Cold-Weather Racing

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I’m participating in a race this Sunday (more on that in a future post) and the temperature is expected to be somewhere around 15 degrees. I’ve done some cold races before, but this may end up being the coldest. This got me thinking – how is racing in the cold different than racing in more moderate temperatures?

Clothing: This is an important one. I still see people showing up at races in the cold weather wearing cotton – stop wearing cotton!! You should wear several layers and I highly recommend trying different types of “technical” clothing to see what works best for you. Also, I recommend bringing throw-away clothes – something that you can wear right up until the start of the race. It is okay for these to be cotton.

Footwear: This will depend on the course. Is it covered in snow? Is it covered in ice? Whatever the case is, try out the footwear you are planning on – and try it at race speed. The only way to know for certain what will work and what will not is to do a test run.

The Problem: You may be able to set a PR in a cool temperature but it is unlikely that you will set one in a cold temperature. There are several reasons for this. Your body relies more heavily on carbs during a cold run so if you are doing a longer distance, you will run out of fuel more quickly. Next, your oxygen consumption rate is higher in cold temperatures. You may be surprised at the effort you have to put out just to maintain your pace. Finally, your muscle contractions are less powerful in the cold.

The Solution: While you may not set a PR, the issues above can be mitigated by dressing properly. In addition, a proper warmup will help – to go along with that, I recommend staying as warm as possible (indoors) right up until race time. Finally, stay hydrated. Just because it’s cold does not mean that you don’t need fluids. In fact, if you are dressed properly, you will be sweating plenty! This can be tricky because it will not be on your mind like it would be in warmer weather. However, make it a point to drink up!

Be Realistic: There is no reason to be a hero in January or February. Running in less clothing does not make you tough. Neither does trying to set a PR on ice. Have fun. Get in a good workout. Think about your Spring or Fall marathon or half marathon.

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