Coach Mike Mead

January 2011

Running When the Weather Outside is Frightful

Well, here we are in winter. The forecast for this season is supposed to be warmer and drier than average, but the month of December was below average in temperature and the northern third of Georgia had a white Christmas. Go figure!

What’s a runner to do? As I’ve said before, I’m old school. The U.S. Postal Service’s unofficial motto is, "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." I’ve always thought this statement better applied to runners -- we run in all weather conditions!

I don’t know what is worse, running in the heat and humidity of summer or the cold and wind of winter. I am a firm believer that runners need to train in all conditions to be better to handle the conditions when that important race or competition comes around.

During the month of December, I spent a combined eight days running in cold, snowy conditions in Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan. The conditions were not as harsh as the training days I spent during high school and college.

I’m not motivated these days like I was in my youth. I wimp out more on cold mornings, or stay put on one of those cold, rainy days. But in my competitive years, I loved the challenge that Mother Nature threw at me. It’s all mental and not so much physical.

So what to do when the weather outside is frightful? Embrace the conditions as a challenge in making you better. Chances are your competition is out in the stuff!

Here are some things to consider during your winter training to get you outside in the elements to make you a tougher runner. I do caution that you use some common sense like do not go out running shirtless in sub-zero weather.

I always like to run first thing in the morning. The problem in the winter is the weather is cold and it’s dark outside and beneath the covers of my bed it is warm and toasty! It’s a big struggle between cold and comfort!

When it is cold – below 30-degrees – consider doing some jogging in place or doing some exercises before you step outside to get you warmed up. If you’re old like me – over 50 – a little indoor warm-up might just help you from pulling something or stressing your body to the point of having a heart attack. Over the years, I’ve read that most heart attacks happen in the morning. We runners are not invincible, so take heed!

Getting warmed up before you step outside should make your first few minutes of running more tolerable until your core body temperature rises to compensate for the cold weather. You might also consider drinking a hot, non-alcoholic beverage before trekking out on a frigid day.

If your schedule is flexible, adjust your run and do it during the warmest time of the day.

If not, be sure to dress appropriately for the conditions. I’ve written in a previous column or two about the “20-degree rule.” That is, plan for it to feel about 20-degrees warmer from the time you begin your run until you complete it. This doesn’t work well in rainy, windy conditions. Just dress smart. Wear layers of clothing that can be removed. The longer the run, the more likely – again as long as it’s not too wet or windy – you will not need as much coverage.

Wind is a challenge to run in during the winter. Believe it or not, Georgia does not experience the kind of wind that you’ll find in other parts of the country. But there are days, now and then, that the wind – combined with the humidity – can cut through you like a knife. I’ve heard or read some running experts recommend running into the wind to start your run and finish up running with it. I’m the opposite on this logic. First, you might live where that is tough to do. Second, if it’s cold, I what to get my body warmed up and by running with the wind to start, I’ll be better equipped to handle the wind and not get too hot at the finish. Again, it’s about making you stronger.

One type of winter challenge might keep the wisest of runners indoors is ice. If you are prone to injuries, stay indoors and take your chances on the boring treadmill rather than risk a spill on a patch of ice. The elusive “black ice” is just as dangerous to runners as it is to drivers.

Living in Georgia, we’re more prone to encounter ice than snow. The best surface to run when it’s icy is on grass. Pavement isn’t going to do it unless you want to get in a little skating. If you deal with a mix of ice and snow, you have a fighting chance.

Running on ice or snow, you have to run with a little bit slower pace, a shorter stride and a medium foot plant. If you tend to run more on your heels, you’re going to slip and fall. I noticed a few times last month that when I was more on my toes, if I slipped my heel was there to catch me. My years of running on ice and snow made me feel like a weeble – I wobbled a lot, but never fell down!

You can run in the cold of winter if you dress smart and run smart. Embrace the elements that winter delivers and you’ll be beating those fair-weathered runners come spring time.

Happy New Year!