It's been a busy few weeks so I haven't had time to sit and type for awhile about the race I ran a few weeks ago - the Halifax Hypothermic Half Marathon, until today. Since then, I've talked to my friends and family about how much fun I had (despite it being my slowest half marathon to date), and the answer is inevitably:
"You did what??? You're crazy. I'd never do that!"
Yes, it was a -15 degree day. Yes, it was 21.1 kilometres in that weather. But I also had the most fun of any race I've run yet, and after about five minutes I was sweating and didn't feel the cold one bit. And by the time I reached the finish line, I was determined to run another Hypo Half next year.
Here are a few of the reasons why, if you'd been standing on the road in Cow Bay on February 5, 2012, you'd have seen not only me but close to 360 runners out for the race, and having a blast. Believe me, we're not crazy. We've just learned the secrets of running outside in winter weather!
Six tips for making your winter race more enjoyable:
1. Layer, layer, layer
After four winters of running outside, I've now figured out what to wear when, depending on how cold or warm it is. It's usually something I need to relearn each season, but I know that it's much better to start a run shivering than over-dressing and end up sweating, then freezing.
For race day, which was a -15 degree day, I opted to wear a base layer wicking turtleneck with a T-shirt and windbreaker on my top layer (I tend to prefer a jacket with zippable arms so I can remove them if I get too warm). I wore a pair of tights (I cut the heel and toes so it fit like a stirrup), socks and my regular running tights, along with gloves, mitts and a hat. I was a little worried, because I was shivering at the start line, but that was likely due to pre-race jitters. By kilometre 2 I was sweating and toasty warm, and actually had to take off my wool mittens.
That's the nice thing about layering: if you get too warm, you can always take off an extra pair of mitts and undo your jacket. Also remember though that you'll need to carry any extra gear or stow it away in a pocket. You can always pull it back on if you find you're cooling down later.
2. Run with friends
This year's Hypo Half was the first race I've ever run with friends. We set out at an easy pace, with no expectations other than that we'd treat it as a training run. If one of us wanted to peel off and pick up the pace later, we did. Running with friends is a great way to keep yourself distracted and encourage each other on the race course. It's also a good way to watch out for each other - just in case hypothermia or frostbite sets in.
3. Hydrate at the water stations
Because it's cold, you may feel like you aren't sweating as much as on a hot-weather run. But the reality is, you're probably losing just as much water as you would be on a warmer day. It's important to remember to hydrate just as often, particularly on race day. The problem is, your water may become frozen, especially if it's -15 degrees!
Case in point: I chose to run the Hypo Half with my water belt and run through water stations. But because my water was frozen, I ended up fighting with my water bottles and wasting time trying to even open them. Once they were open, I then had little to no water to drink.
4. Keep fuel warm
In fact, I spent so much time fighting with my water bottles that I didn't leave myself much time to take in fuels. And when I did, they were frozen into a gloopy mess. So, if you're taking in GU or gels rather than Shot Bloks or jelly beans, make sure to keep them in your mitt to warm them up at least 10 minutes before you plan to take them. You won't be stuck with a mouthful of cold goop when it comes time to fuel. But definitely fuel - you'll find your legs don't tire as easy and you have that extra push you need to keep going when your glycogen reserves run out.
5. Enjoy the day
Anyone who hasn't run a winter race probably thinks winter runners are nuts. The fact is, running a race in the middle of winter with almost 400 other runners is fun -- there was a sense of fellowship and excitement among all of us at the start line that wintry morning two weeks ago, while we waited for the starting gun to go off. It's a great way to celebrate being active and enjoying the outdoors while other folks are huddled up inside.
The race course for the Halifax Hypo Half was littered with onlookers and folks cheering on the runners - from a group of women dressed up in Mexican sombreros and dancing next to a fake palm tree, to another woman standing by the side of the road at kilometre 10 with a box of Kleenex for us runny-nosed runners, to another group of women in a van who kept driving ahead of the runners, then getting out, opening the doors and windows while they blared music and did a crazy dance. I made a point to thank all the volunteers and high-fived some of them, because their energy gave me an extra boost and made the event memorable.
6. Consider treating a winter race as a training run
Many runners I spoke to who ran the Hypo Half also said they treated the race as a training run for spring races. Because race day conditions can be unpredictable, it's best to go out there and just enjoy the day and celebrate your fitness, because you'll likely not be able to achieve a PB under winter conditions. This is of course a personal decision, but if you set out with no expectations, you're likely to enjoy the day and might even surprise yourself with your result, too!
Those are my tips based on my experiences, but for more suggestions, check out Runner's World 10 Tips For Running in the Cold.
Do you have any tips for running in the cold, or have a winter race story you'd like to share? I'd love to read your comments!