For many runners, training and running in cold weather often means a trip to a local gym and stepping on a treadmill. There’s no question that treadmills offer reliable footing and a comfortable environment. But, come race day, you’re going to have to step outside. So, start practicing now!
While you have control over training, nutrition and recovery plans, you can’t control the weather. We all may have dreams of our perfect racing conditions, but the truth is you have to take what you can get on race day—including cold, windy and wet conditions.
READ MORE: How to Weather Winter Marathon Training
Here are six tips to help you survive and thrive on a chilly race day.
Ease into it.
The best way to prepare for training and racing on frigid days is to start running outside earlier in the season, or even throughout the year.
“I find that continually running as the temperatures drop through the fall makes the winter cold feel less intense. It’s like a slow acclimation process,” says Suzanne Loring, who lives and runs year round in Bolton Valley, Vt. “If you only run in the summer and decide to start up again in January, it can be a shock to the system.”
A quick warm-up before any race gets you in the right frame of mind and primes your body for the effort to come. On cold race mornings, while you may want to sit in your toasty car until the last possible moment, it’s critical to get moving before starting gun goes off. And once the race begins, give yourself additional time (more than usual) to find your pace and settle in.
Bundle up, for the start.
To endure the time after you warm-up and before the race starts, bundle up in clothes you’re willing to discard. Old running clothes, race shirts, sweatpants and sweatshirts, old socks used as gloves, even large trash bags worn over everything, will all help keep you cozy until you get moving. Many races have volunteers at the ready to pick up the discarded items for donations to local charities. If your event doesn’t, tie extra gear around your waist until you can ditch it at a trash can.
Dress for the weather.
“You often hear there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Even when it’s 10 degrees below zero, if you’re dressed appropriately, you warm up quickly when you’re running,” says Mackenzie Lobby Havey, a Minneapolis runner and author of Mindful Running.
READ MORE: Winter Running Gear: Layering 101
And that means layering. Breathable, lightweight layers—instead of one heavy layer—give you the option to shed and add as needed to be dressed just right for the weather. Also remember that it’s preferable to be a little chilly at the start of your run because you’ll warm up as you go. A general guideline is to dress like it’s about 20 degrees warmer than the thermometer says to account for the BTUs you’ll generate once you get moving. It’s a good incentive not to slow down!
As you’ve no doubt discovered when removing steaming clothes after a cold-weather training run, you don’t stop sweating when the temperature goes down. Which means following a hydration (and nutrition) plan is still a critical piece of your race day success. Sip early and often.
Feel free to join in the post-race celebrations, or have your own, but only after changing into warm, dry clothes. Take advantage of blankets if offered at the finish line, plan a nearby meeting spot to get dry clothing from friends or family, head straight to your car to ditch sweaty togs or utilize the gear check. Hanging out in damp gear at the end of a frigid race isn’t just uncomfortable, it can be dangerous. This is also prime time to warm up from the inside out with soup, coffee, tea and hot chocolate.
Clark says, “I guarantee you will end your run invigorated, renewed, and ready to savor that steaming mug of hot chocolate when you get back.”
Who knew cold weather racing meant you have an official excuse to add whipped cream and marshmallows to your post-race routine!
READ MORE: Winter Running 101