Winter Training Part 2- Stefan Timms

Beat Old Man Winter

Unless you are lucky enough to live somewhere that is warm all year round, chances are you will have to deal with cold at some point in your training and racing this season.  Besides the dangers associated with cold exposure, frigid temperatures can affect athletic performance as well.
The human body has a built in thermostat that functions similar to the one in your home.  The hypothalamus gland, located in the brain, is this thermostat and it strives to maintain a stable core body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit based on feedback received from the skin, the nervous system, blood vessels, and other physiological receptors.  When the hypothalamus senses an environment that threatens to change the core temperature of the body, it initiates processes that influence heat loss or preservation by the body.
Extreme cold temperatures may cause the body to sacrifice blood flow to peripheral tissues to maintain a stable core temperature and sustain life. The risks of exercising in the cold include bronchial irritations from increased ventilation of cold dry air and in extreme cases, frostbite to the hands, face, or other exposed skin.
While exercise produces metabolic heat that helps to maintain stable body temperatures and increases circulation to the periphery, prolonged exercise in the cold provides some challenges.  The first problem is that faster movement though the air, especially while cycling, increases wind chill and therefore heat loss.  This can be overcome by wearing an outer layer of clothing that blocks wind such as Gore-Tex®.  Covering skin, especially the extremities will help to reduce heat loss to the wind and cold as well.
Another obstacle to overcome when exercising in cold temperatures is avoiding an increased heat loss to conduction from sweat soaked and cold clothes next to the skin.  Avoid wearing cotton that will trap moisture.  Instead choose layers that will wick moisture away from the skin such as special polyester blends like CoolMax®.  While wearing wicking layers is important, the outer wind resistant layer should be breathable to allow wicked moisture to escape and evaporate, keeping you dry.
Fluid and carbohydrate needs are increased during cold weather racing and training as well.  You may not notice fluid loss due to the colder and drier air so a conscious effort must be made to consume extra liquids.  While fluid loss from sweating may be decreased in the cold, more moisture is lost through exhalation than in normal conditions.  In addition, working muscles utilize glycogen at a higher rate in the cold due to increased adrenaline produced by the body in response to cold stress.  This increased glycogen utilization leads to a higher risk of hypoglycemia without adequate carbohydrate ingestion.  Liberal intake of a carbohydrate containing sports drink will serve the increased need of both fluids and carbohydrates.
Failing to dress properly for the cold or address fluid and carbohydrate needs will negatively affect your athletic performance.  The body will shunt blood flow away from the periphery and working muscles toward the center of the body to keep internal, more crucial, organs warm.  As noted, carbohydrates usage will increase as well.  The cold will affect the nervous system and fine motor control.
When training or racing in cold weather, be on the lookout for signs of hypothermia that include shivering, confusion, drowsiness and weakness.  In extreme cases, the athlete may even stop shivering and go unconscious.  When training in the cold, utilize training routes that keep you close to home in case you need to head back earlier than expected.
Another challenge that cold weather creates is dangerous or unusual terrain due to snow and ice.  Running routes can become hazardous due to uneven frozen surfaces.  Try to find and use special running “spikes” that strap onto your running shoes for more stable footing.  If running or cycling outdoors is simply not an option due to surface conditions, embrace Old Man Winter by cross-training with a different winter sport such as snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.  If all else fails, indoor training on a treadmill or stationary bike trainer may be required.
Finally, do not think that just because you live where there is no snow on the ground that you are not susceptible to the dangers and performance decreases of cold.  Wind-chills or wet clothing can cause hypothermia at what may seem to be warm ambient temperatures as high as 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  This wind-chill on a “warm” day is especially common if you live and train on hilly terrain where you may be descending while wet with sweat from climbing the previous hill.
With good planning, and by following the tips above, it should be possible to maximize your training opportunities despite living in a colder climate.


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