Q: Why do Pro Runners Ignore Cold Weather?

Lauren,

Winter wear?
I know it’s August, and quite a while until winter, but I’ve had this question on my mind for too long.
At all of the winter races (USA XC Championships, World XC, and pretty much anything outdoors and in the cold) the elites are wearing what they pretty much wear during the summer! Maybe a pair of armwarmers or gloves or maybe even a beanie would be the only giveaway that it’s not summer. You still see the same split shorts, bun huggers, sports bras, and singlets. Why is this? Are you guys warming up so thoroughly that wearing tights or long sleeves would hinder your performance? A conspiracy? Or are you just freezing?!

-Timothy

 

A:

Timothy,

When I signed the Professional Athlete Manifesto back in 2003, I had to swear to do all sorts of things.  Along with promising to under-dress in all future cold-weather competitions, I vowed to exaggerate my weekly mileage for media interviews, marry a massage therapist or coach, and tweet incessantly about food.  I’ve been brought before the board for disobeying several codes of conduct over the years, (the worst of which was marrying an engineer, but the time I wore a long sleeve shirt in cross country was a close second,) and the punishment is always swift and fierce.  I recommend maintaining amateur status as long as possible; the ability to dress warmly is worth it.

-Lauren

 

XC Men's USA's 2004

When it was REALLY cold, we all sprung for the layered look in 2004.

Just messin.  I have no idea, to be honest.  I’ve often wondered the same thing myself.  But if I were to tell you the logic behind my wardrobe decisions, this is what I’d say:

Its all about managing core temperature.  Once the core temp. rises beyond a certain amount, performance decreases, so it is imperative to keep the temperature down.  Now, I know from experience that in a blizzard this can be taken too far, (hypothermia doesn’t exactly do wonders for your racing either,) but as professionals we would rather err on the side of wearing too little than too much because if you get it just right, you fly.

We do very extensive warmups before the race, (starting an hour before the race and wearing pants and jackets until the last possible minute,) so we are generally warm and sweaty when the gun goes off.  Then we let the cold air help us to greater performances than a hot day would allow; as our bodies generate heat through maximum exertion, the heat diffuses into the cold atmosphere, never allowing us to over-heat.  Most recreational athletes I know don’t do much for a warmup, so they’d be freezing on the start line if they dressed like me.

Putting the science aside for a minute, there is also a social phenomenon at work here: we all look at what everyone else is wearing, and like a bunch of sheep, we jump off a cliff together.  In Iowa at the NCAA’s my sophmore year, this kind of thing happened and we all underdressed.  I think 75% of the field would have worn more clothing if they hadn’t allowed themselves to be influenced by other teams.  As a result, there were hypothermic people all over the place, and loads of people under-performed.  I’ll never forget seeing a girl with frozen throw-up on her face in the finish chute. Ugh.

I admit, I don’t know what’s ideal.  If I were intending to do more extreme winter races, I’d want a sliding scale poster for my wall that shows me optimal performance clothing as it relates to degrees fahrenheit.  But since I won’t be signing up for races under 30 degrees any time soon, arm warmers, a long jersey, and spandex shorts covering the hammies would be my pick.  Maybe some compression socks too for the ol’ calves.  Anything more than that is just extra fabric weighing me down.