Winter Running Builds Toughness

Have you seen those bad-ass runners that hit the streets rain or shine, 52 weeks a year? They’re tough as nails and they should scare the crap out of you. Those men and women are true runners. They have the guts of Steve Prefontaine and the grit of John Wayne.

Toughness comes with conquering your fears and believing in yourself. Toughness is a result of early morning runs, late night runs after a long day at work, and heading outside for a run when everyone else looks for extra blankets. Don’t fool yourself, you’re capable of far more than you think you are.

Mental toughness is spartanism with qualities of sacrifice, self-denial, dedication. It is fearlessness, and it is love. -Vince Lombardi

It’s hard to leave the comfort of your home and head out into the cold, dark night. But, if it was easy, it wouldn’t mean as much. Each time you complete a training run, you’ve notched another victory and become just a bit tougher.

New Hampshire Boston Marathon

Music helps. I like to crank up the tunes while I get dressed for my run. It’s become a ritual. Tights, long-sleeved layer, wool socks, an outer shell, Vaseline on the bridge of my nose and cheeks bones, hat, mittens, and running shoes.

The first mile is a bitch. But, I hit my stride in mile two and start to enjoy myself. Passing quiet homes with the blue light of flickering televisions, I can’t help feel a bit superior to my plodding and lethargic neighbors. Breath in, breathe out.

By the time I reach home, the freezing temperatures feel comfortable. I take off my hat and walk around outside until I begin to cool down. Entering the house, I’m greeted by smiles and barks and the smell of good food. I walk through the door feeling like a new man. Calmer, more confident, and at peace with the world.

The spring racing season is just a few months away. I’ll be ready. Will you?

Cold Weather Shrinks Running Performance

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t was another wintry morning here in New Hampshire. I searched for my running shoes as the house creaked and groaned against the blustery 30 mph winds forcing the real feel temperature all the way down to a bone-chilling 3º F. Days like these really test a runner’s tenacity.

Absurdly, I asked myself “What would Pre do?” I assume he’d tell me to stop being a baby and get my ass out the door already. I mean, he’s freakin’ Steve Prefontaine.

After dressing in multiple layers of everything from shirts to mittens, I looked at my vaseline-covered reflection in the front mirror. I had no more excuses. It was time to run. The biting wind pushed me backwards and almost drowned me. Snot oozed down my upper lip. And, fresh tears fused my eyelashes together in milliseconds. I blinked hard while concentrating on the road ahead. I wrong step might send me reeling. Winter running is hard, and I’m just getting started.

Why is running in cold weather so difficult?

Simply put, you’re body works harder as temperatures drop below 50º F. Part of this is due to the fact that some of your overall energy and resources are being diverted to simply keeping your body warm. The body’s metabolic rate climbs as temperatures drop. Like shivering, it’s a coping mechanism for preserving our core temperature. Marvelous! But, it steals energy from other less important functions like running.

According to a 2004 study, athletes consume more oxygen as temperatures dip, the explosive power of muscles is limited, and we convert carbohydrates to energy at higher rates than we would at warmer temperatures. Basically, we burn through tons of fuel and our muscles perform at less than ideal levels. No wonder it’s hard to run fast in the winter.

I came across a few unsubstantiated claims about how much you can expect your pace per mile to drop at certain temperatures. But, without research to back up the claims, I’m hesitant to share those numbers. Suffice it to say that you can expect your average pace per mile to slow down by as much as 9% as temperatures approach zero. So, let go of pacing expectations and run by feel.

Maintaining your body temperature in frigid weather is critical. This is a challenge for slender endurance runners who typically have very little in the way of natural insulation.  Dress wisely, always let people know where you’re running and carry a phone and some cash just to be on the safe side.

Once you begin your workout, keep moving. In more moderate temperatures it’s fine to walk a lap, or catch your breath and chat between intervals. In the winter, you want to keep your temperature up from start to finish. 

Run within your capabilities and don’t go so far that you can’t make it home again. Getting stranded and walking home on frigid days, after your wet and sweaty, is a recipe for hypothermia. Winter running is beautiful and invigorating, but it deserves your respect and full attention.

Stay safe out there and enjoy the miles!