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Tips for running in the cold

Posted by Elizabeth Comeau  November 28, 2012 09:08 AM

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Since I am one of those runners who really REALLY dislikes running on a treadmill (it makes me feel like a hamster ... I'm not going anywhere), I've been working hard to continue to log my longer miles outside as much as possible.

But lately that means running in weather that makes my teeth chatter. I'm the kind of gal who is happiest when she feels like Goldilocks testing porridge -- at a temperature that is *just right.* So while I love running outside, I'm not so fond of running in the cold. Plus, I'm kind of terrified that once there's snow or ice on the ground I'll slip, fall, and wind up with some type of injury.

To help alleviate these fears, I sought the advice of Joe McConkey, Boston Running Center's head coach and wealth of exercise knowledge (he's a certified USA Track and Field coach and has his master's degree in exercise science). McConkey, who just got back from a trip to East Africa to work with runners and coaches, is the same coach I sought help from when it came to figuring out my gait.

Here's my Q&A with him on what I need to know when running in the cold weather:

Q. How is running in cold weather different from running in warm weather?

A. The cold air is more dense, and thus harder to move in and out of the lungs. The capacity to move cold air increases with consistent running and is a good training effect for when warm weather returns - i.e. you have developed a stronger pulminary system that can now inhale and exhale more efficiently in normal or warm temps.

Q. What specific things should a runner pay attention to while running in the cold?

A. Running in cold temps causes the heart to work harder - heart rate increases. This is good for the lungs, muscles, and nervous system as they are now getting more circulation and quicker stimulation, but you are also using more energy to stay warm. So you can feel fast and energetic for the first 5-20 minutes, but then quickly feel depleted. Do not push the pace or otherwise test yourself during cold weather until you have run at least three weeks consistently in this environment. Do not forget to drink water while running and maintain, if not increase, your carbohydrate intake when training during the winter.

Q. Is there any special gear people should always have on hand while running in colder temps? Why?

A. Be sure you can adjust your clothes while running to adapt to both the changing outside temps and to your own varying internal temperature. So, multiple layers, a jacket with a zipper, multiple gloves, etc.

Q. Are you more prone to injury during colder weather when running outdoors?

A. Aside from hyperthermia and other more internal cold weather issues, and aside from being more prone to slips and falls, there is no real increase in chance of injury when running in cold temps. Some folks need a longer warm-up prior to more strenuous running, to help with extensibility and pliability of the muscles in preparation for a larger range of motion (i.e. sprinting), but aside from this, musculo-skeletal injuries are equally possible in warm and cold temps. One common situation, however, is that during the winter some folks run on indoor tracks. This uneven torque on the body from the tight curves of the track then pre-disposes the runner to injury.

Q. Any other tips/words of wisdom for those of us who still hate treadmills and refuse to run indoors for as long as possible?

A. If you have the right gear and adjust your regular routes you can run outside virtually 365 days/week. For the extreme storms, large parking garages, yaktrax, university campuses (they are typically cleared right away), are all options to consider.

Staying fit is an important part of staying healthy. This blog will offer exercise tips from experts as well as share the personal journeys of Globe staff members committed to fitness. No matter your age or energy level, we invite you to join in and share your own story. How do you find time to work out? What are your daily challenges? Let us know and read along -- and together, we can all get moving.


Elizabeth Comeau is a social media marketing manager at She will be blogging about her personal fitness journey and using a device called a FitBit to track her weekly goals and progress (see below). Follow her journey and share your own. Read more about Elizabeth and this blog.

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