Tips for Running Cold Weather Races: Richmond Marathon Weekend

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What are the best tips for running cold weather races?   This is a question I’m seeing a lot because it is Richmond Marathon weekend.  With one day to go forecasts are predicting temps in the 20’s at the start and 30’s at the finish!  This is FREEZING!  However, don’t stay home and pout.   Get out there and crush it.  We’ve got you covered with some basic tips:

1. Wardrobe Balance

Inadequate clothing leaves you unprepared for the elements and puts you at risk for frostbite, hypothermia or simply poor performance.  If you underdress your muscles will warm from activity but perhaps not to potential.  Your body’s energy resources are in overdrive trying to keep you warm.  Too much clothing leaves you overheated, uncomfortable and too hot to perform to potential as well.  Consider the elements and also the heat you will generate from exercise when you select your race kit.  You should start off feeling cool, not warm because things will heat up.

Rule of thumb: Dress as if it is 10-20 degrees warmer than actual temps.   Note that if it is freezing you should keep your extremities and skin covered by fabric.
For an 8k think 20 degrees warmer.   For a full think 10 degrees warmer.
This assumes you are trained for and plan to race with an intensity level in line with potential for the distance.  So, if you plan to walk the half or 8K rather than run it at tempo/threshold pace of course your core temp is not going to rise significantly and you will need to bundle up a lot more.   Tip:  Look at both starting corral and finishing temps particularly if you are going to have a longer day.

2. Use layers!  Lots of layers

You will need a layer for base that will wick away sweat and protect your skin.   You may want to add something for warmth and maybe something for wind protection.

Bring the oversized zip up hoodie you’ve been meaning to give to Goodwill.  Wear it at the start. Toss it at an early aid station. A headband that covers the ears can slip off if overheated.  Wear a cheap cap on top that you can discard at an aid station.  Cheap throw away gloves are a must.  However, I recommend keeping gloves on you in a pocket in case you change your mind and want them back mid-race.  No glove options? Just put socks on your hands or stretch out your sleeves!

  A thermal top or a short sleeve wicking top & arm warmers work well.   A vest or even a light jacket is also a good idea if you think you need the extra warmth.  Long socks with the feet cut out work as arm warmers in a pinch.   Wear run tights.  If it is under 40 degrees…cover your knees!  This protects the soft tissue and joints.   Wool socks are usually the best choice. The less you will be exerting yourself and the longer you will be out there the more warmth from clothing you will need.

3.  Do a Warm Up Routine

You want your muscles warmed up and ready to race.  Time your routine so that you finish it close to the start…with in 10 minutes of starting if possible.  Avoid standing around in sweaty clothes before the race starts to avoid the starting coral shivers.  If possible warm up in a different top and put on dry layers after if you are sweaty.   Be sure to do a dynamic warm up and avoid static stretching on cold muscles before the event.  Muscles will warm up once activity is started and continue firing just fine assuming you warmed up well and you keep your body adequately clothed.

4.  Prepare for the Air

A scarf or fabric over your mouth may help with the uncomfortable feeling of breathing in dry air.  The fabric can help hold moisture and warm/humidify air before you breathe in.  Give it a try and if you don’t like it, ditch the tactic.  You may get a runny nose as a reaction to dry air.  Bring along a handkerchief or practice your snot rocket skills but please beware of race day aim!

5.  Fuel and Hydrate

It is easy to let this slide when temperatures drop but you will still need fluid and fuel.  In fact you may need more calories than usual as your body when running cold weather races because your body is expending energy to stay cool.  You need calories.  Your body is going to likely be burning more carbohydrates so top off those stores!

6.  Manage Pacing and Effort Level

Expect to race well when running cold weather races but adapt your pacing strategy as needed given the conditions.  If you are met with strong headwinds, your pace may slow.  Simply adjust rather than panic.  Your body is expending significant energy propelling you forward and simultaneously trying to keep you warm so you may struggle to maintain the pace you could hold at an ideal 50 degrees.  Many runners are aware of the impact on heat.  Most do not realize that cold temperatures can also result in a slight performance drop so remember it is science and if you are one to watch the clock do not let any get in your head.  Simply stay in the moment and make appropriate adjustments to strategy on the fly.  Every athlete out there is dealing with the same conditions…so rise to the challenge of the day!

7.  Get Dry

Have dry clothes in your bag on hand along with your 4:1 carb protein ration recovery drink after the race.     Take that space blanket they hand you at the finish!  Wrap yourself up and change stat!  Hot chocolate made with milk is perfect!
Check out some of my past cold weather race reports for running cold weather races ideas!  A Cold with Rain 15K  A Frigid Richmond 8K
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