As a Canadian I pride myself on the fact that I run outside even in cold weather. I plink on a scarf, two pairs of tights and head out the door. I do however have my limits, and during the winter months, the elliptical machine is visited more frequently and I become (shamefully) a viewer of mindless reality TV shows at the gym to help pass the time spent moving but staying stationary in one spot. I used to sit in amazement when I would go to the gym over the summer for a yoga class and people would be slogging away on the treadmill on a gorgeous summer afternoon- "WHY?" I want to say. But this week I have become one of them. Winter arrived this week in Ottawa with bone-chilling temperatures dipping below minus 20 with wind-chill. Even at work the constant sipping of tea could not keep me warm enough and the biting cold just sends shivers done my spine. But, some runners are die-hards. Some continually run no matter what and maybe are showing a little bit more dedication to being a "real runner" who "doesn't run on treadmills" than I do.
According to my research, it is still okay to run in the cold. Obviously you have to pay attention to the wind-chill and the wind warning- because let's face it- running in a blizzard is not the safest thing to do. Or, I wouldn't think that it would be the most enjoyable thing to do either.
Mark Grandonico, president of the Maine Track Club in Portland. Grnadonico says, to help keep yourself warm, run in shoes that have the least amount of mesh, "the rule of thumb is to dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer. You should be slightly cool when you start." Suggestions- dress in layers! Runner Joe McNulty of Philadelphia swears by no itchy SmartWool socks and suggests wearing socks that wick away wetness but keep your feet warm.
And then, this brings us to the issue of safety. My dad bought me a reflective vest and I admittedly look like a nerd. I started to wear the reflective vest only as a means to please him (he is the type of guy that drives only 40 in a 40km/hour zone, and stops for 3 seconds at stop signs). But after a while and after seeing how some drivers just ZOOM by me without even looking- I don't mind looking a bit on the goofy side, if it is going to get me home safe!
With restricted daylight, chances are you'll be running in the dark, so being dressed like a Christmas tree from National Lampoon's Christmas is not such a bad idea.
I find the hardest part of a run in the winter is the start. I am always cold and regret the decision to head out. But, you must forge through! Starting your run into the wind and finish with it at your back helps a bit. I've also tried breaking my run into parts, running into the wind for about ten minutes, turning around to run with the wind at my back for ten minutes, and repeating. I also try to avoid exposed areas. Running in residential areas or areas with big buildings helps breaking the wind too.
But oh my goodness, my dear runners, if I can suggest anything - change quickly post run! Your core body temperature drops as soon as you stop running. You should change your clothes--head to toe--as soon you get in the front door. We ladies also need to get out of damp sports bras quickly.
Running in the winter is tough and sometimes it just plain sucks. It's rough to get out from under the warm covers in the morning, and sometimes it's next to impossible to run fast with an extra few pounds of clothes on. In addition, you can quick possibly spend the majority of your run worrying about slipping on ice and cracking a bone.
The easy way out is to just stay indoors and run on the treadmill. Lewy Boulet was forced to spend a huge chunk of her training leading up to the 2008 Olympic marathon trials on a treadmill. She got ill with bronchitis that was aggravated by running outdoors, so she was required to go indoors, and she ended up setting up a treadmill in her garage. "Being in a warm, humid garage was very friendly to my lungs," she says. "I was able to get the work done. A lot of the sessions started with 4 to 6 miles easy, then simulated threshold runs [such as 5--10 minutes hard, 1 minute easy] and I would do it at all different combinations of speed and grade. I would go all the way from 5 to 10 percent grade just to get all the muscles involved." By the end of her training period, she was often on the treadmill for up to two hours at a time! Wow! A lot more will power than I'll ever have!
So the golden questions is -- is it really safe to run outside? Several scientific studies have proven that in "temperatures as low as -50 Celsius, the human body retains the ability to warm air on its way to the lungs, ensuring that they won't freeze." It really is about the exposure and not staying out too long and keeping an eye on potential frostbite or wind-burn. So there's a relief, my lungs wont freeze! Thank goodness.
So, no, running in cold air won't cause your lungs to freeze. But it's still not the most fun activity to do on a harsh January morning. My suggestion- maybe mix it up- do both the treadmill, and outdoor and play it by ear on a day to day basis. Cross training in the off season leading up to spring races isn't such a bad idea. You can get in really great cardio shape, and stay mentally refreshed to start up again when the snow goes away and the weather improves. One year I did a ton of spin classes during the winter months and come the spring- I just had to get used of the actual motion of running everyday again, but my cardio was probably better than if I had run!
But we are Canadian right? Running in the winter should be no problem for us. Unless you are a wussie like me, and prefer to watch mindless reality shows on TV while on the elliptical. Will they buy the house or not? Will she say "yes to the dress?" I don't know- I'll have to wait until the next cold day to tell you.