Winter Racing

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.

Winter Running Tricks

Here are some ideas/tips/tricks of the winter running trade to help you get through the cold months to come.

  1. Don’t want to buy Yak Trax? That’s okay. You can take an oldish pair of running shoes that still have some decent life left in them and modify them. Go to your local hardware store and buy some hex head screws or sheet metal screws (you don’t want flat headed screws). They need to be about ¼-3/8ths in length. You need a bunch of them. Screw them into the bottom of your shoe so the head is out to grip the ice.
  2. Wear ski goggles to protect your eyes from the cold and snow. A neck gaiter to protect your neck from exposure and a mask if the cold dry air bothers your lungs or makes you cough. Use a thin layer of Vaseline to protect any exposed skin, including your lips.
  3. Colleges and University campuses are great places to run because they have lots of cleared sidewalks without motorized traffic. They clear their sidewalks regularly and are usually the first to do so. They have their own maintenance crews and don’t have to wait on the city or county to clear things.
  4. Run with the wind in your face on your way out and the wind at your back on your return trip. During your run, you’re going to get hot and sweaty and having the wind at your back is much better than having it in your face.
  5. If your shoes are soaking wet when you finish your run, stuff newspaper into them to absorb the water and to help maintain their structure. Don’t put them in the dryer or the oven. It will ruin them.

Here is a guide on how to dress depending on the temperature outside. I found this at RunnersConnect.com. Runnersworld.com has something very similar. Runners World also has this nifty “What to Wear Tool” that takes into consideration your gender, temperature, wind, conditions, time of day and intensity before it pops out a clothing recommendation. Find it here. 

30 degrees:

  • 2 tops, 1 bottom. Long-sleeve base layer and a vest to keep your core warm. Half tights if you’re a polar bear.

10 to 20 degrees:

  • 2 tops, 2 bottoms. A jacket over your base layer.

0 to 10 degrees:

  • 3 tops, 2 bottoms. Two tops (fleece for the cold-prone) and a jacket. Windbrief for the fellas.

Minus 10 to 0 degrees:

  • 3 tops, 2 bottoms, extra pair of mittens, 1 scarf wrapped around mouth or a balaclava.

Minus 20 degrees

  • 3 tops, 3 bottoms, 2 extra pairs of mittens, 1 balaclava, sunglasses.

Notes

  • Wear tight clothes because they trap heat better and if they get wet, you can capitalize on your own body heat, much like a wetsuit