Sunday, December 10, 2006

Cold-Weather Running for Maggots

  • It’s not too cold. From my sitemeter stats, I know that none of you are running where you risk hypothermia from venturing outdoors, provided you are properly attired and do not have a lung disorder. (If you have exercise/cold induced asthma, as I do, your tolerance for extreme cold may be less. Using an inhaler before running helps.)
  • Go synthetic. No cotton, ever, on any part of your body, when running in the cold. When you sweat, cotton becomes soggy, and when it becomes soggy, it becomes cold. This is all right while you’re running, but if you stop and walk you’re toast. Iced toast. Ditto for goosedown. (Wool is ok, if you can stand it.)
  • Layers. In general, the more, the better; you can always pull things off and tie them around your waist. A polyester turtleneck, a fleece, and a breathable-fabric windbreaker works well. (Non-breathable windbreakers will leave you too wet.) A windbreaker that covers your butt is nice. Two layers is pretty much the max on your legs, or you’ll be waddling. None of these items needs to be running-specific, and they’re usually cheaper if they’re not. I like Campmor for good, reasonably-priced stuff.
  • Coverage. There are synthetic clothing options for covering up every bit of you, and how far you want to go depends on your cold tolerance. You will likely be sorry if you don’t use a headband or hat and a good neck gaiter (the tall, thin ones are very flexible) at the very least; a balaclava works for some, but isn’t very flexible. Goggles or glasses help keep your eyes from tearing, but wire-frame glasses will transmit the cold. (Using anti-fog spray on your glasses is a good idea.) Gloves are a must, and tucking your hands into your sleeves adds warmth. I’ve never been able to tolerate a face mask; I just use a neck gaiter and keep turning it as it gets too wet from my breath.
  • Snot. Your nose will run. Bring tissue, or make sure your gloves are soft and absorbent.
  • Reflect. It’s dark in the morning and dark in the night, and you’d be surprised how hard it is for cars and bikes to see you. Make sure you’ve got reflective stuff above and below. I have a nerdy reflective vest.
  • Know which way the wind blows. Always run with the wind on your way out and against it on the way back.
  • You can run in the snow. Running on packed snow or unshoveled sidewalks isn’t too hard, but you will need to go more slowly. Since you’re going for time, not distance, this shouldn’t matter much.
  • You cannot run on ice. You will fall and break your wrist.


Anonymous said...

This is perfect--concise but covers every critical aspect of cold weather running. Thanks. Please take a breather before plunging into next topic, which I hope is No. 2.

OMDG said...

My favorite time/place to run is in Chicago when it's 10 degrees out early in the morning. There are fewer people, and it can be so crisp by the lake. And I love the feeling of being all toasty under my layers with the cold on the outside. Snow running is fun too. The layers are completely critical, though. Just go really slowly, and you won't sear your lungs.

Anonymous said...

OK, why do you run with the wind on the way hout and against on the way home? It seems to me that running with the wind on the way home might help get you there a little quicker . . .

DoctorMama said...

If you run into the wind on the way out, you will freeze your face off, whereas on the way home, you're already heated up and will enjoy the refreshing breeze.

Erin said...

Damn it, you're making me feel guilty. I ran for months and quit about 3 weeks into the semester (for which I was hired to teach full-time 10 days before it started) because I felt so exhausted. Now it's final's week, I've got 3 weeks off after that, and you've just taken away my only excuse of "It's too cold!"

Actually, that probably doesn't fly for Atlanta anyway, even in the winter.

All right already, I'm going tomorrow morning. I've already got the nerdy chest/back reflective thingie.

Anonymous said...

I've been running winter and summer, rain and shine, for thirty years. I've had some of my most satisfying runs in the winter (for one thing, I don't have to get out of bed at the goddam crack of dawn to run before it gets too hot).

I agree with all your winter running tips, and would like to add a couple more.

In my experience, mittens are much better than gloves when it's really cold. I have a pair of fleece mittens that are lined with some kind of thermal stuff, made by Columbia, that I love dearly.

As for snow and ice: years ago I found a pair of shoe cleats in a catalog (see similar ones at and started wearing them when I was running on snow. Now I swear by them, and I can even negotiate limited amounts of ice. They're especially good if you have to run on the kind of snow that's been churned up by cars on the street,some of it loose, some of it packed down. The only time they don't work so well is if you're trying to run where the snow alternates with bare pavement, since the metal cleats can be pretty jarring if they aren't cushioned a bit.

Anonymous said...

Back in the day, I used to run in my cotton t w/ cotton long underwear under cotton sweats. But for some reason, when I was young I barely used to sweat. I remember going out and running while it was starting to snow and then stripping down to shorts and a t shirt. I'd come home and my legs would be purplish but for some reason it felt so good to be so hot on the inside and have it super cold outside.

But I'll take your advice since I am finally going to start running again!

Unknown said...

alas, i am not a runner. it hurts too much and i'm a wimp.

but thanks for the asthma tip. i've always heard that people with asthma can do anything other people can do - but z's asthma definitely gets worse when she's running around in the cold air. yesterday she had an attack all day long because of it. next time before we go out to play i'll give her a dose of the albuterol (i'm assuming you're talking emergency inhaler - not daily maintenance steroid - right?) and we'll see how that does. thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Did you run when pregnant too? I'm thinking the cold (well, CA cold is 42 at 6:30am) is better than summer/fall when I was worried about overheating. Eventually I figure walking will be aerobic and then I'll switch to that, but I'm only 18 weeks.

I am amazed at how people assumed I would stop running when pregnant, or stop when it got cold (since pregnant women are, you know, so delicate). I have an inhaler but I don't want to use it. Any tips to keep down the post-run coughing without an inhaler?

emily said...

I live near San Francisco, so I'm lucky I don't have to deal with much cold. But. A couple weeks ago, for the first time since you started me running last summer, during my usual running time it was pouring down rain. And I ran anyway. It was the first time I felt like a real runner!

I really do need to invest in some water-resistant shirts though, since I felt a little silly walking back into work sporting the wet t-shirt look.

Anonymous said...

Alas, I am also not a runner...but just wanted to put in my two cents that my curiosity is just killing me to read about #1. I'd love to see how you dealt with it, since it's happended to me with a client as well..LONG STORY.

DEMummie said...

You are killing me DoctorMama! It is the guilt. I used to run, and ran alot. Now, I am a sloth. I THINK about running again, and cannot find the motivation. Then I feel guilty because, why do I need motivation? Just do it. The time factor is also an issue, with 15 month old twins, whose father is inept (and that is kind).
Perhaps I will splurge on some appropriate running gear and get my ass moving.
Thanks for the nudge.

DoctorMama said...

jpn—I get hot hands, so I’ve always just used gloves, but you’re right, mittens are much warmer. I’ve heard of those cleats, but I’ve never lived anyplace where I didn’t encounter some pavement, so I’ve never tried them. They sound pretty cool. Kind of like tire chains for your feet.

ozma—I sweat like a horse. So there you go.

susie—yes, albuterol. Can help a lot.

Anonymous—No, I couldn’t. I had a hematoma early in pregnancy, but even once that resolved I just felt awful when I tried. Even if you don’t gain weight early (which I most certainly did), your blood volume and circulation change a great deal early on, and most women find it too uncomfortable, but there’s no health reason not to. As for the inhaler, please use it—it’s not dangerous to the fetus in any way, but lack of oxygen definitely is.

emily—you ARE a real runner!

Myra—#1 is a long story, too. I’ll work up the energy eventually.

DEMummie—Please don’t feel guilty, but do give it a try. You may find that you adore it when you do it right, i.e., SLOOOOWLY. And if you dump the kids on the inept dad, perhaps he’ll become a little more ept?

My Heart On My Sleeve said...

My husband was quoting this post to me last night as he was buying jogging clothes. Then he gets a puzzled look on his face and said, "where'd I hear that?" Um..Dr. Mama maybe? As a faithful reader, I knew exactly where he had gotten it. heh heh.

Anonymous said...

This is the first "winter" that I have run (I use this term lightly b/c I live in the Dallas area) and I have been so proud of myself. I think the coldest I've run in this year has been about 35 degrees. I bought an "all-weather" UA shirt and it works great. I put a long sleeved wicking shirt over that, but run in shorts. Other than a frozen face, it worked pretty well!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, just the pick me up I needed!

Feral Mom said...'s too cold? Sigh. Oh, all right. Otherwise, the guilt is gonna kill me.

Anonymous said...

Great article!

I second the statement regarding ice cleats. Using cleats or even just "screw shoes" will allow you to run safely and happily on ice. I've actually found that running on ice has helped me reduce hard heel striking and make distance runnning much smoother.

Some people recommend running out into the wind so that if you get too chilled you can head back more easily. I've found that it doesn't really make much difference either way and really comes down to personal preference.

Katie said...

Are you sure it's not too cold? When it's -1 degree F, with a wind chill to -10, I can't imagine moving my body any more than shuffling to the car and back! Exactly how cold is too cold?

DoctorMama said...

katie -- yep, I'm sure.
There are runners who run year round in Alaska, and live to tell the tale. (Think about arctic explorers, or mountain climbers -- they're essentially running in the coldest spots on earth.)

Katie said...

Exactly my point about the climbers - they DIE on those mountains! OK, I shouldn't make light of the recent deaths, but that's what I think of when I even consider stepping outside in this weather :-D

Anonymous said...

Thanks. Was dying to go for a run the other night, but am relatively new to it (about 2 years in to a nasty habit) and find myself living in much colder climes than my native CA. Anyway, it was 20ish, with wind, and we had had over 12 inches in the last 24 hours. I had gone the night before, but there was no standing snow in the streets. So now I was a little apprehensive.

I wore surprisingly little. A climacool shirt and light breathing windbreaker, sweatpants, and ski cap. I promised myself that if traction was bad, I was coming right back and tucking into a Manhattan.

So after 5 miles in varying types of snow, ice, slush, and dog piles. I can report that not only can it be done, but it is rewarding and I find the cooler temperatures are actually far more comfortable than I anticipated.

Some caveats:
I tested the "Don't run on ice" not on purpose, but these things will happen. You can do it for about 5-10 yards, provided you don't try to steer while you are on ice, just stay light on your feet and keep moving straight forward. You will be fine.

I run on cobble stones normally (murder on the ankles) and packed snow is even worse. Keep this in mind if you normally run on manicured surfaces.

Aside from that, there is really no excuse, you gotta run. Especially in the snow. Thanks again for giving me a kick in the @$$.