impact on athletic performance, the same is true with extreme cold. Because your body is working hard to regulate your temperature and work hard to meet your demands, your body and brain won’t function as well as they would at 50-60 degrees. It’s best to run by feel and effort instead of focusing on your pace.

  • Breathing hard in cold climates can be hard. Again, you are sucking in very cold air into a body that is comfortable at 98.6 degrees. Warming up and cooling down is always important, but in Winter it’s even more crucial as it will give your body a chance to ease into your workout.

  • Do not wear cotton. Running in cotton can be unpleasant, but is also dangerous in Winter. When you sweat in cotton, it dries very slowly and pulls your body heat out of you. If you must run in cotton, get out of it as soon as you are finished your workout. Hypothermia and other dangerous things can happen if you are in cold, wet cotton.

  • Wear compression/sweat-wicking gear. Yes, Winter running gear can be expensive. I feel your pain. But if you plan to train through days that don’t go above 20 degrees, you need to invest in proper gear. It will make a world of difference.

  • Wearing layers can be great. As a general rule, dress for the current temperature +20 degrees. When running, your body heats up and “feels” like its about 20 degrees warmer outside than what the thermometer says.

  • In extreme conditions, like when it’s 5 degrees and you are out running before the sun comes up, hand warmers can be useful. I sometimes stuff them in my gloves, or in my compression shirt on my back if I am coaching and not running the whole time.

  • Upon finishing your run, drink or eat something hot – like soup or hot cocoa. Personally, I like to make chocolate milk and heat it on the stove. Warming yourself up from the inside feels pretty awesome. Pair that with a hot shower, and you’ll feel great.

  • If you can plan to run at the warmest time of the day, that can certainly help. While not everyone can plan their work and life schedule around the weather and training, if you do have the ability to duck out of work for a long lunch break, that can make Winter training a bit more bearable.

  • Watch for icy patches on the road or sidewalk. Wiping out could lead to injury, which is never good. Keep your eye on the path in front of you, and take short, quick steps – making it easy to navigate icy patches.

Heating Up

DSC_0350A few tips and reminders regarding running in the heat:

It take a few weeks for your body to acclimate to heat/humidity, so be patient and sweat it out.

Be prepared for your effort to produce a slower time than it would have in cooler weather. Don’t obsess over the number on your Garmin.

Gage your workouts on effort, instead of the numbers for a few weeks. You know what your 5K effort or Half Marathon effort feels like. Get your eyes off the watch.

Hydrate well before your run. Like I have mentioned before, you need to hydrate days/hours before a long or tough effort. Running in the heat is tough, especially for long runs or speed work. Drink often before your run.

Take hydration breaks during your run, but only small sips. Gulping water will leave you with a sloshing, unhappy tummy. If you go into the run hydrated, a few sips can keep you satisfied until your post-run refueling.

Refueling with gatorade or a beverage option with electrolytes will help you recover quickly. Bananas can also help ward off muscle cramps, thanks to potassium.

Wear light colored clothes, and be prepared to potentially chafe more as you sweat more.

Sun glasses and a visor can help protect your eyes and face from sunburn, harmful rays, and swarms of bugs.

Plan your runs around the weather, when possible. Summer storms often pop up quickly, and the heat index can be a helpful tool when trying to avoid sweltering temperatures. If you can get out there in the morning or evening, your body will thank you.

Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These can spring up quickly, and when least expected. Look out for other runners, as you may end up helping someone who becomes sick.

Embrace the heat and sweat. There’s no avoiding it, so learn to love it.