Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How to enjoy outdoor winter workouts

Inspired by a couple of friends preparing to run this week's Tokyo Marathon...how you can not only survive, but even enjoy, outdoor winter workouts!

let it snow, in Tokyo
but what a blow, for the maratho
photo: Kazuhiro Nogi, AFP

If you are skiing or snowboarding, you are probably already an expert, but for runners, cyclists, walkers, and others who may normally avoid freezing temps, here are some pointers collected from various sites:

1. Check the conditions out there, including temperature, wind chill index, and any rain or snow predicted.


2. Dress properly for the conditions - avoid frostbite! Wind can penetrate clothing which makes it feel colder, and can accelerate frostbite on exposed skin. At wind chill levels below minus 18 F (minus 27 C), frostbite can occur on exposed skin in 30 minutes or less. If your nose, ears, toes or cheeks feel burning, then numb, get indoors.

balaclavas keep you warmer
if you are also wearing clothes
photo: OxfordShop
A hat and gloves or mittens keep your extremities warm, since in the cold, your blood tends to stay around your core to keep you alive. If it isn't frigid, they may be the only extra items you need, plus they're easy to take off and tuck in your clothing if you warm up.

If it is that cold, or if you want to pretend you are a ninja, try a balaclava (covers your head & neck). You might also be happy with warmer (e.g. wool) or an extra layer of socks.

When in doubt, you can consult cold-weather sports fans or Fairbanks, Alaska recreation staff for tips on dressing for cold conditions.


3. Dress properly for the conditions - avoid overheating! I know it's freezing out there, but if you're working, you'll warm up, so wearing layers that can be added or removed as needed will keep you happier. To keep from overheating and sweating, experts suggest starting with a wicking synthetic material, such as polypropylene to draw the sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton, which stays wet and cold.
the layered look, with and without the outer shell
photo: Kneessoftware

The warming up of air between your layers keeps you warm, so the next layer should be another wicking layer or a light fleece or wool, which will insulate that air. This is how your dog or cat (or all those other mammals and birds) stays warm wearing just their fur or feathers.

Finally, a waterproof but breathable outer layer (a shell, raincoat, etc) will protect you somewhat from wind, rain, or snow. All of these items are fun to buy, and you'll enjoy yourself more if you're warm and dry. (note rhyme).

4. Avoid getting wet! In fact, unless you have waterproof gear, if it's snowing or near-freezing raining (or some unpleasant combination of these), you might want to hit the gym or treadmill instead of getting soaked and probably chilled. The danger here is hypothermia, which sets in when your core body temperature (normally 98.6 degrees F, or 37 C) drops to 95 F (35 C). If you keep moving, it's unlikely.

5. Before you start, warm up indoors more than you normally do – this will help you perform better and feel less sore afterwards. When muscles are cold, they take longer to loosen up, they have poorer range of motion, and they have to work harder to do the same actions than they do easily in warmer weather. The extra work and damage makes them more sore later.

some light cardio before your workout
photo: AP
Try combining light cardio (e.g. walking, stairclimbing, jumping jacks, jump rope) with ab or bodyweight exercises – heck, while multitasking warmup + strength circuits, you might just get in a workout before your workout! Just be sure you aren't starting cold.

6. Stay visible with light colors and reflective gear or even a headlamp if you are in the dark for all or part of your workout.

7. Unless you are in a crowd, like a marathon, ski run, skating rink, or other visible place, go with a buddy, which will also keep you from bailing if you lose motivation.

8. If you are running or cycling, try a slower pace if the ground is slick or uneven.

image: MyINStride
If you are running a long race (like the Tokyo Marathon), there are numerous web sites with tips for race day, such as:
  • warm up more than normal
  • wear disposable clothing or a big plastic bag over your running clothes during pre-race waiting
  • put petroleum jelly (Vaseline) on your hands & legs, which will keep them dry (and eerily gooey, I'm guessing)
  • do drink water - you're still sweating under it all
  • get warm and dry fast after you finish.

Here and here are two of them.

As it turns out, after the blizzard last week, the forecast for Tokyo is way above freezing all this week, so ice and snow shouldn't be an issue. The weather may be just perfect for the long race! Good luck, runners!

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