Running in a Winter Wonderland

By Yasmin Mang

Last Sunday, Munich had its first “snowy” day. And I had an 11k run to do. Stay inside? Sure, I could have, but I went out anyway. And I wasn’t the only one. As I ran through the English Garden, sleet beating down, I saw a good 20 other runners out there. Some were clearly experts, speeding along like gazelles. But some, like the 55-year-old woman I waved to, were like me, just not going to give in to Mother Nature.

Why would I do this to myself? Well, as anyone who knows me will attest – I’m stubborn! But there is also something lovely and peaceful about running in “bad” weather. You hear the sound of raindrops hitting the red leaves that carpet the ground, experience the beauty of a wet forest, and the lack of crowds means you are (nearly) alone with your thoughts.

Your immune system
There are health benefits to running in cold weather as well. Anecdotally, the years I ran during winter were also the years I avoided any colds or flus. Science backs me up on this – a study by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research discovered that regular outdoors exercise in the cold “reduced the risk of flu susceptibility by 20-30%.”* This is because our respiratory system has to work harder to warm up the air, and thus over time increases our lung performance.

Fat-Burning
Not only are you less likely to get sick, you are more likely to get fit! Running in the cold increases your metabolism.* Not only that, it forces your body to burn more fat than when running in warmer temperatures. Studies have shown that your body uses its fat stores more when exercising in the cold!** Burning fat? What momma doesn’t want that?

Convinced? Let’s do this!
Of course, exposure to cold weather can also have detrimental effects, especially if your body is already fighting off a cold or flu. So first rule of cold weather running – only do it when you are healthy!
The second rule is to dress right. Here are some tips:

Wear a hat! I prefer a baseball cap-style, as it keeps the sun out of my eyes on sunny days (and protects my skin!), and keeps the rain off my face on the really bad days. But you may want to just put on a warm winter hat – whatever will keep that heat in.
Gloves too! Those €3 stretchy gloves will keep your fingers warm, but if you want to shell out a bit more, there are special water-resistant running gloves that are even better.
Gaiter for extra-cold temperatures! A gaiter, commonly known under the brand “Buff”, is a circle or round cloth that goes around the neck (like the neck part of a turtleneck) and can be pulled up to cover the nose and mouth. This is great in super cold weather to avoid having to breathe in freezing air.
Layer! For my run last Sunday, I wore my sports bra, a sweat-wicking tank top, a zip-up fleece shell, and a rain jacket. When it gets colder, I’ll switch out the rain jacket for something warmer – but also something that I can remove as my body heats up during the run. Look for something that you can move in that will keep you warm and also block that nasty winter wind.
Drink up! For runs longer than about 1 hour, bring along some water to drink. We may not feel the sweat on cold days, but our bodies are still losing moisture.
Jump in! The shower, that is. Don’t cool down too long outside on those cold runs – go inside to do your cool down and jump in a nice warm shower as soon as you can, to avoid letting your body overcool.
Ready to go? I’ll see you out there!

* Source: http://darebee.com/running/running-in-cold-weather.html **Source: http://www.runnersworld.com/newswire/how-running-in-the-cold-affects-your-immune-system

Yasmin is an American lawyer and mom of two from the west coast of the United States. She loves running, snowboarding, and lying on the beach with a good book and a Mai Tai.

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