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Jan. 30, 2014
Surviving the Polar Vortex: Cold Weather Running Tips From the Clif Bar Pace Team
The winter of 2013 – 2014 has arguably been one of the coldest on record.

Temperatures across the country are dipping well below zero (without the wind-chill) and even places that don’t typically see snow are reporting record low temps. The term “polar vortex,” normally reserved for meteorologists and scientists, has become a part of our daily lexicon. (For the record, a polar vortex is also known as a polar cyclone, and is typically something that occurs in the upper troposphere and stratosphere. It is a bit of a misnomer for our actual weather conditions, but doesn’t it sound fun?)

In the midst of our general concerns – “Will my kids ever go to school again?” “Will the roads ever be clear again?” and “Really, I’m just tired of being cold,” we runners have an entirely new set of concerns as well.

We’re signed up for spring races, we generally despise treadmills, and we really just miss our daily routines and visits with nature. So the question looms: Can it be done? Can we, indeed, challenge the polar vortex to a run and come out the other side?

We say, Yes!

We’ve polled five of the coldest members of the Clif Bar Pace Team: Ann, from Green Bay, Wisconsin; Shannon, from Denver, CO; Bill, from Chicago, IL; and Kyle, from Cincinnati, OH. Team Coordinators Darris and Star also threw in their cold two cents from their home base of Columbus, OH, with Star calling upon her early days as a runner in Buffalo, NY for some extra tips as well.

From gear to frozen water bottles to nutrition to the post-run warm-up, we’re here to get you back outside and running – even if it will look like a scene from “Frozen.”

Dressing the Part
Pacers seem to agree, the extremities are key, but no part should go uncovered.

Kyle: Wear the right clothes! Layer up (gloves included), wear clothes that wick, avoid cotton and ventilate by shedding layers (1/4 zips are great to ventilate quickly). You want to be comfortable…not freezing and not too hot. (Yes, it can happen. You can actually OVERDRESS for a -3 degree run.)

Shannon: Make sure that you have really good gloves, socks, and headwear. Most runners think that the warmth is in a great jacket/pant combo. But your fingers/toes are typically the first to chill and can affect your body temp. Keep these areas warm and your overall body will most likely also stay warm.

Ann: My hands get very cold and numb when the temperature dips below freezing (I have a condition called Reynaud’s), but I keep them toasty warm with hand warmers. Just open the pack 20 minutes before your run, pop them in your mittens and you'll be all set!

Ann: Running shoes are wonderfully breathable, but cold temperatures and wind go right through the shoes. Keep your feet warm with wool running socks and for an added touch, buy some duct tape, cut a small strip and place it across the forefoot of your shoes. Make sure to do this a day ahead of time to make sure the glue is secure. (Team leaders Darris and Star tried this for the first time on Saturday, and the difference was unbelievable. They will never do a winter run without duct taping their shoes again.)

Star: I have one of those “animal face” hats (a raccoon) that are really made for kids. I wear a breathable running cap as a first layer, but then put my animal hat on top. Not only is it soft and thick, but the ear flaps cover my entire ear, and I can tie it at the bottom to keep wind out, and then untie it to breathe if I overheat. Plus, how often do adults get to wear that kind of thing?

Hydration and Nutrition
No doubt, it’s hard to keep those fluids fluid during sub-zero runs. We all have different tricks, and we hope one works for you!

Kyle: Despite the cold weather, it’s important to stay hydrated. Running in the cold, no matter what temperature, you will still heat up and lose electrolytes. Remember to drink before you run because most public sources of water will be turned off in the winter. If you carry your own fluids, drop a salt tablet in your favorite sports drink - it will lower the freezing point.

Shannon: Use your "finish line" solar blanket to keep fluids from freezing. I decided many years ago to cut a piece of the solar blanket and tape it to the back of my hydration/bottle pack. This generates heat and keeps your fluid from freezing.

Bill/Ann: Run with your water bottle belt/pack between layers in order to keep the water from freezing. You may look like a hunchback, but at least you'll be hydrated!

Darris: In the winter, we take our fluids out of the refrigerator the night before the run and let them come to room temperature. It takes them longer to get to the point of freezing that way, and who wants to drink ice-cold liquid when they’re still warming up anyhow?

Shannon: Taking CLIF SHOT gel or using CLIF SHOT Bloks on the run? Warm them up first. When I know I am close to taking a gel I will slide it into my glove. The body heat will warm up the gel and make it more fluid. Bloks can be sucked on like a piece of candy until they’re warm and chewy again.

Star: Gloves? I guess that works, but I will admit that I usually keep a gel or two in my sports bra in the winter; I put it in a plastic sandwich bag first so the ends of the foil packaging don’t scratch.

Staying Motivated and Safe, Plus Some Random Helpful Tips
So now you’ve got tips for keeping yourself and your fluids warm – but how do you find the motivation to actually go out into that stuff?

Ann: Find someone who REALLY likes you. Ask that person to drive you xx miles away and drop you off, so you can run back home with the polar vortex wind at your back.

Kyle: Start your run by running into the wind. The wind at your back will lessen the threat of hypothermia and will provide a much appreciated tailwind at the end of your run. More importantly, be visible. Many of us log our runs early in the morning or at night, so wear eye catching clothing, a reflective vest, or a flashing light on the front and back of you. The high visibility will provide you and the people around you the appropriate spatial awareness. Always tell someone where you are running and when you expect to return.

Bill: Not sure the reason why, but running in cold weather with Halls cough drops seems to help with breathing. A few friends started running with Halls cough drops awhile ago, and they’ve never gone back.

Bill: When wind-chill is a factor, we will turn the running into a game. When the Garmin beeps the mile we change running direction. This way we do not overheat (running with the wind) or freeze (running into the wind).

Star: When I lived in Buffalo and had to get in longer runs, I would run five mile loops that never took me more than two miles from home. That way, if I got too cold or into trouble, I was never too far from safety. An added plus: on twenty milers, I would sometimes put clothes in the dryer between loops, and change my top jacket out before a new loop for an extra toasty boost.

Darris: We are still big on dryers at our house. The post-run chill can set in quickly even in a warm shower. When we get home from extra-chilly runs, we’ll throw two fleece blankets in the dryer for five minutes, then wrap ourselves in them to help bring our body temperature back up a bit faster. The trick is not falling asleep while you’re doing it – so cozy!

Shannon: Most importantly, you can’t overlook the role attitude plays. A few years ago, I was facing a tough race in even tougher conditions, and asked a friend for advice. He ended up giving me the best advice I have ever received when it comes to running in the elements: "You cannot change what Mother Nature is going to hand you but you can control your attitude during the run." To this day I still live by that every day.

So friends: be warm, be safe, and be visible, but get out there and meet that frozen moment!

Visit the Clif Bar Pace Team page to learn more about the leaders featured in today’s blog.

We look forward to running with you!
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We like getting our heart rates up, taking a big breath of fresh air, savoring delicious food. But we also love telling stories and here's where we type 'em up. (BTW, it works both ways; leave a comment—please and thank you.)

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