The Experience of Running in the Extreme Cold
The thermometer is creeping over 30 degrees Celsius and humidity is 70%. The relentless sun is beating down and you resemble a tap with sweat dripping off every orifice of your body. For those living in warm climates, this is a daily scenario we are all too familiar with when we venture outside for our daily jogs.
Now take a minute to think of the complete opposite. Imagine poking your toe outside and being greeted by not 25 degree Celsius but MINUS 25 degree Celsius. It’s not grass and sand under your feet but ice and snow. Forget the singlet and shorts. Your running armour will consist of gloves, a wooly hat, long tights and a few more thermal layers on top.
I recently travelled through the magnificent landscapes of Mongolia and central Russia and en-route experienced temperatures as low as a spine-tingling minus 28 degrees! Brrhhh. But undeterred, I ventured out and here are some tips I can share with you should you too experience a sub-zero running adventure.
1. To Layer or Not to Layer?
The risk of hypothermia, especially in long exposure to the cold, cannot be underestimated so keeping warm was the top priority. In relatively mild places such as the UK where temperatures generally hover around freezing, one layer of long sleeved clothing generally does the trick and after a few minutes of activity, you will be feeling toasty warm.
But drop the thermometer a few more degrees and it's a whole new ball game. Not only did I find I needed to double layer (and even triple layer in a couple of places), but keeping your extremities such as fingers, nose and toes warm was crucial. Two pairs of gloves. Two bandanas around my neck that I would pull up to protect my nose and mouth. Hat that also covered my ears. Two pairs of socks. Vaseline on my lips. And don't forget it may be wet so having a layer than can keep you dry on top can make a heap of difference. It would have been hard to recognize me with all the layers but I didn't care. I was warm!
2. Warming Up and Cooling Down
Too often neglected by runners, warming up and cooling down are crucial when you are tackling a sub-zero run. I found that spending time warming up inside prior to my run helped immensely, and when it was time to cool down the same was true. Standing around outside in clothes that are even slightly wet (you will still sweat) is a recipe for disaster. Your body will rapidly cool down so I found going inside and changing out of my clothes as soon as possible was essential.
3. Icy Bits
Snow is certainly pretty. Newly fallen, it's soft and fluffy providing a unique (and fun) surface to run on and of course, you would find it hard to resist the temptation to build a snowman or two. But give it a day or two and the feathery snow compacts, turning into a much more hazardous ice rink. Worse still is black ice, the stuff you really can't see and a potential risk for runners, walkers and cyclists alike.
Running off the pavements and on the grass, I found, offered some comfort against black ice and generally along the side of the roads that on the whole were gritted. But to be on the safe side, I'd recommend reducing your speed and shortening your stride.
And a side point: Please avoid the temptation to throw a snowball when running. Once the snow melts in your glove, that's it, you have ice in your glove and believe me it's very cold.
4. Hydration – Do You Need It?
Just as you need to stay hydrated in hot weather, the same is true in cold weather. The signs are just not as obvious. Keep sipping away. Be aware that in sub-zero temperatures, the water in the bottle may freeze on the run. I tried to get around this by carrying a small rucksack to provide some insulation that generally kept the ice at bay.
5. Stay Safe
Where it's cold, it generally means the days are shorter. Dress not only for warmth but choose bright fabrics that can be seen in the dark. And of course, as with any long run in unfamiliar territory, let someone know where you are going.
6. Is It Fun?
Whilst it may seem there are some challenges with running in extreme cold, it's definitely an experience I enjoyed. Your times generally won't be as fast but don't worry about it, it will give you chance to take in the beautiful and unique winter scenery around you. Interested? Then check out these super cold running events: