By Ben Davis, For Active.com
It's that time of year, everyone. The leaves are falling and the breeze is chilly. People are trading in their tank tops and shorts for blue jeans and long-sleeve tees. It's a great time to be a runner, but it can be a frustrating time if you've just started running and have never had to brave the elements. The number one question heading into the chilly months is, "As a new runner, what can I expect with cold-weather running?"
The short (and most exciting) answer, is faster times. Yes, we run a lot faster in the cold races than we do in the standard, hot-summer month 5Ks and 10Ks, but there are a few things to learn before heading into the snow. First, let me share my worst cold-running experience. On January 17, 2009, I ran my first 5K. When I woke up that morning, the thermometer said 22 degrees, with a wind chill of 19. Having never done anything in conditions like that (I trained on an indoor track), I panicked and put on all the winter clothing I could find. It was a big mistake.
My official getup consisted of the following:
In all likelihood, this won't be your experience, but it does bring me to what you should remember for cold-weather running:
1. You won't need as much as you think you will. My rule now is shorts with short sleeve tech shirt down to 45 degrees and shorts plus long sleeve tech from 45 to 32. Anything below freezing calls for long thermals, shorts, and jacket with gloves (awesome running beanie, optional). As I mentioned earlier, I found out rather quickly that running will heat the body up relatively quickly and more often than not, you'll regret that big puffy coat. Lower body stuff like leggings and tights aren't as suffocating, so feel free to experiment, but err on the side of minimalist up top.
2. That awful lung burn thing after your first few cold runs? Don't worry; it goes away. I can't tell you how many times I tried to "become a runner" in the winter months and got discouraged because of that awful burning sensation when I breathed; there is nothing worse than only being able to inhale half a breath out of fear of popping a lung. But don't worry; you'll get through it. It just takes a couple of runs to get your respiratory system adept to dealing with frosty air.
3. Nine of 10 scientists agree: runners look 50 percent cooler when wearing black gloves. OK, maybe not. But there's no doubt about it; running in the winter is so great because it brings out so many fashion choices. First off, the aforementioned gloves. There's just something about them. You feel faster when wearing them; you feel professional. Next there is the headgear. Women have the trendy headbands and earmuffs and guys have the wintertime beanies. But, again, be your own fashionista. Try new things and mix it up a little bit. Whatever you do, though, don't be the guy running with his shirt off when it's below freezing. People aren't staring because they think you're really awesome... Trust me.
4. Hydration is still important. Yes, you obviously need more water in the summer months when you are sweating up a storm, but don't think that just because it is cold you don't need to hydrate. Ice cold water might be the last thing you want when the temps are low, but just be sure not to skip the water completely. Be smart and be healthy.
Bonus: If you get snow where you are, you have all the water you need; just stop and eat some of the white stuff and go on your way.
Other than that, just get out there and do it. You're going to be faster, and you're going to learn to love it. It might be tough at first, but I guarantee people will envy your willpower when they see you braving the brutal conditions as they pass in their van with the heater at full blast. Anyone can run in the spring, summer, and fall; it takes a true champ to face mother nature in the dead of winter.
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