The Benefit of Running in Subzero Temperatures

winterrunningRunning in subzero temperatures is not recommended by doctors or mothers. If you’re a cautious person and enjoy the safety, warmth and predictability of the dreadmill then read no further. But, if you’re looking for a running experience that defines toughness and catapults you beyond the mere mortals that sit comfortably in their homes as you stride past, read on.

Running outside this time of year requires something extra in terms of motivation. It can be difficult to stick to your plan any time of the year. Right now is gut-check time. Not many runners are out there on the roads and trails right now. If you see one, you know at least 3 things about them. 1. They’re serious 2. They’re tough 3. They’re suffering stoically

Mark Remy recently wrote a piece titled The Power of the Ice Beard for Runner’s World. He captured the essence of the winter runner’s attitude. We may be suffering a bit now, but just wait until spring season. Those runners training for the Boston Marathon know what I mean. There’s no room for sissies.

I ran a 8 mile loop by the ocean today when it was a balmy 10 degrees outside. The windchill was around -5 to -10 degrees. Here’s how it went:

Mile 1 – I can’t fill my lungs without coughing cold air. Nose starts to sting as I approach 1/2 mile mark. My nose runs faster than I do.

Mile 2 – Why won’t these mittens keep my fingers warm? Feeling in the 2nd and 3rd toes is gone.

Mile 3 – Hands are warm now, sweat beginning to drip from underneath my hat. Toes are still incommunicado.

Mile 4 – Feeling has come back in my toes. My hands are sweaty. I want to curse every truck that passes by and blasts me with fumes and frigid air.

Mile 5 – A nice ocean breeze off the water brings the windchill way down. The sweat has now frozen to the front of my sunglasses. I start to wonder if maybe 6 miles would have been a better idea.

Mile 6 – Pass a walker and a dog. Both of which stop in their tracks and turn to watch me run by. Must be thinking the same thing: “What on earth is he doing… ?” I wave politely and try to say something but I’ve lost all annunciation due to the cold.

Mile 7 – The sweat now drips mercilessly on my cheeks and neck. I pick up the pace just to get back sooner. I pass a cyclist with full face mask and think: 1. He must be serious about his cycling 2. A full facemask? C’mon…

Mile 8 – Mittens come off a half mile from home. Feeling good now that I’m close. I turn into the driveway and feel the sun on my face and think what a beautiful day this is.

Cheers to all of you that are out their logging miles. Each time you head out you’re building your endurance, your grit, and your confidence. This time of year, the days may be frigid and messy, but they are also quite beautiful. – Run For Your Life!

8 thoughts on “The Benefit of Running in Subzero Temperatures

  1. <3 Cold weather runner here, a diehard who has started my favorite 50k every year in conditions varying from a -2F start (before windchill!) to 18 inches of snow to thigh deep water crossings with ice forming on them…. There is NOTHING like running in winter! I love crunching through the snow, and the cold cleanses your mind and body in a way nothing else can. Usually I have the trail or road completely to myself, it is soooo peaceful… Plus the look you get when someone passes you out in freezing temperatures, especially if you are in shorts or a skirt (I can handle down to about 26F with bare legs, depending on wind chill, since I get warm when I run!) or finds out you run (and even race) outdoors all winter is just totally priceless!!! Blessings and happy running.

  2. What are some of your favorite cold-weather items to run in? I find I need something to cover my face because I get an type of cold-induced exercise asthma if the freezing cold air hits my lungs. Any suggestions? Ski mask?

    1. Good question. I used to have cold-weather exercise-induced asthma myself, but seem to have gotten over it. I usually suffer a bit for the first 2 or 3 days of really cold weather and then it goes away and I’m fine. I have friends that swear by their balaclavas (full face-mask). You can usually find them this time of year in running or cycling stores if you want to try one on for feel. Good luck out there!

  3. New runner here… found I had it easier running in -10C to -20C (14F to -4F) weather than in 10C to 20C (50F to 68F), and now that we’re hitting the high 20s, breathing is becoming an issue for me… bring back the winter!!

  4. I’m on holiday in Mont Tremblant Canada and went out running yesterday in -8 . Ran along the cross country ski tracks along the river , it was so peaceful and pretty. I ran 10k in trail shoes on fresh snow and I have to admit it was tougher than road running. I was warm and toasty on top but my legs were freezing cold so will definitely put an extra layer on next time.

    1. Lynn, It’s so much fun to explore a new place on your feet. I have a pair of thick running tights that I use when the temps dip below 15 F. For me, the biggest challenge is keeping my toes warm.

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