Veteran runners know that with proper preparation, you can run in very cold temperatures. That is, if the weather’s not wet, and if the wind isn't blowing too hard.
Checking wind speed and especially wind direction is a good first order of business. When coupled with low temperatures, extremes in either wind or moisture should point you to the treadmill. But, minus major wind or precip issues, with good preparation, you can have a safe and enjoyable run.
Start by protecting your torso, arms, and legs with enough (but not too many!) layers of breathable clothes (that is, wool or synthetic materials, not cotton). When running, a good rule of thumb is to dress the way you would if you weren’t exercising and the temperature was 20 degrees warmer. Next, keep exposed skin to a minimum. Dig out the old balaclava for your face and head. Ears, especially, need protection. Sunglasses can help protect eyes from wind and cold.
In winter, your hands are you most vulnerable area, and the hardest to keep warm. You must protect your hands! First, remember mittens are warmer than gloves. Gloves inside your mittens are even better. Also, a disposable “hand warmer” stuffed inside your mitten is a life saver. I'm talking about the little packets you shake to activate. They are wonderful and last long enough for even me to finish a 20 miler.
If you find yourself unprepared for unexpected and rapidly changing conditions, pick up a plastic grocery bag off the side of the road (or most anything you can stuff your hand in) and put on your hand. This emergency tip can knock off the wind, and could save you from frostbite.
New, high tech smart phones have a shut down feature if they become too cold. You can avoid this problem by stuffing your cell down inside your mitten.
Before leaving home, cover all exposed skin with a heavy hand or body lotion. It helps! Also, using that same heavy hand lotion on your torso and extremities (including feet) can help prevent dry, flaky, itchy skin caused by the cold and wind. Even Vaseline spread on your face and hands can protect the skin (although this can be a little messy).
If you just can't stand the thought of running in the extreme cold and wind, and you can call in a favor from your BFF, ask her to drive you up the road into the wind. When she lets you out, run home with the wind to your back. It's a piece of cake running WITH the wind.
The main thing when dealing with extreme cold is to be smart. Brutal conditions can reduce your margin for error. And a small error in planning or judgment can become life threatening. Just turning back into a head wind after being becoming hot and wet can risk hypothermia. When running in cold weather, be sure to use your head as well as your feet.
Kenneth Williams, @MarathonKoach.
And if you’re interested in stories about running the world’s greatest marathon, check out BOSTONLOG.com!