The sun has been shining beautifully these past couple days, but that doesn't mean it's getting warmer! With temperatures well into freezing, it pays to take extra care in keeping warm to prevent injuring yourself or feeling exhausted after usual training. Here are a few considerations about cold weather running and how it affects your body and performance.
The ideal running temperature is about 10C/50F. As that decreases to freezing, there is a 1-2% increase in your pace time. When the termperatures continue to drop, the impact on your pace time becomes even greater. There are three main reasons for this:
Reduced Muscle Contractions- In colder temperatures, the nervous system that sends your body signals to move your muscles starts to slow down. The reduced blood flow to cold areas of your body, and less intense muscle contractions, mean that your muscles can't perform at the same level as muscles that are warmed up. Avoid straining or pulling these muscles by starting your run at a much slower pace than usual, and gradually increasing as you start to warm up.
Changes In Energy Sourcing- In lower temperatures, your body relies less on fat consumption, and uses carbohydrates as its main source of fuel. Carbohydrates are one of the most important sources of energy when it comes to long distance running. In the cold, these reserves are drained faster, making it harder for your body than if it were running in ideal conditions.
Increased Lactate Production- When your pace is faster than your body can sustain aerobically (using oxygen as the primary fuel source), it switches to the anaerobic system; which instead breaks down carbohydrates to create lactic acid in order to fuel your running. However, this build up of lactic acid creates excess hydrogen byproducts and consequently slows your pace. Lactic acid is responsible for that burning sensation felt during intense workouts. There are a few things you can do to combat the build-up of lactic acid. It is water soluble, so stay hydrated! Practice deep breathing, in through your nose and out your mouth, in order to deliver enough oxygen to your muscles. Decrease the intensity of your workout if you start to feel that burn too much. Increase magnesium in your diet, that includes eating dark greens like swiss chard, spinach, and collard greens, tofu and other beans also contain magnesium and are beneficial in any athletes diet. Lastly, always remember to stretch after working out!
Just a few more things to think about while preparing for your cold weather training... While you won't sweat in the freezing temperatures, you will still be dehydrating, so always drink proper fluids. If you're running for more than an hour, replenish your electrolytes with coconut water, dates, and other natural sports drinks.
Don't leave skin exposed, frostbite can be very serious and comes on quicker than you expect. Wear gloves and headbands to protect your extremities and keep heat from escaping your body too quickly!
Keep those tips in mind, and don't let the cold air stop you from taking strides on these beautiful crisp mornings.
Photo: Hubert Kang