Baby it’s cold outside!
Today is January 9th, 2022 and it’s the 3rd week of winter. The unpredictability of winter weather can pose difficulties for the safety of runners.
Today was ‘supposed’ to be a race day. It’s not because of another four letter word, snow. Snow which melts a bit, then re-freezes and becomes known as ‘sleet’, or little pellets of ice. If it doesn’t re-freeze on its journey from the clouds to the ground, it arrives instead as ‘freezing rain’. If air turbulence bounces the precipitation up and down repeatedly for a prolonged period, allowing the snow/rain/sleet particles to melt, freeze, melt again, refreeze and merge with other particles as it hits them, we wind up with hail. Hail is pretty rare as far as precipitation goes, but it has been known to destroy cars, roves, crops, windows and even kill people or animals not fortunate enough to find shelter in time.
You probably recall the terrible fate that befell a group of runners in China last year.
On May 22nd, 2021 21 Chinese ultra-marathoners died from exposure to freezing temperatures. The ill-fated 100K race took place at 9am at the Yellow River Stone Forest in the Gansu province of China. The forecast that day predicted some wind and rain, but a freak winter storm caught the participants off guard at a mountainous section of the course. The unfortunate runners were pelted by hail, heavy rains and gales as the temperatures sharply plummeted three hours after the start of the race.
Two of the casualties included 31-year old Liang Jing, one of the most accomplished ultramarathoners in China, and 34 year-old Huang Guanjun a hearing-impaired Paralympian marathoner.
172 runners went missing in the limited visibility, but were found by rescue teams before they succumbed to the elements. 6 ‘comparatively lucky’ runners were rescued by local sheep herder Zhu Keming. He had been sheltering the storm in a cave were he stashed emergency supplies when he saw one of the participants. As he guided the man to the cave, four other runners arrived. A fire was built. Zhu then rescued a sixth man. The four men and three women warmed themselves and dried their wet clothes until the storm passed.
There are two things to keep in mind here.
1. You cannot predict the weather to 100% certainty. You can only make an educated guess based on available data. The officials running the Yellow River Stone Forest 100K made a horrible, bad call on allowing the race to start when they received late-breaking information of worsening storm conditions. As a result, good people died, and charges of criminal negligence were filled against the organizers of the race.
2. Expect the unexpected. Ultramarathoners tend to know their stuff, but sometimes that also leads to overconfidence. I cannot imagine running 62 miles with an impending storm wearing only shorts and a light jacket, or worse, no jacket at all. Yet some chose to because they were comfortable wearing the lighter gear. It is better to have what you don’t need, than to need what you don’t have. I have already had seasoned runners chide me about my large waist pouch, but it’s my choice to carry gear if I believe I may need it. I’m a Clydesdale, and I’m also not the fastest horse in the race.
My late mother used to tell the temperature by the calendar. It didn’t matter if it was one of those weird January days when the temperature nearly hit 60°F (16°C) and it was sunny. You had to put on six layers, gloves, a hat, boots, and a 12′ knitted scarf that you could wrap around your neck four times and still trip on. The woman, God rest her soul, had no clue! You dress accordingly and everyone has a different comfort level. Listen to your body! I have seen people run outdoors in winter wearing shorts, while others looked like they were dressing for an expedition to the North Pole.
You can’t skip a season of running because it’s cold outside, and no one wants to run like a deranged hamster on a treadmill for months. So sign up for those winter races because a runner runs and it’s fun to race with your friends and peers. Just dress accordingly.
The key is to wear layers, and have a hat and gloves SHOULD YOU NEED THEM.
You want to keep your core temperature at 98.6°F (37°C) and protect your skin from frostbite in cold temperatures. When you are done with your run, you want to quickly change into warm dry clothing so keep a change of clothes (including socks) in your vehicle.
If you are running alone in winter, keep distances SHORT, and stick to well traveled trails. These is nothing wrong with doing a morning 5K followed by an afternoon or evening 5K. You just don’t want to get injured or stranded miles away from help.
If you are running in darkness, wear reflective clothing and use a light. Options include headlamps, sneaker lights, LED rope-vests, blinker bands, or a simple flashlight. Just make sure you can see and be seen.
Wear appropriate footwear, with optional ice-cleat clamp-ons for icy conditions. You can even purchase neoprene toe-warmers to wear over your socks.
Running outside in winter doesn’t have to be a bad experience as long as you dress smart and always keep personal safety in mind!
You can find me at these upcoming local races.
Ugly Mudder 9.5K Trail Race February 19 @ 10:00 am Reading PA (still tentative due to my hamstring issue)
Be sure to check back on January 30th 2022 for another article.
As always, I wish you success and happiness!