Bitter Cold Temps - Should you Run?

After being spoiled with an overall mild winter by Buffalo standards, we are getting first real blast of bitter cold weather.  The question comes up: How do you train when the temps are bitter cold and the windchill below zero? 

Should you run outside? How cold is too cold to run outside?   The number one rule to keep in mind is safety.  Some individuals have greater tolerance for cold weather running, while others do not.  But also consider slick/icy roads, visibility, risk of frostbite and other safety factors.  Being "tough" is one thing, but let common sense prevail. 

Here are some recommendations to run and adjust your training when weather is adverse. 

  1. Check the temp and windchill factor.  Cover all exposed skin to avoid frostbite (check that space between the end of your running tights and your socks, your face, your wrists, etc.).  Dress in layers, and limit the length of your run.  Some individuals will be able to tolerate the cold better than others.  Know your body!
  2. Adjust your training plan
    • If you have a long run scheduled, consider pushing it back a few daysif warmer temps are in the near future. 
    • Consider moving indoors to the treadmill. I know many are either not comfortable on the treadmill or simply do not enjoy the treadmill.  If you are one that does fine on the treadmill, this will be one of the best options. 
    • Consider splitting up your run - such as part of the run outside, and part of the run inside (do the outside first... you don't want to run inside, get sweaty, and go outside as your body will get chilled). 
    • Split your run into two sessions such as a morning run and a later afternoon run. 
    • Consider splitting the run with a combination of indoor running on the treadmill and cross training such as Elliptical, Bike, or Deep Water Running.  To make this split session effective, do them back to back (no break between) and start with the run first. 
    • If running outside, adjust your training pace.  Very cold (as well as very hot) will require an adjustment to your training paces - anywhere from 10 seconds to mile up to 30seconds or more, depending on the conditions.  Use perceived effort versus your GPS! 
  3. Be Flexible with your training schedule.  It is OK to move days around based on weather, your real-life schedule, illness, or other factors.  Consistency over time is the most important factor in your preparation.  It's not just 1 long run, or just 1 workout that will make or break your training program. 

BOTTOM LINE: Use common sense.  Dress well, watch road conditions, and protect yourself for a safe training run.  And, remember it is ok to adjust the length of the run, change the daysof your long run, and run on the treadmill.  Consistency of training will yield the results! 

Run well and enjoy!

Vicki is a distinguished athlete and international competitor, Vicki competed in the 1996 US Olympic Trials in the 10,000 run. She made her marathon debut at the 1999 Hong Kong Marathon, where she qualified for the 2000 US Olympic Marathon Trials. In 2001, she was invited to join the Fila Discovery USA training program, a program designed to develop American distance runners into elite marathon athletes able to compete with the best in the world. She has been a member of five USA national teams, including the 1993 World University Games and 1998 IAAF World Road Race Championship in Manaus, Brazil.