Six Ex­er­cises to Stay Strong this Win­ter

Canadian Running - - FEATURES - By Madeleine Cum­mings what madeleine cum­mings thinks about when she thinks about run­ning

Nor­we­gians have a say­ing that trans­lates to “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes.” Run­ners of­ten em­brace this maxim, be­liev­ing if they bun­dle up, they can run out­side all win­ter, no mat­ter how cold it gets. Brav­ing the el­e­ments can be a badge of hon­our, with many races cel­e­brat­ing the harsh­ness of Cana­dian win­ters in their names. There are the Freeze Your Giz­zard races in Mon­tague, PE, the Frostbite River Run in Win­nipeg, the Chilly Half Marathon and Frosty 5k in Burling­ton, Ont., and the Hy­pother­mic Half Marathons in most prov­inces.

Win­ter run­ning has its joys, among them empty trails framed by snow-cov­ered trees, but there are risks to run­ning in ex­treme cold, be­yond frostbite and hy­pother­mia.

Univer­sity of Al­berta phys­i­ol­o­gist Michael Kennedy has been re­search­ing cold-weather ex­er­cise and the ef­fects on lung and res­pi­ra­tory func­tion for years. He told me that anec­do­tally, he had ob­served many symp­toms of res­pi­ra­tory dis­tress among the com­pet­i­tive cross-coun­try skiers with whom he worked. The skiers tended to have chronic coughs, chest tight­ness, wheez­ing and runny noses.

Ac­cord­ing to Kennedy, many win­ter ath­letes (and es­pe­cially women, who have smaller lungs) de­velop ex­er­cise-in­duced bron­chocon­stric­tion (or eib). This means their air­ways get nar­rower and it be­comes harder to breathe. Over time, their air­ways be­come chron­i­cally inf lamed and un­usu­ally sen­si­tive to stim­uli and, as a re­sult, they nar­row more of­ten.

For a lon­gi­tu­di­nal study a few years ago, Kennedy re­searched how air­way inf lam­ma­tion changed for elite fe­male cross-coun­try skiers through­out their yearly train­ing cy­cle. Not sur­pris­ingly, their air­ways were more inf lamed dur­ing the win­ter months, when they were spend­ing a lot of time ex­er­cis­ing in cold and dry con­di­tions.

To zero-in on dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­tures, Kennedy spent months at the Univer­sity of Inns­bruck in Aus­tria, where he ran an ex­per­i­ment in a cli­mate-con­trolled cham­ber – pic­ture a large walk-in freezer with a tread­mill in­side. He had 17 elite and recre­ational fe­male ath­letes with ma­ture lungs run for eight min­utes at about race pace at tem­per­a­tures of 0 C, -5 C, -10 C, -15 C and -20 C. Kennedy mea­sured the ath­letes’ lung func­tion be­fore and af­ter they ex­er­cised.

“At -15 C, a lmost a ll of t hem had sig nif ica nt ly re­duced lung func­tion,” Kennedy said. The dis­tress was more se­vere for the par­tic­i­pants who were elite cross-coun­try skiers, or “high-ven­ti­lat ion at hletes.” Those were the ath­letes with more cu­mu­la­tive years of chronic cold ex­po­sure.

Rules used by Cross Coun­try Canada, the na­tional gov­ern­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion for cross-coun­try ski­ing, state that com­pe­ti­tions will be post­poned or can­celled if the tem­per­a­ture is below -20 C. (For younger ath­letes, the thresh­old is five de­grees warmer). Cy­cling Canada’s rules say cy­clocross races may be can­celled if tem­per­a­tures dip below -15 C.

Nei­ther Ath­let­ics Canada nor iaaf have sim­i­lar poli­cies on cold tem­per­a­tures, prob­a­bly be­cause most ma­jor run­ning races don’t oc­cur dur­ing the win­ter months.

None of the 14 race direc­tors I con­tacted said cold tem­per­a­tures have led them to can­cel their races out­right and sev­eral said their races went on de­spite cases of frostbite, icy roads, ex­treme wind chill and tem­per­a­tures in the neigh­bour­hood of -30 C. Some races have their own poli­cies on what to do in ex­tremely cold con­di­tions – the Cana­dian Win­ter Re­venge race in Ed­mon­ton, for ex­am­ple, al­lows run­ners to change their race dis­tance and or­ga­niz­ers stock aid sta­tions with ex­tra cloth­ing for peo­ple who need it – but un­like ski­ing or cy­clo-cross, there is no agreed-upon tem­per­a­ture thresh­old for can­celling a win­ter road race.

With­out poli­cies, run­ners are left to lis­ten to their coaches and their own bod­ies when it comes to mak­ing de­ci­sions about ex­er­cis­ing in ex­treme cold.

Kennedy has a few rec­om­men­da­tions for com­pet­i­tive run­ners who train out­side dur­ing the win­ter months. He sug­gests sav­ing in­tense work­outs for milder days (or the tread­mill) and cov­er­ing the mouth with a cold air mask or a piece of fab­ric.

“I al­ways wear a Buff, even if it is 0 de­grees,” he said. Madeleine Cum­mings is a jour­nal­ist based in Ed­mon­ton. Her col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in Cana­dian Run­ning.

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