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How to run a race in the cold

Whether it is your local turkey trot or a parkrun, being appropriately prepared for cold weather when racing is important. Precipitation that may feel nice in warmer weather can lead to conditions that risk hypothermia in the cold. Conversely, many runners may overdress as they consider their comfort at the start over how they will feel a few miles in. Consider the following when preparing for your race:

  1. Wear the right clothing: Stay covered up until a few minutes before the race. Reducing exposure and keeping your muscles warm after your warm-up will keep your movements efficient and maximize the amount of energy you can use in a muscle. In a larger race, you may be able to keep on a throwaway layer for the first mile or two before removing it and leaving it to the side, as some races will collect these throwaway items to donate to shelters. Otherwise, you may elect to hand off a layer to a support person.

  2. Do an appropriate warm-up: It is important to make sure your muscles warm-up adequately, as doing so reduces your risk of muscle strain. Make sure you have enough time to warm up. For a shorter race, you want time for a 1-2 mile warm-up, as well as strides and drills. In a longer race, you may be able to use the first mile as a warm-up, particularly in crowded races with large waves, such as the Indy or New York marathons. In the process of warming-up, the blood vessels in your muscles are dilating to allow greater amounts of oxygen rich blood to perfuse through the muscle. As the muscles warms-up and receives more blood, the muscles (and tendons!) become more flexible and less likely to strain or tear. Warming-up also activates the neural connections and will decrease any feelings of sluggishness. Even while at the starting line, lightly jogging in place or doing some high knees or buttkickers will be to your advantage.

  3. Follow your hydration and fueling plan: Cold weather reduces our feelings of thirst, but don't be fooled--you need water as much as ever. Properly hydrate the 24 hours before your race, and if you are going to racing for more than 45-60 minutes, take in water every 2-4 miles. Follow your individual fueling plan--cold weather is not shown to make a difference in caloric needs while racing, so what you have practiced in training should be applied in the same way.

  4. Have positive attitude. Cold weather racing may be slightly uncomfortable at the start, but the air can be refreshing as your body temperature gets hotter, unlike in warmer weather. In windy conditions, try to focus on enjoying the wind at your back and tucking in behind someone when the wind is going towards you. Have a mantra that keeps you going or imagine how good your post-race hot chocolate or coffee will taste after being outside. Our mindset directly affects our performance, so remember to enjoy your experience.

With the right preparation and mindset, racing in the cold weather can be a great experience that ushers in personal records, new distance PRs, and the continued camaraderie of fellow runners who will endure the elements for the satisfaction of a good run. Remember, running is something you do for you, not for anyone else. If you decide the conditions are not right for you, which may be wise if anything like freezing rain is involved, make that decision with confidence and try again later. You'll never know your favorite racing weather until you give them all a try!

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