One of my favorite things about the Boston Marathon being held on Patriot’s Day is that it is a beautiful time of the year in New England when it is just starting to get warm. Thankfully it is early enough in the spring that you may get a nice crisp and cool morning at the start, perfect for race conditions. There is a significant downside to this however. In order to train for a race in the spring you have to train during the coldest time of the year in most regions. If you are going to have a successful training season in the cold, special considerations must be made.
The first thing you have to think about when running in the cold is how you are going to dress so that you can still run comfortably. Maine Track Club President Mark Grandonico states, "The rule of thumb is to dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer." When you consider this, remember that you should feel slightly cold at the start of your run. Avoid cotton, and stick to technical material that wick away sweat and moisture as you get further into your run. This is critical in keeping you dry and comfortable.
Layering your clothes is a critical component as well and everyone is unique when it comes to figuring out how many layers are right for them. Once you get below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, there does seem to be a general consensus that you are getting into the territory where multiple layers will be required. Since there will be a large amount of blood circulating through your legs on a long run, I've always found it more important to have at least one extra layer on your trunk and arms in comparison to your lower body. The effects of the cold can be particularly tough on one's hands and feet as well. Technical running gloves, fleece lined gloves, or good old fashioned mittens should keep your fingers warm, and, if need be, can also be worn in layers. Finally, don't forget about all the heat that you can lose from your head. A stocking cap, a ball cap with ear flaps, or even a ski cap should be considered.
The last thing you must consider is how the cold weather will affect the quality of your work out. Warming up properly, even something as simple as moving around a little more within the house before you go outside, makes a world of difference in preventing any potential muscle strains. Any specific type of speed work or pacing is significantly harder in the cold. It can be done, but it has been my experience that the winter is better for building your base endurance and training on those hills rather than track or speed work. Once you are finished with your run, get inside, change your clothes, and get dry as quickly as possible.
It has been said that the hardest part of running a marathon is just getting to the starting line. At no time of year is this more challenging than the winter. You can only switch out so many outdoor workouts for the treadmill to simulate road conditions. If you are going to train for a marathon in the winter, try and keep yourself as healthy and warm as possible.
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