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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!