Train in the cold, run in the heat
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The running season in India is generally thought of as anytime after August-September, when the temperature cools down. Most of the big races—be it the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM), The Wipro Chennai Marathon or Shriram Properties Bengaluru Marathon—are organized at this time. But with the temperatures falling faster in Delhi, Jaipur and other cities in the north than in the south, how should you train for a run in a city with completely different weather conditions?
According to data from Accuweather.com, the temperature in Delhi on the day of SCMM 2016 (17 January) dropped to a minimum of 9 degrees Celsius, while the minimum recorded in Mumbai on the same day was 17 degrees Celsius. Chennai’s minimum was 22 degrees Celsius, not to forget the humidity. So runners from different parts of the country could find themselves running in conditions they have not trained in, or worse, trained for.
According to data shared by sports management company Procam International, organizers of the SCMM, of approximately 14,000 runners registered in the half marathon in 2016, over 4,400 were outstation runners (including 220 runners from outside India). For the full marathon, though, the number of outstation runners was higher than the registration from Mumbai (3,300 runners from outside Mumbai and about 1,600 from Mumbai). “Our runners are aware of the different conditions—both in terms of climate and route—and they train accordingly. That said, we also have a briefing session a few days before the race where our race director and medical director answer any queries runners may have about training, nutrition, running, recovery, etc,” explains Dilip Jayaram, chief executive officer, Procam International.
While training for a long-distance race usually involves running outdoors in different kinds of terrain—be it hilly or flat courses—it can be difficult to find the space or the time. The issue could be work pressure, weather, or the unavailability of open spaces. Running in a gym only works up to a point, since most runners lose interest after 10-12km on a treadmill—a treadmill, of course, doesn’t prepare you for an actual road race.
So what should you do?
“At the onset, do understand that the heart is a muscle, and any workout done correctly will improve your cardiovascular capability so you don’t have to be married to only running. While it is great to be running, you can mix it up and work on overall strength, endurance and flexibility with a bunch of other workouts,” says Ashok Nath, one of India’s top amateur runners and founder of Catalyst Sports and Wellness, a firm that teaches the correct form of running.
How to beat the freeze
According to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publications, moderately cold temperatures (around 5-10 degrees Celsius) could be good for the vasculature because they train blood vessels in the skin to be responsive. Calorie burn is also higher in the cold, as the body has to use up more energy to stay warm.
According to Shayamal Vallabhjee, sports scientist and founder of the Mumbai-based sports medicine clinic Heal Institute, the benefit of training in the cold is that you can train for much longer. “An average body overheats at 40 degrees Celsius (internal temperature). You need to see how long you can perform below that level. In a colder climate, your body takes longer to touch 40 degrees Celsius and you can get around 25-30% more mileage,” he explains.
What if you train in colder weather, however, but have to run a race in a warmer or more humid climate? You may risk not performing at your best. “Acclimatizing to the climate is very important. Go a week or two in advance if possible and let your body get used to running in the humid conditions,” says Nath.
Simulate the conditions
What’s your idea of race-day temperature, and can you simulate that artificially while you train? Would it work if you switched off the AC or fan while using the treadmill, or if it is going to be cold, layered up while running outdoors? You could remove the layers as your body heats up. “Accept that during such workouts, your performance will falter, so don’t try forcing it. Follow the perceived effort rather than heart rate or pace as indicators. Whether or not your body makes physiological adaptations, psychologically preparing yourself to tolerate the heat is a positive step itself,” says Nath.
Delhi-based running coach Ravinder Singh has been participating in the SCMM and the AHM for a few years now. Other than layering up while training in winters, he also tries to start at least one of his weekly runs in the afternoon.
“The first AHM I had gone for, I had to quit after 32km, because I started getting cramps. I realized later that it was due to dehydration because I was sweating so much. I keep that in mind during my training now and start loading up on ORS, salt, electrolytes at least two-three days before race day,” says Singh.
According to Suresh V. Rang, senior consultant chest physician at the Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre in Mumbai: “Many people make the same mistake because they don’t sweat as much in colder climates. The body, however, loses salts and electrolytes and you need to keep hydrating yourself, even if you are not sweating as much.” Dr Rang says runners should be aware of the wind chill factor along with the external temperature for the run. “If training in extremely cold conditions, it is also advisable to not get wet, and change out of running clothes as soon as possible, so that the internal temperature of the body doesn’t drop drastically,” he adds.
Nath suggests some basic workouts to help runners stay fit on days they cannot run. Cardio exercises such as cycling and swimming can help build endurance, while workouts in the gym (push-ups, pull-ups and heavy weights), TRX, Kettlebells can help build your strength. Crossfit, Plyometric and Tabata workouts can work on your power. For speed, however, 100-200m sprints, up to 60m repeats or technique/form runs, are useful. For muscular endurance, one can choose hill repeats or tempo runs.
“One of the benefits of doing a tempo run is the leg turnover. Runners who want to keep working on that, even if they cannot get their outdoor runs, can run up staircases, jump ropes or pedal on a stationary cycle with low resistance but high speed,” adds Nath.
These workouts, obviously, cannot replace running. “If you have been running for five-six months and haven’t run as much in the winters, that is okay. You will be fine. But if you haven’t, and you are hoping to just run your best on race day after doing treadmill runs, or weight training only, that is not going to work,” explains Vallabhjee. There are, after all, no short cuts.