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  • Writer's pictureEmmelia Potts

Beating the Cold Whilst Winter Training

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

running on a windy beach

A few weeks ago I came across an article on how to manage Raynauds when running... I had no idea what this was and as I read on became startled that all these things happened to me. My fingers and toes go white and numb in the cold, to be honest it doesn't have to be overly cold, I find it very hard to keep blood in my extremities and under my nails is a deathly white most of the time. I get pins and needles in my arms and legs when I get cold, again colour begins to drain from the lower echelons of each. My hands go deathly blue and purple if I do not wear gloves outside. It would appear I potentially have Raynauds.

After talking to my Mum and some people in the gym it would appear it is quite a common thing. So to anyone that has this or just gets very cold and finds it hard to warm up here are some things I have been doing over the past 4 years of freezing my butt off in OCRs and winter training to stop my fingers and toes literally falling off.

1-The Right Clothes

People have always laughed at me for shivering at OCRs or being cuddled up to someone for heat while waiting for an obstacle "wear more clothes" is usually the comment. The thing is I did wear clothes, lots of clothes. I would go out in jumpers, hats and long woolly socks in my first year or so and was still frozen. It would appear I was not wearing the right gear. Rather than opting for cotton t-shirts, a long-sleeved top, a vest and a jumper, I should have been picking out marine wool, tech base layers and compression socks.

Fortunately, after a year or so, I cottoned onto the kit everyone else was wearing and invested in skins base layers, marine wool gloves and waterproof socks and lined windproof jackets. Even now if I pop out in a hoodie instead of a running windproof jacket I get cold. If you are out running in cotton tracksuit pants and a t-shirt with a hoodie and are getting cold you are not wearing the right gear for you. Research base layers, and thermal tights and invest in a good pair of running gloves and a running hat. You will not regret it.

2- Layers

Try to cover all the skin.

On long endurance runs in the colder months I go out in the following:

Balaclava or buff to the head.

Buff for my face pulled up past my nose and one on my neck

Top half:

-Tight thermal base layer x1 if really cold (5 degrees or less), base layer. Make sure the base layer on your body is one that will take moisture away from your body to prevent chills if you cool down. Nothing worse than a cold sweat.

-Long-sleeved wicking top over these if it's very cold, or a normal sports tech tee if not too cold.

-Waterproof and windproof jacket.

-Tight-fitting running gloves. Make sure these are wicking gloves to take sweat away from the body.

If it is very cold a pair of standard gloves can be put over the running gloves to help keep hands warm. Tuck everything in! Base layers into gloves and wear compression sleeves over gloves and base layers if it helps when it's frosty. Tuck base layers into the top of your running leggings...

Bottom half:

- Thermal tights

- Compression socks

- Running leggings

- Long standard socks.

I find the trick is keeping my wrists and ankles warm. If there is a breeze hitting these my hands and feet will get cold regardless of how many gloves and socks I have on.

Handwarmers are a tricky suggestion. If you use them once your hands have gone numb then they can burn you and/or give chill blanes. Also running with them in gloves is interesting at best. They are nice however prerun or warm-up jog.

3-The Balancing Act

It is tricky as once I am off running I heat up quickly despite my hands and feet feeling like they are about to drop off. This makes running uncomfortable. However, if I start to take off layers I can feel my core getting cold and further body parts begin to get pins and needles and go numb, even though I am pouring with sweat.

I have learnt that I either slow down and keep my layers so I do not overheat but do not work out as much or at as much intensity. Or I strip down a bit and really go for it. It pushes me to work harder to try and keep warm, however, I am yet to find a solution to stop my extremities from going cold and numb even if I feel like I am going to overheat.

The issue with taking a layer off is it is an awful feeling when you finish and begin to cool down and your legs have gone pale and your fingers are blue but sometimes you do just want to go for it and have an intense run without keeling over from heat exhaustion!

Over the winter months, I have opted for keeping a set of spare warm clothes on the radiators at home while I go out for a run. When I finish my main run I quickly dash inside my house and put the radiator clothes on and go for my cool-down jog around the village once these are on. I am still cold and numb but the feeling starts to come back when running around the village after having fresh warm clothes on while I jog. I realise this is not a convenient way of doing things for many as it doubles your laundry load! But seeing as I only do a long run once a week it is not too bad.

Hill and intervals are usually over pretty quickly so I can deal with numb hands and feet for half an hour or so. It is the long distances that wrapping up warm is a must!

4- Pre-run Preparations

Everything goes on the radiator for a good 15 minutes before running! Especially trainers, upside down so they are nice and toasty inside.

I make sure I eat a decent amount of time before I run not just before. Blood will be concentrated on the stomach otherwise and will not be pumping around my hands and feet.

I have a hot drink before I leave (usually a mouth full of hot water as I hate coffee and tea)

I warm up inside the house with jump lunges, jump squats, burpees or just mad dancing around the living room to the radio.

I put my feet on the radiator for a bit to try and warm them up. They are usually freezing cold all year round so this is slightly in vain.

All of these make you so so toasty that it's almost a pleasure to go running in winter!

5- Whilst Running

So if you are anything like me your feet and hands will go cold as soon as you go into the cold or after a few minutes of running. You can not really do much about this. Just make sure you are careful where you are putting your feet, most of the time I can not feel where I am treading.

This is met by a flood of blood to hands and feet after 4-6 miles. Great if you are doing a short run, you just stay cold. However, if you are doing a long run you are greeted with a hot flush of the hands and feet mid-run. As a result, they will burn and swell and more often than not make pins and needles. Always fun when you are trying to run! I slow my run or jog down a pace until the pins and needles have gone. Sometimes taking a layer off helps, but make sure it goes back on once the swelling and pain have gone or you will be very cold!

As far as I am aware there is nothing you can do about any of these bars try and forget about it all and keep on running. Run harder it will warm you up, you are outside for less time and it is best for your fitness. Or put your hands under your armpits or between your thighs if they get really bad, that usually brings back my little fingers which look as though they are going to abandon the rest of my body.

I find it is best to do interval sessions such as hill sprints rather than slow long runs (this is the main reason I tend to not do long runs in winter) to keep myself warm and even if I do get cold and numb it is only for a shorter length of time. There is nothing worse than being a few miles from home and going cold and not being able to feel the lower half of your legs. It makes for a very slow and depressing journey home.

7- Post-Run

As previously mentioned I have a set of clothes for a warm-down jog on the radiator at home waiting for me that I put on over the top of clothes I already have on (under my windproof jacket obviously!)

I put these on and then go and cool down properly.

I come home to a warm house and stretch off.

Taking off any sweaty clothing that is cooling down your skin is a must.

Do not sit on the radiator to heat up quickly chances are you will get chilblains and/or burn your bottom. Try to warm up slowly. Hard I know when you are frozen!

Do not get into a hot shower straight away! I have done this many a time to warm up and have burnt myself all over where I have gone numb, scalded skin is not an attractive look. Make sure the feeling is restored to hands, feet, arms and legs before hopping in.

Eat hot food and have a hot drink.

8- Do Not Be a Martyr

If you are running and it becomes unbearable GO HOME! It is not worth it.

If you are running an OCR or a race that has water in it and it is cold do not go into the water. The number of races I should have avoided the water but did not as I deemed it "pathetic and wimpish" not to do the whole course is an awful lot. You end up indefinably cold for the remainder of the race and for hours after. Again, not worth it.

A lot of people reading this will not have to go to such lengths to stay warm. Indeed I do not do this every time I go for a run! Only when it is very cold. Be sensible, wrap up, layers, prepare and look after yourself before, during and after your run/training session. You won't regret it!


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