When winter rolls around, everybody generally goes into hibernation by stockpiling Twinkies, wrapping up in a Weezer Snuggie, and packing on the pounds. However, if you’re one of those people interested in staying in shape and you DON’T want to spend all your time on a treadmill, you’re going to have to brave the elements. Luckily, my friend Jim (the man who lost over 100 pounds and just completed his first IRONMAN this summer) was nice enough to put together this guest on how to exercise outside when it’s cold.
Take it away Jim!
Whether you are a cyclist, a runner, or just someone who wants to drop a few lbs. over the winter, laying down some base miles and putting in your cardio over the chilly months can only help. You can do this inside on a treadmill or an elliptical trainer, but if you ask me, being on those things is the exercise version of self gratification. You know the kind I mean.
I trained all winter this past year and raced a Christmas 5k, a February bike time trial with a half marathon the next day, and a full marathon in March, so I had to learn how to keep my cardio kickin’ through the frosty winter. I knew I couldn’t afford to slack off because I was on track to complete all the distances of triathlon there are, starting from a sprint distance, in one year.
I did my first sprint on August 23rd 2008, and completed my full Ironman on August 30 2009, doing Olympic and Half-Ironman distances along the way in September and May respectively. The detail-oriented among you will notice that it was in fact one year and one week, but the “one year” thing sounds better and I’m reasonably certain that no one cares. At least, no one takes sufficient notice of my Ironman finisher’s cap and shirt which I have not taken off since the race and constantly point to [NF note: hahahaha]
It’s also true that staying warm is mostly common sense, but I am, sadly, not a person to whom common sense has spoken in a loud voice through my life. Just ask my dad.
Having said that, in order to do this you are going to need some proper clothes. After all, you are made largely of water, and water likes to freeze around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s zero degrees for anyone who lives in a slightly less awesome country full of nerds who like numbers that make sense. Or 273 degrees Kelvin if you are a turbo nerd.
Start a little cold
My typical rule of thumb is to start my workout kinda chilly. If you step outside and you are toasty warm, when you get going you are going to be roasting. So you want to allow for your body to heat up during your workout.
Cyclists will want to be slightly chilly just like runners, but need to focus a bit more on the effects the wind will have due to their greater speed. Swimmers have the option of a full body wetsuit, but their best option in my opinion is an indoor pool.
Freddy got (cold) fingered
If you were a tree, your fingers would be your twigs. Far from the warmth of your sexy, toasty torso, by the time blood arrives at their outer reaches it’s had a lot of chances to radiate heat while traveling down your supple limbs.
Oh yeah, there’s a clothes for that.
My method for slightly chilly days in the 55-65 degree range is usually just to start my run in a fleece with my hands tucked into the sleeves. This may not be an option for every jacket, but as a man who has lost over 100lbs I have a rain jacket and a fleece that are far too big for me so this is an option. Typically when it’s just a little bit chilly, once I get going I’m warm enough.
If it’s a little colder, I will put on a pair of gloves. Sometimes I get hot, but my jacket has pit vents which can be opened to vent heat. A lot of times I’ll also push my sleeves up, imitating a look pioneered by Michael Jackson in the “Beat it” video. This lets me vent heat with my forearms and also lets the ladies know that I have an eye for style.
Ace of Base
When it gets even colder, it’s time to start thinking about a base layer. Base layers come in a lot of shapes and sizes and there is a right answer for everyone, but I bought a Patagonia Capilene 3 layer. The important thing to remember is that you want a wicking base layer. Cotton long johns are going to get wet and be heavy, saggy, and cold. You need something that is designed to keep you warm even when it’s wet.
When I finished my February half marathon in my base layer, there was frozen sweat on it’s slightly pushed up sleeves but I was toasty warm. Thanks for wicking, base layer!
Another great option is wool, and some pretty cool wooly base gear is made by Smartwool. I bought my
Patagonia synthetic base layer because it was cheaper by a large margin than the Smartwool option at REI, but wool has the advantage of not getting stinky. Wool is also historically harder to clean. You can’t just toss a merino wool garment into the washer and dryer unless you want it to come out being the proper size for your house cat.
The Smartwool stuff, though, is reported to be resistant to this phenomenon, and as an owner of several pairs of Smartwool socks, I can attest that they are still human sized as well as quite awesome. I don’t have a Smartwool base layer, but I assume they wash just fine based on the company’s claims. I definitely want one.
There are also options from companies like Under Armour, but I am even less familiar with their products. I do know that they have a letter “u” in “Armour” which means “European fancypants” even though they are and always have been an American company. Hey, business is business!
During a cold-weather running event, people will shed clothes like crazy, often times leaving them on the street. I try to get a friend to come watch my race so that I can toss clothes to them if necessary, but usually I just start cold and warm up without having to drop anything. I am far too poor to be dropping expensive cold weather gear like that.
Try to catch me ridin’ chilly
I much prefer to be running than riding bikes in the winter cold, so last year I did a cyclist- and ironman-specific indoor spinning class at Athletic Training Services under the watchful eye of Tony Myers. It was a two-hour base building class from 5:00-7:00am and it tended to kick my ass. I’m lucky to have a local cyclist spin class like this to go to so I don’t have to do the spin classes they have at gyms.
At the ATS spin class we watch DVDs of previous Grand Tour cycling events and ride bikes with real cycling saddles and clipless pedals just like a real bike. I also got to meet and ride with people who had done multiple Ironman races as well as sub 3hr marathoners. I also got to get cycling advice and coaching from Tony. I’m not sure I’d have gotten as much from a big-box gym’s spin class.
This year, however, I’m planning to ride outside much more with my buddy Chris Kelly, who believes that
there is no such condition as too cold. I’m planning to invest in some heavier gloves and a balaclava, in addition to my usual cycling cap, gloves, and glasses.
Wrap it up
Well that about wraps it up. Make sure you are layered, start a little cold, and get out there and exercise regularly. When spring comes around you’ll be looking hotter and going faster than ever!
Do we have any winter runners out there? Anybody sick of treadmills? Let’s hear it. Do you want to train like Drago in Rocky IV, or do you want to train like Rocky!?
1st photo from JPCTalbot