Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ian's Cold Weather Tips

People all across my new home state of Virginia are FREAKING out because the highs this week are right around freezing and it's currently snowing as I look out the window (I thought I was in the south...).  Farther north on the east coast, it's a bit colder, if my Facebook feed full of New Jerseyans and New Englanders is to be trusted.  Nevertheless, it's gotten me thinking about and putting into place some of my best cold weather strategies for triathlon training.  I'm certainly not espousing any sort of reinvention of the wheel here; these are merely ideas, methods, articles of clothing, etc that I have either decided to try or tried by mistake or whatever else, and what's worked for me over the course of 4 years of college in Connecticut while rarely retreating inside for more than a few days at a time. Very few, if any of these ideas, are originally mine; I had to get them from somewhere.
The big takeaway here is that you don't have to retreat and hibernate from Columbus Day to April Fool's Day, nor do you have to resign yourself to the treadmill and trainer through those dates (note: this may not apply for Siberia or northern is only based off of the New Jersey to Connecticut region)
One obvious way to help yourself out is to focus on swimming when it's cold.  If you're a triathlete, this seems simple.  Assuming you don't swim at some sort of masochist club, you aren't outdoors in the winter time if you're in a cold climate (no, Florida, your overnight lows of upper 40s do not count). So there's your obvious've got three sports to choose from and one doesn't involve going out in the cold.
As for the bike and run, I'm cheap so I usually try to avoid sport-specific gear when I can.  What I mean is that very few articles of clothing aside from the obvious (bibs, cycling jersey, run shorts) are exclusively devoted to one or the other.  I'm pretty sure some of the accessories I have are meant for one versus the other, but I place a value on being able to use it for both if necessary.
When it comes to covering up, I'm a wimp. I may train in nearly anything but I end up over-dressing all the time, so I've definitely had my fair share of a selection of all of these things below. I also lose things a lot, so I buy new ones, which also means I've tried a number of different things.
Leggings/tights: Possibly the most important in my opinion, but perhaps one of the most overlooked.  I own a pair of knee warmers, two pairs of different thickness leg warmers, and probably 4 or 5 pairs of tights of varying thicknesses.  I pretty much always try to follow that old rule of thumb in cycling that under 60, cover the knees.  With cycling I don't like wearing tights either over or under my chamois, so that's usually my last line of defense. I prefer to wear knee or leg warmers. I honestly don't know which ones I have, but fleece lining is very, VERY nice. I have yet to ever really feel  I needed more except for a few select rides (which I'll explain later) As for running, I personally don't like pants, so it's either shorts or tights for me. If I have to run in pants, they have to be a tapered leg, or else I feel like MC Hammer. I have a few different weights of tights which definitely helps when trying to choose the appropriate attire, but my one pair of cold gear Under Armour have never really let me down in even the coldest of weather; I have never worn them on a run and thought "man I wish I had something warmer to wear." They can, however, be way the hell too warm in something like mid/upper 40s on a sunny, not-windy day. Special note to guys: they do make windproof briefs, but you can accomplish the same thing with a plastic shopping bag. It works, I swear.
Feet: I have neoprene toe booties or neoprene full booties for the bike. I think the neoprene is key especially when you're talking about a possible wet factor.  The full booties aren't THAT much warmer in my experience, but if you're mountain biking or the roads are wet they do a better job ensuring nothing gets in through the tops of your shoes. They also line up well with the leg warmers you most likely have on, while toe booties leave you with either having that ankle-gap freeze if you're wearing low socks or putting your socks over the leg warmers (neither of which is very pro, I'm told). In some circumstances, I have put the little hot packets in my booties if it's SUPER cold, but that's rare.  It's important to tape over the vents on your cycling shoes that are probably there (especially tri shoes) that are meant to keep your feet cool. Obviously, you don't want to keep your feet cool in the winter time, and you shouldn't be that concerned about aero or water draining from your shoes or whatever other stupid concerns you're going to bring to me. Another last minute solution if you go to Tucson for training camp in January and your girlfriend tells you not to worry, it's going to be plenty warm and you won't need your booties: a makeshift solution instead of booties is plastic bags inside your shoes to help block some of the wind. Just wrap the ends of your feet (or your whole foot if you don't wear a size 15) as best as you can. You'll look dorky with plastic baggie coming out the ankles of your shoe, but you'll look and feel much worse if you're turning back early because your toesies are cold. As for running, I don't really have much special, aside from maybe some meant-for-cycling SmartWool or similar material socks (not real wool, unless you want your shoes to become a biochemical weapon) if it's crazy cold. I've never really had a problem with cold feet when I'm running so long as they are dry, and even if they get wet, it's usually not that big of a deal. If it's cold and wet, I personally try to stay away from puddles and trails (a function of clumsiness more than anything), but if you're into that sort of thing, neoprene socks and/or gaiters would probably be your friend. I find that my feet tend to stay pretty warm to a fairly low temperature when I'm running though, probably because they're moving a lot.
Hands: I probably have 42 pairs of gloves devoted to running and/or biking, yet I always seem to have trouble finding two of the same kind when I'm ready to leave on a ride or run. Anyway, my gloves arsenal ranges from a pretty thin glove that feels almost like a warm-weather wicking material that just barely gives a tiny bit of protection from the elements to ski/snowboard gloves, which I have worn running (that looked less Kenyan than a FuelBelt and salt tabs on the visor (Kenyan=running translation of the cycling use of 'pro' as an adjective of style)). The important things to remember about gloves: two layers of thick gloves with little room between them will leave your hands FREEZING, almost like you don't have any gloves. This is a lesson I learn nearly every winter because I continue to forget (if one pair of gloves is warm, then two must be better?). My guess is it's something to do with messing with your circulation but still not having enough room to trap warm air inside.  If you need to double up, the best way is to use thin, tight gloves coupled with a looser, thicker glove. When running, remember that you probably don't need dexterity really so mittens are great in extra-cold temps. My warmest gloves are a pair of gloves with a mitten cover. It needs to be well below freezing for me to wear them. For biking, I don't really like the lobster claw gloves because they kind of creep me out, but some people do. I've heard they're wonderful, probably like my mitten-gloves. The thing that's tough about biking is that you need decent dexterity to shift and brake but your hands just sit there not getting a whole lot of blood flow. They also take the full force of the wind, sitting out there as the foremost part of your body, so wind-blocking in a good winter cycling glove is crucial. Another idea is to think outside the box here. My favorite gloves for running and biking that I own are actually a pair of neoprene gloves meant for hunting. Unlike some of the highest end lobster claw cycling gloves that run north of $50, these were $15 and have only failed me in below-freezing weather typically, where I use a double-layer system instead. I figured it couldn't hurt to try, and hunting, like biking, requires decent dexterity with otherwise not a whole lot going on for hand movement. The fact that they're neoprene means even in rain, spilled bottles, sweat, they're still pretty warm. In the coldest of cold weather, because I hate lobster claws, I've also tried my surfing wetsuit gloves. They were kind of slippery at first, but they worked and man, were my hands warm. To prove I'm not crazy, other athletes wear neoprene from wetsuits to keep warm.
Tops: LAYER. LAYER. LAYER DAMNIT. I can't stress it enough. It helps a lot to wear something really thin but maybe sleeveless under all your other layers too. This is actually where the cheaper knockoff performance apparel may come in handy because it doesn't breathe very well. I never understood the virtue of vests until I tried one, either. They do a spectacular job of helping keep the body warm and blocking wind, which in turn keeps blood flowing out to the extremities which keeps you from shouting expletives at your training buddies because you're in pain your hands are so cold. Vests also fold up better than a jacket to throw in the pocket of a cycling jersey should you get too warm. If you unzip a vest while you're running, it basically becomes like you don't have it on at all...minus the flapping and probably hitting you in the back. Otherwise, use some common sense here. Generally, thickness=warmth, but there's some flexibility with different materials. Some people might be more comfortable wearing one thick layer while I might rather wear three thin layers to accomplish the same thing...find what works, but I highly recommend staying away from cotton anywhere near the skin. It gets wet, you then get cold. Gross.
Vest-jacket-vest was windy that night. This also brings up a point about high-vis, which I'll discuss later.
Head/face: This is TOTALLY a preference thing, but I'll give you my take on it. I rarely feel like an earband is worth it, while others swear by them because they feel a hat makes them overheat. It's obviously your call. Like everything else, I own varying levels from the thinnest little skull cap to a fleece Under Armour beanie lined with cold gear (that I can't wear when running if the temp is above 10 degrees). There's also the keeping the face warm issue, and when should that occur. There are a LOT of people who swear by covering the mouth as soon as it hits 32 degrees because of a fear about their throat. Personally, I hate covering my mouth, and the only time I ever cover it is if the area around it is getting cold, and even then I just end up chewing on the inside of my mask. I do own a ski hood mask that I often pull down under my chin so it's really just a hood but my cheeks get a little extra protection. Your best bet, though, is to just grow a beard. (seriously) Didn't you ever notice that New England fishermen, Minnesota loggers, and anybody in Alaska always has a beard? It's nature's ski mask. You could buy one of these knitted fake beards , but then I would ridicule you mercilessly. I, unfortunately, cannot grow a beard because of my job, but when I have off for a few days or when I took off a week and a half in early January, my face was toasty warm behind even the very beginnings of a Viking mask, so I can only begin to imagine what a fully grown beard does for warmth. There is also the option of Vaseline or baby oil or whatever else, but the 14 year old with acne in me is terrified of that. I will say that Vaseline or Chapstick or Burt's Bees is nearly a necessity post-workout when it's cold unless you're down to have the red striped lips look going on.
I'm glad Bailey dresses like this rather than grow out her natural beard. At least, I think that's Bailey, or it might be the guy from a Tom Clancy novel.
Now that I've addressed how to dress (even though I haven't given you any definitive answers), here are some techniques/tactics/etc that work.
For running: yea...can't think of anything really, aside from the fact that if it's REALLY cold, be careful about higher intensity work. Think about pulling a steak out of the freezer and trying to stretch it, and then picture your muscles doing that. I have no idea the veracity of this analogy, but I heard it once and it made sense. I tend to get more little twings and twangs from running higher intensity in the cold. Maybe try to find more urban running areas with buildings to block wind, or trails (even though I said I'm too clumsy to run around possibly wet, cold trails, that shouldn't stop you) Otherwise, just deal. Running generates a lot of heat and while the first half mile may be miserable, you'll probably be shedding clothes by mile 2. You can also try YakTrax or something similar if you really get the urge to run on packed snow/ice. They're fun. You will run slower, though.
Cycling: BE CAREFUL if you're riding on roads near or below freezing, especially if there is moisture around from recent rain or snow or just melting snow. Especially in lower light conditions (when it's going to get colder, too), you may have trouble seeing patches of ice. As soon as it gets near freezing, I start to think twice and more methodically if I've got some serious intervals to do, such as trying to time them so they're in a sunnier stretch of road, with a wider shoulder (non-existent in southeastern Virginia), has less traffic, etc. With the right clothing though, I've ridden in temps as low as 5 degrees, so long as it's not windy (I hate wind, and cold wind just sucks. I don't care what you're wearing). Another option in the cold is to go mountain biking. Especially in the winter time, which is presumably the off season, you don't need to be as focused on putting out X watts in your fit-to-the-millimeter-but-going-to-ride-half-your-Ironman-on-the-bullhorns position, but you can go out and do long rides, even intervals if you know the trail well enough. With lower speeds and a bit more shelter from the wind due to the trees, mountain biking in the winter is pretty fun. Actually, riding in the snow is probably one of the most challenging but fun things I've ever done, even when I fell, because that was my exception to wearing tights when biking...I needed all the clothing I could get to keep me dry.
Run the lowest tire pressure you can...and go. And be prepared to walk sometimes unless you have 6 inch wide tires.(neoprene booties are a MUST for this)
Lastly, regardless of whether you're biking or running in the cold, there are two kind of major safety items beyond the obvious concerns about hypothermia or frostbite. First, it's usually lower light. I know in the winter time, I end up riding the trainer more not because of weather but because I don't ride my road bike at night...I just don't. I'll run at night, but I will deck myself out in every type of flashing light and reflective device possible, and I still live in an area that is developed enough that the roads have some sparse street lights that help. The important thing is that even around dawn/dusk, you're harder to see.  There, as much as reflective vests and bright colors help, contrast helps big time, even as much as just bright colors. The picture I have above where it was vest-jacket-vest, you'll notice that the blue jacket was nearly the opposite of the neon vest. Also, if you can get something bright or reflective that moves, even better. My glove-mittens I described, the mitten cover is actually a high-visibility yellow. That just makes it even more obvious to drivers that there's something coming their way, to see something bright and moving.
The other little safety concern is to always bring a little extra nutrition with you. You're going to burn more fuel than you realize in the cold. Your metabolic rate shoots through the roof just to keep you warm and at homeostasis, so your calorie needs may change a bit. It's also infinitely more dangerous to bonk in the cold for obvious're dressed to run in 30 degree weather, not to sit there helplessly waiting for your friend to pick you up. There are two very different levels of cold protection for running versus sitting that I don't think I need to elaborate on. Also, should you find yourself having fallen or slipped or whatever else, you may be in a semi-paralyzed state. Having a quick emergency burst of sugar can help. If you're really scared but into serious MTB/trail running/going on roads where nobody else does, you may even want to look into something like an EPIRB or Personal Locator Beacon. There are probably iPhone apps that do this too with the push of a button, but that requires being able to use a touch screen (harder than you think in the cold, borderline impossible at times) and that you have 3G (ok, maybe you have the iPhone 5 and can get 4G LTE and maybe I'm a little jealous of that, but that doesn't matter for this purpose), and while anywhere I'm going to go mountain biking or "trail" running in urban eastern Virginia will have full signal, you may not...and those other options are MUCH easier to use (actually push a button/flip a switch, not take off your glove, put the password in to unlock, swipe over to the app, realize you swiped one screen too far, go back, eventually find your "find me" app, then see the little thing in the upper left corner of your screen "Searching..." and watching your battery percentage plummet, all while wishing you'd paid more attention to what I said)
Stay warm, my friends!
From a duathlon I did once in March where the temperature was 27*F. My bottle turned to slush, but with hand warmer packets on my aerobars, I was set.

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