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10-plus tips for running in cold weather

Pam LeBlanc Special to the Statesman
Sebastian Ruth, of Providence, R.I., stretches outside the JW Marriott after taking a run in downtown on a cold Friday morning in November. “It’s 62 degrees in Providence and 35 degrees in Austin, so it’s opposite of what I expected,” said Ruth, who was visiting Austin for a conference. [JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Now that it’s time to break out our coats — well, some days — it’s also a good time to discuss running in cold weather.

Temperatures in mid-November dipped below freezing, and more cold fronts have been blowing through Central Texas since (our Tuesday forecast recommends breaking out the scarves and gloves because biting north winds are making it feel a whole lot worse outside). That means that runners training for the Austin Marathon, scheduled for Feb. 16, are logging plenty of miles in chilly weather. Don’t think we have to deal with cold in Austin? The 2006 Austin Marathon was delayed by an hour so runners could navigate icy roads to get to the start, and a deer bolted onto the course as the race began and slipped on the frozen ground.

A few precautions can help you make the best of a run when it feels like the interior of an iced-down Yeti cooler outside. Settle in, grab your hot cocoa and pay attention.

Longtime runner and former Runner’s World editor Bob Wischnia, 69, lived in Pennsylvania for about 20 years and ticked off numerous long, snowy runs while preparing for the Austin Marathon. He’d travel here for the race because he enjoyed racing in cold weather, and he had friends here. During one long training run through streets blowing with snow, a police officer stopped him — he was the only person out running — and asked if he needed a ride somewhere.

“I told him I was fine,” Wischnia says. “But there really are some things you learn. One of the most important is that if I feel comfortable at the start of a run, I’m going to get too hot later on. Overdressing is the worst thing, because you sweat and if the wind hits you, you get really cold and miserable.”

His other suggestions? Use a blow dryer to warm up socks and gloves before you head out, and wear lip balm to prevent chapping.

Iram Leon, president of the Austin Runners Club, a nonprofit organization that promotes running and hosts scheduled runs each week, ran the morning the first arctic blast hit Austin in November. Temperatures hovered just below freezing, but Leon didn’t know that.

His first tip? When it gets cold, don’t look at the thermometer. It might discourage you from heading outside.

“I know if it’s going to be cold, it’s going to be cold, so I just layer up,” he says.

He also opts for trail over pavement, which can get slick if it ices, and stashes two bottles in the car — one filled with plain water, the other with something hot.

And he does have his limits.

“Cold, rain and wind — I’ll take two out of three, but if we’ve got all three, those are my least favorite runs,” he says.

Here are 10 more tips for running in cold weather:

1. Warm up indoors before you head outside. Try jumping rope, a quick round of yoga or dashing up stairs to loosen your muscles. When you do start your run, start slow and gradually speed up.

2. Dress in layers and wear fabrics that wick moisture. Remember a knit hat and gloves, and don’t wear running shoes with too much mesh paneling.

3. Don’t overdress. Start off slightly cool; you’ll warm up as you run.

4. If it’s dark, wear lights or reflective gear.

5. If it’s really cold, dab a little BodyGlide on your nose to help prevent frostbite.

6. Don’t stand around outside waiting for your running buddies. Wait inside your car, and step out at the last moment.

7. Run into the wind first, and finish with it at your back. That way you’re not getting blasted with cold air when you’re already wet with sweat.

8. Slow your pace. The road could be icy, and your heart is working harder since it’s cold. This is not a time for sprints. Aim for a steady 130- to 150-beat-per-minute zone.

9. Stay hydrated, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Just because it’s not hot doesn’t mean you don’t need water.

10. Your core temperature will drop quickly after you stop running, so keep a warm drink (or some hearty soup) and a thick jacket handy for when you finish.