The ‘Beast from the East’ is upon on us, so Fast Running sent Robbie Britton and Natalie White to Siberia in advance to find out the best local tips for running in the cold.
Whilst the UK and Ireland are currently showing shock at sub-zero temperatures on social media, actual weather in Siberia is unseasonably warm. It’s not even got much below minus 20 during the trip.
The purpose of the visit, alongside helping Fast Running readers out, is researching a 2019 Baikal Traverse record attempt. A 660km run across the frozen surface of Lake Baikal with temperatures as low as -30 possible that Robbie Britton is attempting with Majell Backhausen.
Sweat is your enemy
When it comes to the longer efforts or a stop-start run in the cold, sweat is a bad thing.
“Water conducts heats away from the body a whole lot faster than air,” advises Britton. “If you’re sweaty then it’s going to really speed up how quickly you cool down.”
The trick to longer efforts in cold conditions is finding that right level of effort and clothing to keep ticking over below the sweating response level.
“Be bold, start cold is a good saying to go by,” he adds. “If you’re warm at the start of your run then chances are you’ll be sweating soon. Colder times ahead.”
Ensure you have the right layers on, not just heavy sweats.
“Good, windproof layers are key. It’s cold, but as runners, we generate a lot of our own heat and the trick is holding onto that,” explains Britton. “We work with Odlo and have got a lot of their cross country skiing clothing, along with lightweight windproof running gear.
“If you’re moving it’s surprising how warm you can keep yourself.”
Natalie White, the second of the contingent out in Siberia, highlights the importance of planning ahead.
“Knowing the weather forecast, how far and long we’re running for and planning for it really helps,” she says. “If we’re going out for an hour or so then you know you can keep moving and get home if you need to.
“But longer runs and overnight camps mean we’re a little more conservative with the effort.”
White also mentions that the pair experienced different reactions to the chilly conditions. “As a woman, my body reacts differently to the cold,” she explains. “Generally we’re more susceptible to the chills, but that doesn’t mean we’re any less capable.”
“My bum actually got really, really cold one day. We had a strong wind behind us, which was great for running, but not for my backside.
“I ended up running the next day with a pair of insulated over-shorts on top of my tights and it was much more pleasant. Robbie just got cold elbows that day.”
One of the pictures you see most often in the cold is frozen beards and faces. Due to that inconvenient habit of breathing whilst you run it means there needs to be something uncovered to the elements.
“If you cover your mouth and nose up in super cold conditions, the moisture in your breath will quickly soak that covering,” explains Britton. “Having a buff or two to cover your mouth and nose loosely when if it gets painful to run into a wind gives you a bit of flexibility.”
Show your fingers some glove
“Your hands are pretty useful, but the way our body copes with the cold isn’t great,” he adds. “Priority is given to the core and your vital organs, leaving the extremities colder. Whilst I agree the vital organs are… vital, it can quickly become an issue if you can’t use your hands.
“Simple things like zips or getting back into your door become a Herculean task. When you really need those digits in the cold, they’ll be the first thing to go.
“A good pair of windproof gloves can prevent this from happening but if you know you get cold hands then mittens are a must. Doing anything with mittens on is difficult, but the skin on skin contact of the fingers inside them is the best way to warm up.
“If you have normal gloves and cold fingers then bring the fingers out of the… fingers? Does that make sense? Bring them into a ball in the main part of the gloves and they will warm up a lot quicker.”
The final thing that Britton recommends as must for covering up is the ears.
“Of all the things to get cold we often forget the little things, like ears,” he says. “It’s a simple mistake but can be a painful one on a cold and windy day.”
Yorkshire fell runner White adds: “Windproof headbands, however, 80s they look, are fantastic. Failing that a buff wrapped around the ears will keep them cosy.”
So really it’s about layers and the extremities. The little things like feet, hands, noses and ears will feel the cold the worst. Protect them.
Layering thin layers will make sure you don’t overheat and if you do, there are layers to wick away sweat from the body. It’ll slow down the heat transfer to the outside. Thick windproof or waterproof jackets may seem a good idea, but too warm and you’ll suffer longer into the run.
Last, but not least, keep eating. You burn more calories trying to keep warm in the cold. Keep the furnace burning if you want to stay warm. You can’t heat your house without fuel, so how can you heat your body?