Thursday, February 6, 2014

How cold is too cold for running? How much snow is too much snow?

If you're in America, you're now familiar with the phrase "polar vortex" and all that entails. Unfortunately for me, this incredibly uncomfortable weather phenomenon is occurring (and keeps reoccurring!) in concurrence with my return to Boston from California and the start of my marathon training. Well played Nature, well played.

So I've been recently testing -- how cold is too cold to run outside? And how much snow is too much snow?

A couple weeks back I did my first little track workout, which was mercifully cut short by the fact that 30 minutes after the sun went down the water on the track froze into sparkly crystals, menacing a degree of danger I was woefully unprepared for. (I was having a terrible workout, so ending it early was probably for the best anyways).

Then it got warm, rained, and all the snow melted. Hooray! Then it got insanely cold again. I mean we're talking daaaays in the "feels like" single or negative digits. And being the staunch treadmill hater I am (no but really, time stops), I ran outside regardless.

So how cold is too cold for running?

I say that there is no such thing as too cold for running. (Within reason I suppose -- my experience is Boston, not the Arctic.)

Though I'm not saying that running in cold is great or ideal, but there are some things you can do and know to make it manageable:

  • Run at the right time of day. Because as I've learned, once the sun goes down it starts to get dicey cold-wise and slippery-wise. 
  • Dress appropriately! Single digits = fleece-lined running tights, a non-cotton under-layer, a fleece turtle-neck shirt, gloves, and a headband. 
  • Everything will feel a little bit harder because it is more difficult to breath when it's really cold. Your muscles will not get oxygen as quickly/easily as normal, so don't stress if your pace is a bit slower than usual. (This article says that the real reason it's harder to breath is because the air is so dry when it's cold. Either way, same result.) 
My perspective is so skewed at this point that I just checked the temperature -- a balmy 20/feels like 8 -- and thought to myself, ok not too bad! 

And how much snow is too much snow? 

Unfortunately this one is easier to answer. If there's snow on the sidewalks (and it did not literally just come out of the sky) don't run. You risk slipping, or adjusting your gait to keep yourself from slipping, which can throw off your biomechanics and cause weird injuries.

If you can run on plowed roads instead of sidewalks, then by all means do it up! But please be careful of cars.

My final word of advice on this: find a friend! (Which I think is a bullet point in all my running advice lists...) The hardest thing about running in the cold is getting up the motivation to walk out the door. If you have someone to meet, you will be far less tempted to stay inside.

Good luck, run fast, stay warm, happy winter!