5 Cold-Weather Running Myths, Busted

Paul L. Underwood
by Paul L. Underwood
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5 Cold-Weather Running Myths, Busted

Alas, winter is coming, and the cold, run-denying weather along with it.

At this point, you have a few options. You can pack it all in and start from scratch in the spring (which, let’s face it, isn’t really an option). You can head indoors (which, let’s face it, isn’t a lot of fun). Or you can brave the cold (which, let’s face it, requires a little preparation). If you’re embracing option three — and we heartily endorse doing so — know that there is some misinformation out there, which we’ve happily corrected below. Stay warm out there, folks.

Reality: You do. You just do. For safety as much as anything else. It stays darker later in the morning and gets darker earlier in the evening, so you’ll want to consider running at midday or getting lights and/or reflective gear to keep you safe. (Or, reconsider option two and run inside.)

Also, no matter where you live, it’ll be colder. More on that later, but again, safety matters. (And you run, so you don’t need us to tell you how important it is to keep your feet happy.) If your part of the world is slushy, icy and/or snowy, consider treads for your shoes or swapping them for sneakers that are weather-ready. Warm socks are also a must.

You should also adjust your expectations since your body will naturally struggle in the winter, just as it would in extreme heat. By all means, set goals — just be sure to factor in the changing conditions. (That includes wind, which reminds us: It’ll feel better, in more ways than one, to start your run into the wind, so you’ll have it at your back on the second half of your journey.)

Reality: You don’t. You just don’t. If you’re a trail or track or sidewalk runner, you’ll need to make the above adjustments. But you don’t have to go buying a treadmill or getting a potentially expensive gym membership. Just prepare and adjust for the new seasonal reality, and you’ll be fine.

Reality: Don’t be silly. You’re still exerting yourself, so you’ll still sweat — it might just take a little time for you to work up to it, and you probably won’t sweat as profusely as you do in the summer. As always, drink to thirst, and plan your hydration.

Which reminds us: Those trailside water fountains you sometimes rely on may be shut down. (What with freezing temperatures and all.) You’ll want to invest in a good, insulated water bottle and bring it with you.

Reality: You should still bundle up, preferably in layers. First of all, there is inevitably that time — that cold, windy time — between when you leave your house (or car) and when you hit your stride. Second of all, if an emergency strikes — maybe an injury, maybe you accidentally lock yourself out of your car, who knows — you’ll want to be prepared. Third of all, cold can sneak up on you. If you’re running in especially low temperatures, you’ll want to make sure as much skin is covered as possible to ward off wind and chill.

That’s why layering is key. You can always take things off as you get warm and tie them around your waist or stuff them in your pockets. But you can’t add layers you don’t have. Lastly, consider moisture-wicking material. As mentioned above, you will sweat. If that sweat has nowhere to go, it’ll feel like you’re wearing an ice pouch next to your skin — not good. That’s also a reason to change out of your run clothes quickly after you get home, so that cold sweat isn’t lingering on your body.

Oh, one more thing: Just because it’s overcast or snowy doesn’t mean you don’t need sunglasses (or sunscreen, if it’s warm enough to expose skin). Just ask your favorite ski bum.

Reality: No. Simply put, your body’s core temperature will take longer to warm up in the cold. And that means your blood isn’t bringing oxygen to your muscles, which means your muscles are at greater risk for injury. In other words, some dynamic stretching becomes even more important in the cold.

Stretch somewhere warm before you head out, either at home or even at a nearby business. The good news: Doing this also helps your body get that nice, warm blood flowing to all your extremities, so you’ll start your run from a (slightly) warmer place.

About the Author

Paul L. Underwood
Paul L. Underwood

Paul is a writer based in Austin, Texas. He tweets here, he Instagrams there and he posts the occasional deep thought at plunderwood.com. He’s probably working on a run mix as you read this.

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