From your first winter run, it becomes obvious that the cold weather impacts your performance. Depending on where you live, you’re likely to find holiday themed 5k and 10k races throughout the winter, but there are longer races out there too including a 50k and 100 miler. You can check out the Susitna 100 in Alaska here.
Not up for an ultra in the winter, that’s alright. Even the 5k and 10k will provide some steep competition, so you’ll need to be training and that means running under the same conditions as what you’ll be racing in.
When you run in the winter, your body relies more heavily on carbohydrates and less on your fat stores. This means you’re going to need to increase your carbs-on-the-go intake while you’re running longer distances. Your muscles don’t contract as powerfully in the cold as they do when it’s warm. This means you have to recruit more muscles to get the job done. You need more oxygen in colder temperatures to produce the needed energy to sustain you through your runs because you need more muscles to help out. This extra oxygen produces more lactate, which means you’re likely to feel like you’re working harder.
Also in the winter, your body has the extra load of making sure you stay warm. Staying warm takes a lot of energy. To help with this, make sure you’re wearing clothing that’s appropriate for the temperatures. Maintaining a constant pace rather than speeding up and slowing down, as you would in intervals, is much easier on your body because it can be really difficult to warm up after you’ve cooled down. Make sure your body is warmed up before you start your run. You don’t want to be sweating, but you want to be warm including your fingers and toes.
Hydration can be especially problematic in the winter because your body doesn’t have as much of a thirst response in the colder temperatures. The problem is you lose a lot of water from not only sweating but breathing. Carrying water during the winter is difficult on long runs. I always recommend a hydration pack because carrying a frozen handheld is just not going to work. To keep your water from freezing add an electrolyte to it and make sure the tube is insulated.
Once you’ve finished your winter race, don’t stand around; get out of your wet clothes and into a warm shower or blanket as soon as you can. Enjoy some hot chocolate by the fire, you’ve earned it.