Daily Coaching Tip: How to Adjust Warm-Ups for a Cold or Wet Race

The Thanksgiving Turkey Trot is a turning point, in my mind, from the generally pleasant Fall racing season to the survival-mode Winter season. Unless you live in a place where warm weather is the norm throughout the winter, you're probably going to be racing in some nasty conditions through the coldest months of the year. When it comes to warming up for these races, people tend to skimp on things (in order to spend more time in wherever it's warm). If you take a smart approach, you can ensure that you'll be more comfortable to start the race and therefore run a better time. Here are a few things to remember:

  1. Layers are your friend. Remember, the goal of the warm-up is to get your body warm. I wear extra layers, beyond what I normally would, so that I am sure my body will fully warm up before the race. I don't know if you've noticed, but the race day adrenaline also has a cooling effect on your extremities (the fight/flight response in your body diverts blood flow from your limbs to your core), so be sure that you wear a warm hat and gloves for your warm-up as well.
  2. Put on your race shirt after your warm-up jog. If you wear enough layers for your easy warm-up minutes, you should actually get a bit of a sweat going. You don't want to then strip down to a singlet that is wet and will immediately make you cold. Instead, change into a dry racing shirt just before heading to the start area.
  3. If possible, complete your mobility exercises (lunges, leg swings, etc) inside where you won't get wet or blown around. Again, you want to maintain your core temperature, and standing relatively still will just let all that beneficial heat dissipate into the ether.
  4. Finish the warm-up later than usual. I generally tell people to plan their warm-up so it finishes up about 10 minutes prior to the start. In the case of cold or wet weather, I'd rather see people cut it a bit closer, so that they don't lose all their body heat standing around. In particular, your drills and strides should be as close to the start as possible.
  5. Don't worry about how you look...worry about how you're dressed for success. If you will need to stand in the corral for a bit because you're running a big race, wear a trash bag or an old sweatshirt that you can toss. There will be plenty of opportunities to look like a badass in your race kit. The key to starting a cold or wet race happy is keeping your core, head, and hands as warm and happy as possible until the gun goes off.

Once you get going, you'll forget about the conditions and run well...but only if you hit the starting line already warm and comfortable. If you start the race cold and under-warmed, you'll spend the entire race (or at least the early goings) focused on how poorly you feel. A warm runner is a happy runner, and a fast one as well.