Run Strong All Win­ter It can be done

IF YOU’RE STRUG­GLING TO BRAVE THE COLD, HERE’S WHY RUN­NING WHEN THE MER­CURY DROPS IS A SMART MOVE… AND HOW TO MAX­IMISE THE BEN­E­FITS

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue -

I t’s not of­ten we have cause to envy hedge­hogs, but their abil­ity to snooze through win­ter can seem pretty de­sir­able when its par­tic­u­larly nasty out­side. It can be all too tempt­ing to bunker down for a run­ners’ hi­ber­na­tion of sofa and box sets, but that would mean miss­ing out on a mul­ti­tude of train­ing ben­e­fits. Here’s why you should turn your think­ing on its head and learn to em­brace the joys of run­ning in win­try con­di­tions.

Cold com­fort

You might think that it would be equally un­de­sir­able to run in sti­flingly hot or bit­ingly cold weather, but in re­al­ity our bod­ies find it far eas­ier to run in win­ter con­di­tions, ac­cord­ing to Pro­fes­sor John Brewer, head of ap­plied sci­ence at St Mary’s Univer­sity in Twick­en­ham, Lon­don. ‘We ran tests on sub­jects in our heat lab, which in­volved them run­ning in tem­per­a­tures of 8C and 24C [the av­er­ages of a Bri­tish win­ter and sum­mer],’ he says. ‘They ran three 40-minute runs at 70 per cent of their VO2 max and were as­sessed on the dif­fer­ences in sweat loss, heart rate, blood lac­tate and ther­mal sen­sa­tion, which means their level of com­fort.’

The run­ners rated ther­mal sen­sa­tion 32 per cent higher when

run­ning in the cold – an in­crease of al­most a third in their level of com­fort and, cru­cially, in their per­cep­tion of their abil­ity to sus­tain the ef­fort in that tem­per­a­ture. In other words, you feel stronger and more con­fi­dent when you are run­ning in cold weather.

Gain, not pain

Next time you dream about run­ning in places where warm breezes ruf­fle palm trees and a pos­trace cock­tail is al­ways an op­tion, con­sider this: Bri­tain’s aver­age win­ter tem­per­a­ture is closer to a run­ner’s ideal train­ing environment, says Chris Tyler, se­nior lec­turer in en­vi­ron­men­tal phys­i­ol­ogy at Roe­hamp­ton Univer­sity, south­west Lon­don. ‘Stud­ies [at the Univer­sity of Aberdeen’s med­i­cal school] have shown that the ideal tem­per­a­ture for mak­ing en­durance per­for­mance gains is ac­tu­ally 10-11C,’ he says. ‘Ei­ther side of that and you start ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a drop in how long you can keep go­ing at the same in­ten­sity.’

Tyler goes on: ‘One of the main fac­tors is heart rate. Your heart has to work harder to main­tain the same in­ten­sity when it’s hot com­pared with when it’s cold. In heat you have to send blood to the skin to be cooled by evap­o­ra­tion, which means to main­tain your car­diac out­put – how much blood you pump around the cen­tral part of the body for it to func­tion ef­fec­tively – your heart rate must go up. In the cold the op­po­site is true; you’re not send­ing blood to the pe­riph­ery, so you end up with greater cen­tral blood vol­ume, which means for the same pace you can run that at a lower heart rate – up to around 15 beats per minute fewer.’

Take that idea a step fur­ther and you can use chilly con­di­tions to turn up your per­for­mance gains, while min­imis­ing risk. ‘Run­ning with a lower heart rate means you’re go­ing to be less fa­tigued at the end of a run,’ says Tyler. ‘Win­ter is a great time to use the com­par­a­tive lack of tired­ness and mus­cle fa­tigue to prac­tise things like midrun surges, kick­ing near the end, adding fartlek sec­tions or throw­ing in a few late hill reps to make the adap­ta­tions you need to in­crease your strength, speed en­durance and abil­ity to push hard through dis­com­fort in a race.’

You can then take full ad­van­tage of this by sign­ing up for one of our pick of the month’s best races on p108.

Don’t sweat it

Run­ning in the cold means you’ll need to take on less fluid than in the heat. So far, so ob­vi­ous, but what may sur­prise you is just how much less. The St Mary’s re­search showed that, on aver­age, sub­jects lost al­most twice as much fluid through sweat in the sum­mer con­di­tions (1.3L) than they did in win­ter train­ing (0.7L) over the course of a 40-minute run. ‘This means you’d have to carry and con­sume twice as much of your cho­sen drink to re­place fluid in the heat,’ says Brewer. ‘One run­ner lost 1.6 per cent of their body weight through sweat on a 40-minute hot­tem­per­a­ture run; if you lose over two per cent you’re then get­ting into the dan­ger­ous range where loss of mo­tor func­tion can come into play. So if

keep­ing ad­e­quately hy­drated is some­times tricky, you’ll find it much eas­ier both phys­i­o­log­i­cally and lo­gis­ti­cally in colder weather.’ The fact that you also don’t feel as thirsty in cold con­di­tions is also an im­por­tant per­for­mance tool, says Tyler. ‘Very re­cent re­search that hasn’t even been pub­lished yet shows that peo­ple who be­lieve they are hy­drated can per­form bet­ter in the short term, even if they’re not,’ he says. ‘In the study, two groups of athletes were de­lib­er­ately de­hy­drated, but only one group was told this would hap­pen. The group who were not told they were de­hy­drated per­formed five per cent bet­ter in sub­se­quent ex­er­cise tests.’ Five per cent might not sound much, but that would take your 5K time down from 25 min­utes to 23:45, says Tyler.

Spring in your steps

How­ever cold the day, rest as­sured that run­ning will thaw you from within. Mus­cles gen­er­ate heat ev­ery time they con­tract (hence shiver­ing, which is your mus­cles con­tract­ing in­vol­un­tar­ily to warm up). And once you start run­ning you’ll re­ally crank up your in­ter­nal ther­mo­stat. ‘As soon as you start to move at greater than walk­ing pace there’s a big in­crease in your meta­bolic rate,’ says Brewer. ‘The aver­age per­son will have an oxy­gen up­take of 3ml per kg of body weight per minute when they’re at rest. But if they start to run at about 10 min­utes per mile that fig­ure will jump to around 30ml per kilo per minute of oxy­gen that they need to func­tion. That ten­fold in­crease in meta­bolic rate brings a ten­fold in­crease in heat pro­duc­tion.’

Have faith that you’ll have stopped shiver­ing and be quite warm af­ter 10 min­utes or so, and since you don’t want to be shed­ding – and car­ry­ing – mul­ti­ple lay­ers, Brewer’s ad­vice is to dress as though it is 20C warmer out­side than it is. ‘It may seem Baltic when you first step out­side but this is just pe­riph­eral cold on the sur­face of the skin,’ says Brewer. ‘In­side you’re not ac­tu­ally as cold as you feel.’

The mes­sage is: be bold, start cold. But the ex­cep­tion – and the key ar­eas to keep warm – are your ex­trem­i­ties, says Tyler. ‘When you’re cold, you start to shut off the pe­riph­eral blood sup­ply,’ he says. ‘Your body redi­rects the blood to your core to warm you up, so your hands, ears, nose and toes can all still get cold while the rest of you is fine. This is why you some­times see foot­ballers wear­ing gloves with a short-sleeve shirt. It looks odd but ac­tu­ally makes sense.’

Tyler also sug­gests that if you don’t want to go through that ini­tial shiv­ery dis­com­fort bar­rier, you should get a light sweat on by warm­ing up thor­oughly in­doors be­fore you step out [see Stokethe­fire, be­low left].

Good news for those suf­fer­ing from data over­load. If you need a break from your sports watch, win­ter is the time to do it, says en­durance coach Tom Craggs (run­ning­withus. com). ‘In­creas­ingly with the march of tech­nol­ogy, run­ners worry about hit­ting pace or splits,’ he says, ‘ei­ther for train­ing pur­poses or be­cause they don’t want their Strava friends to see that they logged a less-than-per­fect run. In the win­ter this has more risk at­tached to it be­cause in the pur­suit of a minutely fine-tuned ses­sion I’ve seen clients pull cold mus­cles, or slip and fall on wet or icy ground.’

Craggs rec­om­mends leav­ing your watch at home and run­ning by per­ceived ef­fort rather than pace. You will be less prone to slips and you’ll learn more about your body as you tune in and get a bet­ter sense of what’s go­ing on un­der the bon­net.

If your com­pet­i­tive urge is not so eas­ily damp­ened, ‘take a drive into the coun­try­side away from your nor­mal environment and try run­ning on dif­fer­ent sur­faces’, says Craggs. ‘The new and un­fa­mil­iar chal­lenge to your mus­cles will take the sting out of your brain telling you to go harder. That and the – hope­fully – beau­ti­ful sur­round­ings will make you re­lax and re­mem­ber why you go run­ning in the first place.’

Freeze the pres­sure

COLD SNAP Run­ning in win­ter can ac­tu­ally help you be­come faster and stronger.

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