Coping with the Cold

The “secret” to running in the cold is knowing what to wear and what not to wear.  Despising running a treadmill helps, too.

For those of us who train in the tortuous Texas heat, where all you need are shorts and tank top for 9 months out of the year, figuring out what to wear is not as easy as it sounds.  And, you usually get the hang of it right about the time that Winter ends.

My solution to :: A “What to Wear” spreadsheet!

I know what you’re thinking…  When I proudly share this with people, I usually get a lot of “Wow, you’re even crazier than I thought” faces.  To underscore the importance of knowing what to wear and to justify my OCD solution (or, perhaps, just to confirm that I am, in fact, crazy), you have to understand that I was paralyzed by indecision the night before my first marathon in Chicago 2009.

I never fully recovered from my pre-race panic.  So, today, in addition to my usual training log, I keep a “What To Wear” log of all my Winter runs.

I created a spreadsheet where I record the following:

  • Date and time
  • Weather conditions – temperature, wind chill, humidity, and whether it was sunny/cloudy/dark
  • My run – distance and pace
  • What I wore – down to which pair of ear warmers and gloves
  • How I felt – too cold, too hot, about right
  • What I wish I had worn (if applicable)

Take this run, for example:

  • January 9, 2010 at 4:30 p.m.
  • 32 degrees with  23-degree wind chill with slow flurries
  • 13 miles at avg 9:00 pace
  • Tights, a long-sleeve thermal shirt, a wind-breaker, my thickest gloves and ear warmers, and my cap.
  • Felt about right, if anything a little warm.  Took gloves on and off every 2 miles (maybe a thinner pair?).  Took off jacket in the middle, but definitely needed it at the beginning and end.

Seem like overkill?  Maybe it is.  But, it has been a life-saver!

Because of this spreadsheet, as I stood at the 35-degree start line for the White Rock Half Marathon in December, shivering in my capris, sleeveless tank, arm warmers and gloves, I knew — with absolutely certainty — that once I got moving, I’d be dressed perfectly.  I know I looked crazy.  Before the race, I had about 50 people tell me I was nuts.  After the race, at least as many people confessed that they over-heated because they wore too much.

Not sure how to start?  Here are a few tried and true “Running Rules” to follow:

1.  Dress as if it 20 degrees warmer. Once you get moving and increase your heart rate, that’s about what you will feel like.

1a.  Unless it is windy, in which case, add a vest. Don’t forget to check the wind when you check the temperature!  When it’s cold and windy, it can take longer for your core to warm up, so I recommend adding a vest or light wind-breaker to what you would otherwise wear applying the 20-degree rule.

2.  Learn to love layers. If you can’t stand being cold at the start, go ahead and add an extra shirt, hat, or even an extra pair of gloves.  Be prepared to shed them as soon as you warm up, which means you also must learn to love running with a pair of gloves tucked in your shorts or a shirt tied around your waist.

3.  When in doubt, make sure you feel cold before you start running. If you are “comfortable” when you first walk out the door, then you’re sure to be too warm once you get moving!

… Armed with this knowledge, I actually prefer running in the cold.  Hopefully, you can learn to love it — or at least tolerate it — too!

Happy running!


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