Running in the Cold and Snow

I’m not a fan of cold weather riding, or running, or doing anything which takes up lots of time in the frigid outdoors. Although, I do not mind activities such as snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, or mountaineering.Here is a little side story which does not really have anything to do with running, but I will get to the parallels between the two activities later, trust me.

A couple years ago I thought it would be fun to climb the Gran Paradiso and Mont Blanc over summer break. If you aren’t familiar with those two mountains, the Gran Paradiso is the highest peak in Italy, and Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Europe. The climbs were very physically demanding–I even tried preparing myself for them throughout the summer. Have you ever seen those mountain climbing videos where the climbers just take one step at a time, slowly, taking seemingly forever to move two feet? I experienced that first hand. There is less oxygen the higher you go, which the body is not used to, and each footstep feels like you are moving a brick. (Many professional athletes train at higher altitudes which help the oxygen capacity in their blood. I did not have the foresight to do that).

Despite the layers of modified soft shell, then top jacket (Gore-Tex™), gaiters covering my climbing pants, and  awesome, heavy mountaineering boots, when we reached the top of the mountains (both times), I had no feeling whatsoever in my hands–even with three layers of mountaineering gloves on. I have poor circulation– and having Reynaud’s syndrome does not help me with my efforts to keep my fingers and toes from turning numb and useless phalanges.

My guide and I climbing on la Mer de Glace in '05, photo thanks to R. Geuss

Now, that was a useless story of my mountaineering adventures in Chamonix, France, and Italy. Incredibly challenging, both emotionally and physically. I did have a guide, and met great people along the way. Might I say perhaps some of the best times, and most challenging times of my life. However, the one issue that put a damper on the climbing experience was the fact I my hands were so cold they felt like someone was piercing them with knives (not helpful for tying knots, putting crampons on your boots, gripping an ice ax, or using rope at high altitudes, either).

How does climbing to an ascent of 13976 feet relate to running in Rhinebeck, NY, in -1 degree weather? The painful, numbing feeling I get in my hands.

Over the years, as I’ve “grown” and “learned” as a runner, I’ve found helpful hints, and have come across many interesting articles about this very issue of running in frigid weather. Ohh, if only it was in the 70’s, slight breeze, no humidity, then all would be perfect in the world. But that rarely happens in Upstate New York in the winter time. And  since running on a treadmill is simply not an option for me, I’ll have to grin and bear the cold and forecasted snow tomorrow for my 10 miler.  On the note of treadmills: they are fine for if one absolutely NEEDS to use one. But I despise them. They are boring, there are people are all around you, and as best I try, I always end up looking like a sweaty gross mess next to the neat, petite girl with the perfect pony tail and perfect body over on the elliptical trainer with barely a bead of sweat to be seen on her brow. I was blessed with the Geuss Genes…we sweat a lot an insane amount. Am I jealous of that petite gorgeous girl, who you can very tell takes all the attention of the guys over on the weight machines urging each other to get her number. Perhaps I might be, in that she does not look like she just took a shower and never bothered to towel off. Then again, I doubt that gorgeous nearly perfect girl is training for a half iron man in June. See my point? Too many distractions when running in a gym on a treadmill.

Yes, long run is scheduled for tomorrow. With my odd sleeping habits (damn you, night shifts), I fall asleep during the day and then am awake all night, even on my days off. Last night I decided to go for a run to make up for a run I had missed on Friday during the day. Only 5 miles. Sporting two layers of wicking long sleeve t-shirts, a hat, and thermal running pants. Oh, and then I had my head lamp and my reflective jacket. It was very chilly, -1° Fahrenheit, and, mind you, it was also midnight, so naturally, not the warmest part of the already cold day.

The run was fine, but it was chilly, and I forgot my balaclava (of course) which would have definitely given my face some shield from the bitter cold, and make breathing less painful.

I’m praying tomorrow will be slightly warmer,but am not losing my lack of sleep over it.

I’ve decided to include some helpful hints for those of you who just have an unbearable urge to run when it is in the negative degree digits.

  • Layer layer layer up. When you have more layers, you can shed them if you get hot, and then put them back on when you become sweaty and slightly cold.Each layer actually has a specific purpose, too (did you know that?)–similar to any cold weather activity. The top layer should be a waterproof shell of some sort which is breathable, like Gore-Tex™* especially if running in snow, because once the snow hits your warm body and melts, it turns into, basically, rain, so you want some sort of waterproof shield on your body. The base layer is your next-to-skin layer, and manages moisture produced by your body (aka sweat, for those of you who do produce it). Merino Wool is an option I prefer. Its soft and organic. The middle layer is the layer which is the insulating layer and is meant for trapping heat and warmth–such as a fleece.
  • Wear a hat, as up to 40% of body heat is lost through your head* (no, having hair does not mean you lose less heat that those who have no hair)
  • wear wool socks, not those super neat super cool technological socks. Wool has wonderful insulating properties, and helps wick sweat away and keeps your feet dry and warm. My preference is Merino wool (surprise!)- it’s soft and is not like wearing itchy wooly socks your grandmother  knit for you last christmas (or anything knit by your grandmother for christmas). Smartwool ™ actually has wool socks with compression capabilities! And we all know that compression socks feel so so insanely fantastic post recovery run…Even better than fantastic, they feel orgasmic on your legs–oops,did I just write that out loud?
  • A running scarf or balaclava are life savers for keeping your nose from falling off, and breathing less painful. Yes, you might look like a bank robber, but your body will thank you.
  • Running tights: wear special insulating/compression (or combination of both) running tights. If your knees have the tendency to get cold, you can also purchase knee warmers (no, not like the leg warmers seen by Jane Fonda in her aerobics videos). New Balance, CW-X, Craft and 2XU are brands that have great insulating running tights. (On a side note, I just purchased a pair of Craft pants for winter cycling, and they are a-m-a-z-i-n-g.)
  • Shoes! Very important! If your running in your shoes that you used to run in the summer, your feet are going to become soaked quickly, because summer running shoes are mostly mesh–very good for keeping your feet cool in hot weather–not so great for stopping slush, snow, and water from seeping in. Wear a shoe that is waterproof (Gore-Tex™ all the way!) and has good traction for the slushy roads. If need be, you can always get some Yaktrax (like everyday crampons) which fit on the bottom of the shoe. I knew someone who wanted to save money and duct-taped the mesh part of their running shoes to make them more waterproof. You could always go that route too, but the tape on the sole can be slippery (I tried it when saving money in college, ended up tripping on ice with a huge nasty bruise on my upper buttock…TMI?Let me just say it was painful to sit for a week).
  • One more item to add to the list (which I could write on and on about, and is a huge issue, especially when you have poor perfusion to your hands), you probably guessed it: gloves. If you do not have gloves, wear mittens. If you have nothing at all, wear socks (yes, I’ve sported socks on my hands when I could not find my gloves. They aren’t as fashion friendly,and probably a fashion faux-pas, but do a damn good job at keeping your fingers warm instead of nothing). There are oodles of gloves you can wear. Mittens are a better option for running, because having your fingers next to each other keeps them warmer than when they are separated (in gloves). I have a pair of gloves that have a shield like covering which you can flip over the fingers of the gloves, to act like mittens. However, let me warn you, they are not as warm as mittens.

I could go ahead and talk about cold weather cycling now, but will save you the pain of reading it–many concepts are the same. I hope I was able to provide some slightly useful information to the aspiring winter weather runner!

Happy Winter Running!

*courtesy of Runners World

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Cold Weather Riding « A Rendezvous with Sneakers

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