Saturday, January 26, 2013

Winter Running

Its been really cold the past couple of days, lows in the single digits, and a little windy too. I didn’t really make any New Years resolutions this year, but I did kind of recommit myself to running. One of the things I said I would do is run outside on every running day, as long as it wasn’t dangerous to do so.

Weather extremes can be dangerous for runners. In Hong Kong I worried sometimes about strong thunderstorms. I ran on paths that were on the sides of mountains, usually, and the weather could change dramatically if I decided to go up and run on the path around Victoria Peak. On a nice day there were glorious views of the entire city, but often the peak was enshrouded in fog, and sometimes, quick rainstorms could pop up here or there.

I don’t really mind running in the rain. Its kind of fun and I’ve learned to wear a hat with a brim to keep the rain out of my eyes. But thunder and lightning are no joke, and I’ve been caught in a thunderstorm more than once. So far I’ve survived, but if it’s thundering before I leave the house, I will put off my run.

Running in the heat can be very dangerous. Any time the temperatures are over around 65F, you just have to slow down; otherwise you risk getting heat exhaustion. I’ve experienced heat exhaustion when running in Texas, and I’ve learned my lesson. It’s not worth the risk, and frankly it’s counterproductive, since the recovery period negates any possible benefits I might have received from a run. But the solution to running in the heat is simple, get up early, run at the coolest time of the day, and slow down as it gets hotter.

Winter running is great, up to a point. Temperatures below 60F are perfect for running. I only start to feel uncomfortable when the temperatures get close to 40F, and then it’s just that my hands get cold. I have nice running gloves that work great down to about 25F. Below 20F I resort to ski mittens, bulky and a bit awkward but better than having my fingers freeze!

I even don’t have much trouble with ice or snow. I have these great things I put on my running shoes called Yak Traks. They are pretty comfortable to run in. They have steel coils and little spikes on the bottoms, and I find that I can run in just about anything without worrying about falling.

It’s when the temperatures drop into the teens that running outside in the winter starts to get problematic. From 19F down to 10F I wear silk long underwear under my running clothes. If it drops into the single digits I use Smart wool long underwear instead. This keeps my core warm, especially once I warm up. I wear a beanie, and a wool cap on top of the beanie, and that keeps my head warm. I recently received a Smart wool neck warmer as a gift, and that keeps the cold air off of my neck. Plus, it can be pulled up over my mouth and nose, keeping most of my face warm as well.

I look like I'm getting ready to rob a bank, don't I?!

So, I go out the door, start my watch, walk for a couple of minutes and then start my run. At first it’s cold, but I soon warm up. I try to run relaxed and smoothly and not too fast at first, until I’m sure my muscles are warm. Eventually I actually get hot and start to sweat. Here is where I have a problem with winter running. The running books and articles say to start removing layers when you get hot, so that you don’t overheat. I can see the benefit in this, but so far I haven’t mastered it logistically. I can remove my outer layer, but then what do I do with it? The only thing to do is tie it around my waist, I guess. Plus my GPS watch is bulky, so in order to get my outer layer off I have to remove my watch. It’s a hassle, and interrupts my running.

For my shorter runs I just live with getting sweaty. I’m not out there long enough to worry about it. Because the problem with getting sweaty when it’s really cold outside is that then you start to get chilled. And if you start to get chilled you risk getting hypothermia.

So far I’ve been able to tough it out. I don’t go on really long runs in the winter. The longest runs this time of year tend to be around 7 or 8 miles, which takes me under two hours. I’m not going to die in that amount of time! But as part of my quest to keep running marathons throughout my 60’s, I’m am eventually going to want to try to train for a spring marathon. Inevitably that is going to mean long training runs in the winter. Before I get to that point I know I’m going to have to modify how I handle my winter running outfits. It will probably mean carrying a small backpack so that I can remove my outer layer as needed and carry it comfortably.

I’m not ready to tackle a spring marathon just yet. Philadelphia, New York and Chicago are all in the fall, and I intend to get them all under my belt first. But then there is Grandma’s in Duluth, Big Sur in California, and yes Boston, for a charity, since as a slow, slow runner there is no way I can ever qualify for that race. I’ve got plenty of time to think about training for a spring marathon, plenty of time!

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