Cold Weather Racing Planning

Just when I had started to get accustomed to winter running, New York City gets mired in an epic cold spell that shifts the weather from just regular winter weather to borderline dangerous winter weather. I sincerely don’t remember the last time the mercury was above freezing. We are 10 days into winter and we have already had four instances of snow. If this trend continues, we are in for one heck of winter. I’ve written before about cold weather running but how about when you have to race in extreme cold weather like the type that we are having in New York City?

The temps on my cold weather run on Tuesday – wind chills of 7 degrees!

This Saturday, I will be taking part in the New York Road Runners Joe Kleinerman 10k in Central Park. The forecasted high for the day on Saturday is 16 degrees. I don’t even want to speculate what the wind chills will feel like. With the race expected to start at 8am, I can assure you that we will not be starting the race at the high temps for the day!

In anticipation for this, the last couple of days, I decided that it was imperative to run in these frigid conditions. When I ran my 5k on Monday, the wind chill temps were 0. Tuesday night when I went for a jog, wind chills were 7. During those runs I had the luxury of stretching indoors and then stepping out just before my race/run. That isn’t a convenience that I and other runners will have come Saturday in Central Park. During the last two days I’ve been thinking a lot about before during and after the race, I came up with some other bits of precaution in my mind that I thought might come in handy if you find it essential to run a race in this weather.

Ready to race on Saturday despite the cold!

Pre-race Wait

Think about the duration of time you will be in the cold prior to the race. As I mentioned above, it is highly unlikely you will be able to hang out in a warm area up until race time. There are races where organizers will make you stand in your corral for 30-60 minutes. Call your organizers and find out how long you will have to be in your corral and plan your pre-race accordingly. For my race Saturday, I am hoping to stretch by the bag check area up until 15 minutes before race time with lots of clothing on and then strip off some layers, check them into the bag check, and jog to the start line to keep warm.

Pre-race Gear

Consider bringing clothes along with you for the pre-race that you will likely part with just before the race or during the early stages of the race. Let’s face it, you will want to stay warm as long as possible before you really get into race mode and no one can blame you for wanting to keep extra layers on as long as possible. That old baggy sweatshirt that you never wear anymore may be perfect to wear to the start line and rip off and just discard it at the start line or on the course. Further, some race organizers have charity collection bins where they will take items like this from you and donate.

Your Warm Up

Your warm up before a race is so crucial. I know that all you want to do before a race in these conditions is bundle up and stay warm. In below freezing temps however, your muscles need the warm up even more. With the cold air your muscles will contract easier and that is when injuries occur. If you have a warm up stretch routine, go thru the routine 2-3 times in this weather to ensure your muscles are stretched out to handle the cold.

Race Gear

What you wear once the race has started is crucial. The type of weather that I am referring to here is below freezing and closer to 0 degrees. In my opinion the extremities are very important. Thick non cotton socks, some gloves and a hat are a must. Your core is important but you don’t want it to be too bulky. 2-3 layers should suffice with the layer closest to your skin being a moisture wicking non cotton material. I know that most runners, myself included, are big fans of running in shorts even if it is cold. In my opinion, this is not the weather for shorts even if it is my preference for a race. In fact, studies have actually shown that below freezing, it isn’t wise to have your legs exposed to the cold air especially in longer races. The cold air lowers the temperature in the outer fibers of your legs by a few degrees. This contracts your muscles and it deprives them of oxygen. That in turn increases the use of much needed glycogen. The use of your muscles also slows when their temperature drops. I can tell you on Tuesday when I ran my longer run, I felt my legs getting heavier at the end, and I had tights on! In my opinion, leave the shorts at home in these conditions!

Dress accordingly in this weather!

Nutrition During The Race

Just because it is colder, don’t think that you don’t need the water. You definitely do! Hydrate well before the race! Also increase the amount of carbs that you take before the race. In the cold your body will go thru it’s carbs much faster since it will use them in an effort to stay warmer. I noticed this between my two cold runs on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday I took a GU carb gel before the race and felt strong the entire race and never really cold. Tuesday I didn’t take one of the gels and I actually started feeling cold by mile 4 despite the fact that it was warmer on Tuesday by about 10 degrees. My plan for Saturday will likely be to have two Gu gels. One before the race and one after mile 3. For what its worth, I also just love the taste of the GU Banana/Strawberry gels. (lol)

Post Race Clothing

What you do after the race may be just as important as at any point before or during the race. Because of my runs on Monday and Tuesday, I’ve given my post race gear a lot of thought and I will definitely be packing accordingly. Despite the cold weather you will likely be sweating or if you are not, the warmth of your body will without question cool down. This is when you need to take action. If you have built up a sweat on that bottom layer, try to get it off of you as soon as possible. Pack a couple of dry layers for after the race. Look for a portable bathroom and slip into a dry layer as soon as possible. I’m also thinking of packing an extra hat, extra gloves and extra socks. All of these items are likely to build up sweat during your race and you want to remove these as soon as possible as well. Of course the easiest solution would be to jump into a warm car as soon as possible but if you are like me on Saturday in the middle of Central Park in Manhattan, who won’t have that availability. This means you will need to do most if not all of the above right after you finish your race.

Extreme cold weather doesn’t mean that the race will result in a poor outcome. It does however mean more planning is needed, and well that’s just the reality of it. I know it’s hard enough sometimes to just focus on your race plan but the last thing any of us need is hypothermia or frost bite. Follow the above and you should be ok to race in extreme cold. Who knows, you might even PR in this weather! If you do, I would love to hear about it!

Looks can be deceiving – NYC is in a nasty cold spell!

New Year, New Goals, New Lesson Learned

Happy New Years to everyone out there!

The new year is here! If you were looking to put a resolution in play, well now is the time! I know I have been preaching that for some time and I am hoping that many of you will take me up on a change to get up off the couch and to start running. If not running, then something better than sitting on the couch! I will get into the New Year’s resolution thing however another day!

For me the new year will not bring about too much change in terms of a workout routine. However, that doesn’t mean that the learning stops. On day one of the New Year I already learned a valuable lesson and I was kicking myself when I realized it. On New Year’s day the gym that I belong to, Lifetime Fitness, had a themed “Commitment Day” for its members. For me, that is another way to get people to make a New Year’s Resolution. To commemorate the commitment day, they encouraged their members to run in a 5k run. It wasn’t considered a race because they didn’t time it. Running geeks like myself of course, chose to time it.

The temperatures of course were very frigid as New York City may never see above freezing ever again. I am convinced that my Christmas decorations may stay on my lawn til March because they are frozen in the ground. The mercury was at 11 degrees this morning at race time with a windchill of 0, zero, zilch, nada. My gym, in an effort to promote all of their classes and programs, had a wacky idea to do a pre-race warm up in the gym that consisted of an obstacle course of sorts. There were close to 100 runners this morning and I think everyone of them in unison told the gym instructors that they did not want to do a pre-race obstacle course? in the gym. Who wants to work up a sweat and then step out in 0 degrees? Helloooo???

When we assembled in the gym and gave them our gracious response of “No thank you”, we were whisked outdoors to the starting line. By the time I put on my hat, gloves and fired up my music and GPS, they were starting the race. Off the racers went and I hit start on my Strava app. As I did that, I dropped one of my gloves. After picking it up, I put my phone away and set on my way to try to keep up with the lead pack. The cold didn’t bother me too much on this race. I wore three thin layers, the bottom one being an Under Armor cold weather shell, tights, hat and gloves. I was fine with just that.

After settling into a comfortable pace and listening for my first mile split, I realized that I forgot to start my Under Armor Map My Fitness App. That’t the app that tells me my splits in my headphones after each mile. That’s the one reason that even though I have discovered Strava, I still use the UA Map My Fitness app. To my knowledge I do not believe that Strava does that as well, but if they do, someone please tell me how to activate that! Pissed off now that I couldn’t find out my splits, I decided oh well, its not really a race, its just commitment day. That’s when I realized that there were only 6-7 people ahead of me in the race. Aaaannnddd just like that, this became a race!

In a 5k there really is no time to pace yourself. The more I run 5k’s the more I realize that you are pretty much running hard almost the entire time. In the process of making this a race, I ended up tweaking another calf in the last mile of the race and had to slow up a bit. I managed to finish 5th overall in the race. Mark those words because I will not finish better than 5th l year!

If my calf had not started to bother me, I might have finished third. First and second were well out of reach so my calf made no difference there. Crossing the finish line in 5th, I was eager to see my time, since I was not getting my splits from the Under Armor app. I took my phone out of my running arm band and Strava looked back at me with nothing, zilch, nada. Seems as if when I dropped my glove at the start of the race, I actually didn’t start my Strava app either. Pissed off is not even the word. I was pacing back and forth at the finish line like a mad man. 3.1 miles out the window and quite possibly a PR out the window. Although I don’t know if this time would have counted since it was not officially timed.

When it was all said and done, I looked on the bright side. I woke up on New Year’s without a hangover, I ran a 5k on new year’s day to start off the year on the right foot, and I got a medal for my troubles. Two valuable lessons however were learned. Never start a race without switching on my Map My Fitness app an never start a race without switching on and ASSURING that Strava is on. I don’t care how many seconds I lose at the start, not having your run tracked might be the most frustrating feeling in the world! Oh well at least the lesson was learned on the first of the year! Hopefully never to be repeated again!

As the weather continues to remain cold, I have to say I am getting used to this cold weather running. Anything north of 30 may be a heat wave for me! If you are from the east coast, how are you getting along with the cold weather? No matter where you are from, how was your New Year’s?

75 days til the United NYC Half for anyone running that!

Baby Its Cold Outside!

It seems that winter decided to come early on the east coast this year! Technically, it is not winter yet and we have already had 2 snowfalls and on Wednesday, we had windchills of single digits! If this keeps up then we are in for a very cold and perhaps, even a long winter.

For some of us, we have some races coming in the spring that we would like to get ready for. Personally, I have the United NYC Half Marathon in March and that is going to require me to workout all winter! I’m praying for nice conditions come race day. Pictured just above is the scene from last year’s NYC Half- cold with snow on the ground!

For some of you reading this, you might be eager to just start a running program. The weather can be a deterrent for starting a running plan unless you choose not to let it! Barring the fact that you hit the lotto tomorrow and relocate to warmer climates, here are some cold weather tips that I follow when I need to run in the cold and nasty weather! Follow these and you should be able to confront cold frigid temps!

  • Check the weather and plan accordingly. This might sound obvious but you have no idea how many times people tell me they didn’t realize it was ‘that cold’. In winter, the wind chill is a factor and while the mercury might read 40 degrees out, the wind chill can make it feel like 30 or 20 degrees. That difference is huge if you are dressing for 40 degrees. You do not want to underdress for winter weather.
  • Once you have checked the weather, dress for weather 10 degrees warmer than it is outside. Once you get going on your run, you are going to heat up. Having too many layers may make you a sweaty and uncomfortable mess.
  • Layer up! I know folks think they can wear that one super thick pullover or sweatshirt but that’s not ideal. Layering up is the way to go. I tend to start with long sleeves at 50 degrees and add a layer for every 10 degrees it goes down. The layers don’t have to be thick because they will trap heat in between. The key thing to be cognizant about is the layer against your skin. This layer should never ever be made of cotton! Cotton doesn’t wick away moisture and being wet and cold is not something you want in cold weather. Go with wool or other materials that wick away moisture. Under Armour makes great shells for cold weather that I love as bottom most layers and their layers wick away moisture also!
  • As winter drags on, you know that most of the time you will likely have to deal with night time running. Here is a post I wrote a few weeks ago with tips specifically for running in the dark. Make sure to implement these during your cold weather runs!
  • Cover those extremities! Gloves, hats, scarves are a must especially a hat. It’s a known fact that 90 percent of your body heat leaves via your head. I can never understand why folks run in cold weather without a hat! Those fingertips need protection too. Don’t worry about the iphone, they sell gloves with special fngertips for the phone too!
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Picked these up at this year’s NYC Marathon expo and they are racking up winter miles!

  • Ok so you are now dressed. No running yet because you must stretch, stretch and stretch some more! I am a big believer of stretching in general. In cold weather, double or even triple the amount that you stretch! Your muscles tend to contract more in the cold and they will take longer to get loose and limber. A lot of muscle strains happen in cold weather because people do not take the time to adequately stretch. Don’t let this happen to you!
  • If you know you will be dealing with wind on your run, and there tends to be a lot of wind in the winter, plan your run accordingly. Find out which way the winds are blowing and break your run up into two segments. Your first segment, should have you running into the wind so that when you come back, the wind is at your back. In the cold weather, you do not want to do the opposite!
  • If the temperature tends to get extreme, in my opinion single digits or anything below zero is extreme, then it may be time to find a treadmill. I personally despise the treadmill but Wednesday night for example, I bit the bullet and ran 5 miles on the treadmill. Wind chills were making it feel like 5 degrees and for me, after a long day, I was not in the mood to deal with the cold, the winds and the dark.

Wednesday night was also the motivation to write this post! It would have been very easy for me to stay home and throw on sweats and call it a day. But remember, its December! There are still parties to come, still tons of food to consume and you need to stay ahead of the game! Don’t let the cold weather keep you on the couch and feeling guilty. Follow these steps above and you will be ready to brave the cold and come back from your run feeling like you have conquered the world!

Have a great Thursday my friends!

A Frigid Day At Vanny!

My view as I walked into Vanny once again!

In my last post I detailed my obsession with the cross country course at Van Cortlandt Park. Year after year, even after many years of being away, I can drive up to Broadway and 242nd street and see the same scene. Nothing has changed over the years. It beautiful that with so much technology and with New York City constantly developing park space, that they have left Vannie alone. But one thing I don’t ever remember, is being at Van Cortlandt Park in such cold weather in early November Man was it cold on Saturday. It was 32 degrees when I arrived and thank God the winds decided to calm down otherwise it would have been colder! I arrived to my race with about 30 minutes before the start of the race. That was just enough time to check in, stretch and say hi to alot of former coaches and other alumni from my school that I knew were there. Needless to say, there wasn’t alot of time to do all of this but I made the best of it.

xc alumni champs 2017

The Alumni From Archbishop Molloy That Ran Vanny on Saturday!

Surprisingly at the starting line, I felt good. I am sure it was the adrenalin. Once the race started I resisted the temptation to go out faster than I should. There were guys in this race that had graduated high school last May and were pretty much still in great shape. They took the pace out fast! Going over the flats and into the cow path, I could tell the cold weather was going to play a factor. I wasn’t going fast and my breathing was accelerated. Oh boy this was going to be an adventure. Once we entered the “cow path” or the woods, my breathing started to normalize some what. That is until we got to what some call” freshman hill”. This was the first of many hills to overcome. This is also where I started to pass people. Many alumni that casually run on their spare time, aren’t ready for hills. Getting over freshman hill gave me a little pep in my step. Next up, was going over the bridge and into the “back woods”!

Let me just say once again, these back woods are just brutal. You enter them making a slow gradual climb. As I completed that slow gradual climb, my first mile split came into my ears from my running app. Mile 1 came in at 7:35. Not bad considering I didn’t have time to stretch and it was taking me a while to get going! Unlike many of the races I ran this year however, this race was only 2.5 miles and I had zero time to get going because this race was going to be over soon!

Continuing in the back hills, the uphill climbs continue. It seemed like the few down hills that existed were short and steep but the uphills seemed longer. It continued like this for the next half mile. As I got into the second half of the back hills there were longer down hills and I felt myself just flying down these hills. Some of these were winding down hills and I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t worried about crashing and falling. In my high school days, I would wear spikes on this course. Today I had my typical road running sneakers with now spikes! Flying down these hills I will say that I passed a number of people during this portion of the race. As I came to the final portion of the back hills my second mile split came in and it was a 7:33. I was hoping it would have been faster but oh well- I’ll blame those uphills for that!

Layers and head gear for a frigid day!

When I finally came back across the runners bridge, there was a little less than a half mile left in the race which included a very long flat straight away many folks like to just kick in all the way to the finish line. But before that straight there is one massive down hill that can propel you into the start of that straight away. I let it all hang out on that down hill. I literally went arms out to help keep my balance and just let the down hill take me and pray I didn’t go down. By the time I turned onto the final straight away I could see a 3-4 runners in front of me. Knowing the straight away was about 400-500 meters in length, I didn’t want to start kicking too early. More important than catching those 3-4 runners in front of my was not letting anyone pass me on that straight away. My “kick” kicked in once I could see the finish line which was with about 200 meters left. I could see the clock was in “18s”. I thought to myself “I would love to finish under 19 minutes!”. The mind went blank after that and those next 200 or so meters were a forced sprint because I was toast. I thought it was a sprint but to spectators it probably looked like a jog! At the end, no one passed me on that final straight, so I was pumped about that. I didn’t catch those 4 runners in front of me but when I crossed the finish line, my time was 18:55. That means my final half mile was 3:47. At the end I ran a pretty steady pace throughout and I ran a PERSONAL RECORD by 35 seconds from my previous best!

In looking back, I wish I did more hill work in my workouts leading up to this race. I need to find a place however close to where I live that has hills to work on. I know that the key to running even faster on this course, is mastering the hills. That has always been the secret. For now, I will walk away with a faster time but I look forward to running Vanny once again in the near future. One side note on the day, in the alumni race, my school took the team title. Not bad for a bunch of old guys!

Until next time Vanny!