This weekend was my first opportunity of the year to get out onto the trails and run through some really cold weather. It was a few frigid degrees below 40 and the trailhead was empty, save a few puffed-up songbirds and a foraging squirrel or two. As I stretched out before the wooded portal, I reflected on some of the more crucial tips of the activity and (through trial & error) compiled a helpful and short list regarding Cold Weather Trailrunning:
Stretch! Spend a few extra moments (about 4 minutes more than your normal routine) stretching out your legs and back, even your arms, neck and shoulders. Try standing front leg kicks (25 each leg) followed by forward and backward arm circles (15 in each direction should suffice). Jumping Jacks is a great, yet often forgotten and neglected exercise. Rolling your head around clockwise, then counter a few revolutions should prevent any annoying tweaks or pinches. Spend some time rotating your ankles around on the balls of your feet –you can use this time to work out the kinks in your wrists –same thing: forward and reverse revolutions. Flexibility for these extremity joints is key!
Your body’s going to immediately tighten up once the cold air hits it. Running a wooded, heavily rooted winter trail in freezing degree temperatures without stretching is the perfect storm for an injury –you’re practically asking for an annoying muscle pull or tear, so take the extra time to get nice & limber.
If you’re driving to the trailhead, try some of these stretches (or your own) before you leave the warm house and climb into your car. Then really get your stretch on once you’re ready to start running.
Layers! Be sure to dress in layers. Some people will recommend expensive synthetics like the polypropylenes and polar fleeces and what-not, but I don’t pay attention to any of that fancy stuff. I dress in whatever layers I have available: typically a hooded sweatshirt over a long sleeve shirt over a ripped-up muscle shirt… I like to shed as I run and start to heat up. When you get out onto the trail you’re going to be cold, but once you start moving, pumping your blood through your arms and legs, the body warms up pretty quick.
Take off the layers as your body temperature rises. Tie them around your waist and keep running. This being said, cotton material does tend to soak up and hold onto moisture which can turn your run into a cold & wet experience. It’s all personal preference. My runs don’t last longer than an hour or an hour and a half, so a little discomfort only makes me run harder to the finishing point.
At your stop/stretch/breathing/mediation points, your body will typically cool down and you’ll need to cover up again… and the process is repeated.
Extremities: A large % of body heat is lost through your head, hands, and feet, so it would be wise to keep these areas covered up. Throughout a typical cold weather run, my cotton skull-cap will go on and come off several times depending on what stage of the run I’m pushing through.
I keep my hands free but I definitely feel the numbness in my fingertips as I run through the difficult inclines and exciting declines of the mountain trails. Please comment on this post if you know of good running gloves or techniques to keep your fingertips from freezing up.
Waterproof your running shoes and double your socks. Running on numb toes can be distracting and sometimes painful. Waterproof spray is cheap (under $10) and can be picked up at any local outdoor/camping store.
Post-Stretch: A careful & deliberate stretch after your run will pay major dividends throughout the remainder of your day… & the next day! I can definitely feel the difference when I do & don’t stretch after a good trailrun. Repeating your pre-run stretches will work.