Runners World Articles: Archives
Dashing through the Snow - Wintertime running
can be safe and enjoyable, provided you make a few adjustments.
You may wonder what a Southerner could possibly teach you about
cold-weather running. Well, I may live in Atlanta, but I travel
enough to have logged plenty of miles in the ice and snow. I admit
that when I first began visiting places like Minneapolis, Winnipeg
and Boston in the dead of winter, I was tempted to limit myself
to indoor exercise. But after seeing a steady stream of runners
head out to face the elements, I eventually followed them.
What a pleasant surprise to discover that, with a few adjustments,
I could enjoy a run in 20-degree temperatures as much as a 70-degree
run! Through trial and error I learned how to adapt traditional
running advice to the vagaries of cold weather. Here's what I found.
(For tips on shoes and clothing, see "Winterize Your Running" on
Form and stride: A long stride is perilous on
ice and snow, where footing can be dicey. A shorter stride is more
stable because it keeps your feet more directly underneath your
body. Another way to add stability is to decrease your "bounce."
By keeping your feet close to the ground and taking some of the
spring out of your step, you'll gain more control.
Warming up and cooling down: Because cold reduces
the flexibility of muscles and tendons, a thorough warmup is crucial.
Here's one that works particularly well on cold days: Start by walking,
then walk and jog for a few minutes, then jog slowly for a few more
minutes before easing into your normal running pace.
If you'd rather hit the ground running, warm up indoors. Jog in
place or spin easily on a stationary bike for a few minutes until
you break a sweat. Then suit up and head out the door.
The very idea of "cooling down" may seem ridiculous when you're
sprouting icicles, but a gradual transition from outdoors to indoors
is smart. (Going straight from arctic temperatures into a hot shower
can tax the heart.) Cool down by reversing the warmup process: Ease
your running pace into a slow jog, then walk and jog for a few minutes,
and end with a few minutes of walking.
Hydration and nutrition: Believe it or not, winter
running can dehydrate you. So don't neglect to drink. No matter
what the weather, drink plenty of water throughout the day. If you're
running long enough to require energy bars or gels, stash them close
to your body to keep them from freezing.
Intensity: Even on a clear running surface, going
all-out in very cold weather has some risks. I've seen many well-trained
runners suffer pulled muscles when weather conditions changed during
a workout. It's possible-after a good warmup-to do some gradual
accelerations during an outdoor run without much injury risk, but
intense speed sessions are best done on a treadmill or indoor track
during the winter.
Four Cold-Weather Myths
Don't know what to believe when it comes to winter running? Here
are the cold facts:
Myth: You'll freeze your lungs.
Fact: There's no evidence that exercising in cold
weather, even in extreme cold, will hurt your lungs. If the cold
air hurts your throat, breathe through a bandana or a polypropylene
Myth: You'll burn more calories when you run in
Fact: When you run continuously, you burn roughly
100 to 120 calories per mile. The air temperature doesn't significantly
Myth: You don't have to drink as much when it's
Fact: Most people sweat about as much during winter
runs as they do during summer runs, but many runners don't recognize
dehydration as easily during the winter. When in doubt, drink.
Myth: We're meant to hibernate during cold weather,
Fact: Just take a trip to the Twin Cities in February
and see how many people are running outside, enjoying the subzero
temperatures. With the right clothing and a positive attitude, you
can adapt to just about any type of weather.
World, January 2000, p. 30
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