“The best treatment for frostbite is avoidance by dressing properly. Too late for prevention? Rewarming is the way to go.”

Running In The Cold
by Stephen M. Pribut, DPM

 

 

Snow Dog

“Hoping For Springtime”

Cold is relative. A chilly relative at that. Within reason, at moderate temperatures, what is cold for one person may not be cold for another. And of course, if you are sitting still watching an event rather than participating in the event, it is quite a different experience. You should think of yourself as being 20 degrees warmer when running in contrast to just standing still. In most cases dressing for that estimated warmer temperature will work well. These temperatures are more conducive to moderate distance runs though, then speed work. And again, remember, you'll generate more heat while running than walking, so the experience, and the clothing requirements are different. And, while walking, you won't feel 20 degrees warmer.

While endurance running is possible in the cold, speed work is not a good idea for a number of reasons. Your muscles need to be warmed up sufficiently before the more intense contractions of speed work. It is not as easy to do that in cold and extremely cold weather, and the ambient temperature will keep lowering the skin temperature. Wearing bulky coverings is not something that makes you feel like doing speed work and these layers create restrictions to free movement. You can still leave your comfort zone and probably reach your lactate threshold without much of a problem for some intense medium distance runs.

When it comes time for your October or early November marathon, don't forget that training you did all summer will leave likely leave you feeling a bit chilled for your marathon. Bring along some extra layers that you can toss as you warm up.

Layering will go a long way in helping you stay warm. Up to 25% or more of your body heat may be lost from your head, so wearing a hat is important. Wool tube hats are perfect for the chilly temperatures. Gloves are helpful also. Keeping your body as dry as possible will allow your clothes to act as a better insulator and keep you more comfortable. This is another one of many reasons for which we still recommend wickable layers. The inner layer should be a synthetic wickable fiber such as coolmax, thermax or other synthetic.

As you read this, keep in mind the factors that are calculated into cold injury risk are:

  • Air Temperature
  • Wind speed
  • Moisture

Cold Rain and Snow

Make sure your entire body is well protected. While running on extremely cold and snow covered ground, you may have noticed how cold your feet can feel. Try to run on snow free ground. Be extra careful when it has snowed or if rain has frozen. The slippery road surface can result in falls and injuries. Wear wicking, dry socks. In many cases polypropylene or acrylic can "wick" moisture away and are helpful. Coolmax or Thermax are particularly good to wear in weather like this. Immediately following your run, change to a dry pair of socks. Cold and wet feet lose warmth quicker than cold and dry feet. Water conducts heat away from the body much better than air.

Polypropylene and goretex clothes are an aid to keeping your body warm and dry. The wicking action of polypropylene is excellent. Combined with a light weight goretex suit - in moderate cold you can run comfortably without the necessity of old fashioned thick layering. When it is not too cold, one layer of a polypropylene shirt below a sweat shirt should be enough for your upper body and polypropylene or lycra tights should suffice for your legs. When it becomes very cold, goretex or nylon will help lessen the effect of wind chill. Use an inner layer of polypropylene, and optionally a long sleeve tea shirt as a middle layer, then the outer wind breaking shell of goretex or nylon. For the legs, you may add sweat pants over a polypropylene set of tights and if it is exceptionally cold you can substitute Goretex pants or nylon for the outer layer. Goretex is probably the ideal outer layer. Goretex is a breathing fabric and and may help keep you more comfortable than nylon. Nylon does not breathe and may contribute to excess perspiration. A ski cap or ski mask can be used on your head, and don't forget gloves. Some runners use the Bill Rogers recommended painters gloves for relatively mild weather. For colder weather, inner polypropylene gloves and an outer layer of mittens can be used.

Don't forget about the wind chill. Moving sports such as roller blading, ice skating, skiing and even running can contribute to a heightened wind chill factor. Running with the wind reduces the effect of wind chill. It is a good idea to run into the wind to start off your run, and then return with the wind at your back. This will lessen the chilling effect of the wind on your body after you have perspired, and make the return trip easier. Don't forget that during and after long winter runs, you will still require fluid replacement. Skin protection should also be used. Sun block and moisturizer will help prevent the development of a grizzled and weather worn "runner's face."

Don't Eat the Balaclava: Keep That Face Warm Instead

A balaclava is a fine idea to use to cover your face, and keep the cold air from triggering bronchospasm. A number of articles over the years have found that it isn't merely breathing cold air that contributes to asthma and bronchial constriction, but "facial cooling" that triggers the response. This is considered a reflexive triggering of the vagus nerve. Facial cooling can trigger other vagal nerve reactions, including slowing up of heart beat, which will limit your ability to exercise. While we do not recommend speed work in the cold weather, you may as well be exercising optimally. A Balaclava head covering, in addition to a hat can help. In severe cold you can add a face mask. Other areas on the web offer substantial advice and information on exercise induced asthma, so we will not replicate them here. Make sure you have clearance from your physician for the exercise you do, and the conditions in which you do it. And yes, you shouldn't eat the Balaclava That is a head covering. Baklava is what you may be looking for, that is a tasty snack, which may help replenish your carb stores and it has a small amount of protein with the use of walnuts and almonds in the recipe. (Although of course we still recommend a protein/carb liquid drink after intense or long work outs.). For a Baklava Recipe we have one up on the blog.

Hazards:

The shorter hours make for earlier darkness and few daylight hours. The more acute angle the sun makes with the horizon, in most areas, has the available light often looking considerably different. Balance is impacted by light availability, particularly in the older runner. If you have had repeated ankle sprains, you may have a proprioceptive (joint position sense) defect and will run better with less danger of re-injury with full daylight.

Make sure you have enough fuel by eating or drinking your usual pre-workout shake. Moisture will still come off of your body and you'll need to replace fluids to avoid dehydration. Most people only think of this happening in the hot summertime, so don't forget that it can also happen in the dead of winter.

Ice and snow, can of course make you more likely to slipping. The rule for ice is "don't run on it". If you really want to run on ice, some people recommend studs or other devices to lessen slipping. I recommend Ice Skates and skating rather than running. It is possible to run on snow, albeit slowly. Your gait will be different, your running stride will be a bit wider and shorter to give more stability. You'll still slip, and if you try to go too fast, you'll slip more and could end up with a hamstring or groin strain.

Hypothermia is a loss of core body temperature to a point at which many body functions are impaired. Proper clothing, hydration and fuel will go a long way in preventing this in most runners. Those proceeding at slower paces, walking or hiking, will be in greater danger, because of lower generation of activity created body heat. The initial signs of mild hypothermia include shivering. Shivering which can be stopped voluntarily is a sign of mild hypothermia. This often indicates a body temperature of 97F degrees to 98.6F degrees. Below this level, coordination may begin to get impaired, it may be difficult to perform complex tasks with your hands, and goose bumps along with worse shivering can occur. And it only gets worse from there. A severe stage can mimic death ( or result in death) with lack of apparent breathing, lack of palpable pulse, dilated pupils, rigidity, and a comatose state. But long before this, you've stopped running.

Rick Curtis on the Action Guide to Hypothermia warns of the "-Umbles" - stumbles, mumbles, fumbles, and grumbles which show changes in motor coordination and levels of consciousness. This is more of a danger while walking or hiking. But if you end up walking back, because you've gone too far, it could be you.

Frostbite and wind chill are discussed below.

Be careful out there! Know the temperature and dress appropriately. Don't exceed your fitness level and distance on your cold weather runs. Don't go further out than you can comfortably return. There is significant danger in being dressed for a run and ending up walking for a significant distance.

Let's try to categorize temperature and clothing recommendations:

Temperature Based Recommendations

Moderately Cold (40 - 60 Degrees)

One layer is probably adequate. This layer may range from a singlet, tee-shirt, long sleeved tee shirt, or sweat shirt plus shorts. Wickable fibers are always recommended. At slower speeds you'll want more clothes and may decide to use two layers. Lycra lightweight tights will be helpful at the low end of the scale and an optional hat also at the low end.

Chilly Cold (25 - 39 Degrees)

Two layers are helpful in this near freezing and sub-freezing temperature range. An under-layer of light to moderately heavy tights of a variety of synthetic fibers combined with upper body polypropylene, coolmax or thermax long sleeve shirts and an optional light weight Goretex jacket or other wind breaking jacket. A hat and gloves should also be worn.

Bone Chilling Cold (10 - 24 Degrees)

Hat and Gloves go at the top of the list and an optional additional head covering hood. Three layers are usually worn in this temperature range. Some will wear light weight synthetic gloves under a goretex cover. Many glove options exist. Upper torso will be well covered with a synthetic long sleeved shirt or two or some other middle layer and a wind breaker over layer. Legs might need tights and a wind breaking outer cover.

A significant amount of body heat can be lost through the head, if uncovered. Keeping your head covered will help keep body heat and circulation directed to areas where it is really needed. The best material for your hat is wool or synthetic material that will wick away moisture. It is important to protect all areas from exposure. The areas most vulnerable are the head, hands and feet. There have been cases of penile injury from cold also. Be careful with your choice of uninsulated shorts. Underwear with an insulated front panel can be worn if needed.

You may use a balaclava and additional neck covering.

Should I Stay In Or Should I Go (9 Degrees to -9 degrees) Hat and Gloves. Additional head covering hood. Balaclava. Three layers for this temperature range. Some will wear light weight synthetic gloves under a goretex cover. Many glove options exist. Upper torso will be well covered with a synthetic long sleeved shirt or two or some other middle layer and a wind breaker over layer. Legs might need tights and a wind breaking outer cover.

A significant amount of body heat can be lost through the head, if uncovered. Keeping your head covered will help keep body heat and circulation directed to areas where it is really needed. The best material for your hat is wool or synthetic material that will wick away moisture. It is important to protect all areas from exposure. The areas most vulnerable are the head, hands and feet. There have been cases of penile injury from cold also. Be careful with your choice of uninsulated shorts. Underwear with an insulated front panel can be worn if needed. You may use a balaclava and additional neck covering.

Slap In The Face Cold (Below 10 Degrees)

Here you'll need layers as above and then some. A balaclava and additional neck covering can be helpful. Fleece pant linings or shirts can be helpful. Use a protective upper torso and lower torso outer wind breading lining. And be very careful. Frostbite is a greater danger in this zone. It can also occur in the three ranges above. Warmer gloves will definitely be required.

Equipment (options)

Remember to dress in layers as we've mentioned. Moisture wicking is essential in all of the layers that touch you especially.

Head:

Hat: Wool, Fleece. Baseball cap with Visor to shield from light and glare if necessary.

Balaclava.: Light weight (expedition weight is also available to fit over light weight for extreme conditions)

Sunglasses: with full UV protection.

Neoprene Face Mask

Ski Goggles: for your antarctic tour races.

Hands: Lined gloves, or double pair with under poly pro, down mittens, Outer Goretex mittens

Feet:

Socks: You can wear 2 pairs of socks. Make certain that you choose wicking material for the socks. The inner layer should be a thin layer of nylon, coolmax, thermax, or smart wool type material. Stay away from cotton.

Underwear: Wicking materials, no cotton. Polypropylene, coolmax, lycra, thermax, etc.

Mid-layer: Fleece liners - light weight, medium weight or heavy weight. Jacket and pants. Zippers.

Outer: Goretex Jacket, Pants for windbreaker. Down Parka, Pants if necessary. Lined, with hood.

 

What Workouts Are Best In The Cold?

Your muscles, tendons and ligaments are going to be stiffer, less compliant and harder to warm up. Don't expect to do hard, fast speedwork in bone chilling cold. Your ideal work out for this weather is going to be slow running, with a gradual increase in speed. And you really can't warm up properly inside, you need to do your warmup outside, so that you don't go outside to the sudden shock of the cold, bathed in sweat.

Moderate paced runs are probably going to be the best. Tempo runs can also work well. Track intervals, not so much, unless you are on an indoor track! Stay warm, run at a comfortable pace, and get some distance in while you are protectively and properly clothed.

 

Frostbite

Frostbite results from an exposure to cold over time. The colder it is or the lower the wind chill factor the quicker frostbite will occur. Freezing begins in the tissues when the deep temperature reaches 10 degrees celsius. Tissues that are frozen below minus five degrees are not likely to survive rewarming. Humidity and wind chill both increase the adverse effect of the cold.

Frostbite may be classified into 4 stages, which are similar to that of burn classification:

First degree: redness without necrosis (without death of tissue)

Second degree: blister formation

Third degree: necrosis of the skin (death of tissue)

Fourth degree: gangrene development, requiring amputation or autoamputation

“The best treatment for frostbite is avoidance! Dress properly! Too late for prevention? Rewarming is the way to go.”

When frostbite occurs, there is usually little or no pain. The affected area becomes numb and stiff. When the injured body part is re-warmed it will become reddened, swollen, and painful. Blisters may develop and other changes, edema may occur over the next 1 to 2 days. The development of skin necrosis or gangrene may occur over the next several days. The persistence of coldness and numbness in an area surrounded by red and swollen tissue is frequently a harbinger of impending gangrene. Delimitation of the extent of gangrene may take up to 30 days.

Immediate Treatment

The best treatment for frostbite is avoidance by dressing properly. If frostbite occurs, the most frequently mentioned treatment is rapid re-warming. The re-warming should be accomplished by placing the affected area in warm water. The temperature of the water should be between 40 and 44 degrees Centigrade. Complete rewarming has been estimated to take about 20 minutes (Principles of Surgery, Schwartz et. al.). Avoid rubbing the affected area and do not expose the frostbitten area to warmer temperatures. Elevation of the affected area can help avoid swelling. A sterile environment is helpful to avoid infections. Tetanus prophylaxis is recommended. A high percentage of long term neurovascular problems is expected. This includes recurrent pain, digital temperature changes, and cold sensitivity.

Don't Forget The Wind chill: It's colder than you think!


 Windchill Calculator:

Air Temperature  
Wind Speed 

Wind Chill Temperature:
 

Windchill Calculator: National Weather Service (NWS). For calculations below 50 F degrees and above wind of 3 mph. Calculator formula is for 5 feet above ground, characteristics of human face, and without the effect of sun (which may increase perception of temperature sensation and lessen the impact of windchill), essentially made for night time accuracy. The chart below is based on a combined effort of researchers in the United States and Canada in 2000. This revision was based on human research performed on a treadmill in a wind tunnel. The original research on Frostbite was performed by Antarctic explorers in 1945 who measured the impact of temperature and wind on water in a plastic cup suspended from a high pole.

The formula currently used to determine the wind chill is:

Wind Chill = 35.74 + 0.6215T - 35.75V0.16 + .4275TV0.16

where T=temperature (°F) and V=wind velocity (mph).

or for Celsius (Centigrade):

Wind Chill = 13.12 + 0.6215T – 11.370.16 + .3965TV0.16

where T=temperature (°C) and V=wind velocity (kilometers per hour).

 

National Weather Service (NWS) Windchill Chart
WCF
 

 

Wind Chill Chart (older data)

Wind      Temperature(F)
(knt) 40   35   30   25   20   15   10    5    0   -5  -10  -15  -20  -25  -30

5: 36 30 25 19 14 8 3 -2 -8 -13 -19 -24 -30 -35 -40 10: 26 20 13 7 1 -6 -12 -18 -25 -31 -37 -44 -50 -56 -63 15: 20 13 6 -1 -7 -14 -21 -28 -35 -42 -49 -56 -63 -70 -77 20: 16 9 2 -6 -13 -20 -28 -35 -42 -50 -57 -64 -72 -79 -86 25: 13 6 -2 -9 -17 -25 -32 -40 -47 -55 -63 -70 -78 -85 -93 30: 11 4 -4 -12 -20 -28 -35 -43 -51 -59 -66 -74 -82 -90 -98 35: 10 2 -6 -14 -22 -30 -37 -45 -53 -61 -69 -77 -85 -93 -101 40: 9 1 -7 -15 -23 -31 -39 -47 -55 -63 -71 -79 -87 -95 -103

Wind chill Factor - Based on Wind in Miles per hour

Actual
Temp(F degrees)             Wind (miles per hour

calm 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
50 48 40 36 32 30 28 27 26 40 37 28 22 18 16 13 11 10 30 27 16 9 4 0 -2 -4 -6 20 16 4 -5 -10 -15 -18 -20 -21 10 6 -9 -18 -25 -29 -33 -35 -37 0 -5 -21 -36 -39 -44 -48 -49 -53 -10 -15 -33 -45 -53 -59 -63 -67 -69 -20 -26 -46 -58 -67 -74 -79 -82 -85 -30 -36 -58 -72 -82 -87 -94 -98 -102

 

Additional Information and References:

Dr. Pribut's Top Ten Winter Running Tips

Outdoor Action Guide To Hypothermia

National Weather Service PDF Brochure

NWS Q&A on Windchill

Facial Cooling enhances exercise-induced bronchoconstriction in asthmatic children. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2004 May; 36(5): 767-71 Zeltoun, M et. al.

 

Copyright © 1996-2011 Stephen M. Pribut

 

 
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Copyright 1995-2011 Stephen M. Pribut