Winter is for Easy Running

This morning I went on my first true winter run of the current winter season. It was a crisp 26 degrees (Fahrenheit, about -3 Celsius) and breezy, and I logged a little over 6 and a half miles in an hour.

The plan for today, before I realized how cold it was going to be, was to push the pace a bit. This was my third run of the week and both of my prior runs were pretty relaxed: the first, because I had gone on a long run the day before and my legs were tired, the second, because it included a continuous climb that is 1.5 miles long. So I figured I needed to work in a fast tempo pace mile or three during today’s run. However, when I realized how chilly it was, I instead settled for just keeping the whole run at a moderate tempo pace that I could maintain while breathing through my nose 100% of the time.

Note: I actually wrote this post on Friday, January 7, 2022, but then scheduled it to go live on January 10, 2022. So if you notice the miss-match between my claim that “this morning” I went on a run and the date of the run on Strava, that’s what’s going on.

How I Use Breathing to Pace Myself

I use my rate of breathing to pace myself. I have basically four breathing-based pace levels:

  • Easy: inhale through my nose for three or four strides, and exhale through my nose for four or five strides (e.g.: inhale through nose {step-step-step}, exhale through nose {step-step-step-step-step}). Others might call this a “conversational” pace. This is my “breathing easy” pace where my heart rate is usually in the 140’s.
  • Moderate: inhale through my nose for three strides, exhale through my nose for three strides. I’m still conversational at this pace, but not quite as freely, and my heart rate is probably up into the 150’s.
  • Fast: inhale through my nose for two strides, exhale through my mouth or nose for two or three strides. Conversational? No. Though I can sputter out a quick sentence if I need to. Heart rate is now in the 160’s.
  • Max: inhale through my mouth for two strides, exhale through my mouth for two strides. Don’t say anything to me, I won’t reply. Heart rate 170+.

I correlate those pace levels to workout types as follows:

  • Long runs, easy efforts, and warm-up or warm-down miles: easy pace
  • Tempo miles: moderate to fast pace
  • Intervals and hill repeats: max effort pace

So if I’m going for a six-mile “tempo run”, my pace may look something like this:

  • Miles 1-2: Easy pace
  • Miles 3-4: Moderate on the flats and downhills, fast (breathing pace) on the uphills
  • Mile 5-6: Easy pace

And when I ran that long climb earlier in the week, my effort looked like this:

  • First 10 minutes: Easy pace
  • 1.5 mile hill climb to turnaround point: Max effort
  • 1.5 mile downhill: Easy pace (save those knees!)
  • Back to the van: A mix of moderate and easy pace

What This Has to do with Winter

At the top, I started this post with the title “Winter is for Easy Running.” What I was referring to is the fact that when it gets cold, I don’t do any max effort running if I can help it.

My lungs don’t like to be hit by sub-freezing air and at max effort, when I breathe through my mouth, my lungs get to feeling freezer burnt. So when it’s below freezing, I stick to efforts where I can breathe through my nose. That means I may end up walking a long climb I would normally run, or that I skip an interval run and replace it with some moderate tempo miles.

I’m ok with all of that. I want running to be a lifelong practice, and the only way that’s going to happen is if I keep it at least somewhat enjoyable, and gasping down huge gulps of 20 degree (Fahrenheit) air through my mouth is one sure way make me miserable in a hurry.

2 thoughts on “Winter is for Easy Running”

  1. Great post. If my nose hairs freeze on an inhale I know its time to try to take things easy.

    I also find that muscle tears and joint pain issues can increase with cold weather training.

    • I haven’t noticed an uptick in injury propensity but that seems to make sense. The biggest problem I’ve had in cold weather is a tendency for, ahem, “appendages” to get a bit too cold for comfort (if you know what I mean). Thankfully I don’t think we get quite cold enough for frozen nose hairs.

Leave a Reply to Roger Cancel reply