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How to Prepare to Run Cold-Weather Races

Running in the cold brings its own special challenges — and rewards, runners say.

“There is something so invigorating about being able to see your breath as you run, and the silence that usually accompanies colder temperatures,” says Natasha LaBeaud Anzures, an elite Canadian runner who has Olympic goals for the 10,000-meter and marathon distances. “It allows me to challenge different systems and I feel like I can really excel in colder temperatures.”

There are plenty of opportunities to challenge yourself in the cold — as long as you’re ready for the elements. Here are some ways to prepare for racing in cold weather, so you can focus on your run.

Fuel Your Body

Hydration is important even in cold weather, says Sara Dimmick, owner of Physical Equilibrium fitness and training studio. She’s also a certified personal trainer and a USA Triathlon Coach. She says that a day or two before a race, she focuses on drinking extra water, Gatorade and coconut water. “You will also have time to eliminate it and won't have to drink as much the morning of the race if you have pre-hydrated the night before,” she says.

Eat right the night before the race so you have enough energy. Load up on complex carbohydrates and lean proteins, without overdoing it on calories. Anzures says she likes brown rice pasta, scrambled eggs and a giant salad.

Warm Up Right

It takes longer to warm up in the cold, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time before your race, Anzures says. “Learning the best way that your muscles warm up is essential, so take the time to track the amount of running time, drills and strides needed to feel ready to go,” she says.

Dimmick recommends dynamic movements that get the blood flowing and warm up your extremities. “Leg swings, bridges, controlled lunges, ankle and other joint circles, and other dynamic stretches are great for warming up, while static stretching is best for cooling down,” she says.

Dress for Success

Keep an eye on the forecast and use layers to regulate your temperature throughout the race. Cooler weather can boost your performance, runners say, so don’t sabotage yourself by dressing too warmly and overheating. However, you have to protect your extremities so your body doesn’t have to work as hard to keep them warm.

“Hand and feet warmers make a huge difference,” says Stephanie Schappert, a professional runner for Hoka One One and the New Jersey New York Track Club. “I like to keep a pair in my racing shoes, so when I come back after my warmup jog and switch shoes they are warm.”

Pour a Cup

Whether it’s to warm up, fuel up or relax before the starting gun, coffee is a great way to prepare for a cold-weather race. “Coffee is a must,” Schappert says. “Pre-race involves a lot of sitting and relaxing, and my teammates and I look forward to finding a new local coffee shop to grab our caffeine fix. My race day go-to is two shots of espresso two hours before I compete.”

Even if you don’t drink it, it can still be helpful: “Sometimes I will get a larger size than I know I will drink, just so I can hold something warm,” Schappert says.