Winter running season is notorious for its challenges. The snow, wind, ice, darkness, and of course – the cold weather.
As we enter the heart of winter running season, many runners are beginning their preparation for spring races. Training is starting and runners are questioning whether or not they’ll be able to complete their runs outdoors.
As a fierce hater-of-the-treadmill myself, I understand the obstacles of winter running better than anyone. It takes some extra time to find the motivation to conquer that fresh new layer of snow on the ground. But after finally layering up, mentally preparing and stepping outside, we’re greeted with a rush of cold air that feels brutal compared to our warm house.
The worst part of a winter run is definitely the beginning. Those first few steps when you speed up and feel the wind on your face before you’ve sufficiently warmed up are always the worst.
And then once you get going… it seems to get worse.
Why does it feel like my lungs are burning while running in cold weather?
Breathing while running in the cold presents a challenge than many runners never imagine they’d have to conquer. So many people give up and head inside to the treadmill until it warms up.
But if you’re experiencing a painful burning sensation with each breath in the cold air – you’re not alone. The winter air is not only cold, but it’s dry. The combination of these two leave runners feeling pain with each breath.
However, despite the pain, running and breathing in cold air is harmless.
If you’re determined to head outdoors this winter running season, there are a few strategies you can use to make breathing in cold weather less painful (and maybe even comfortable).
Three Breathing Tips for Cold Weather Running
Adjust to cold weather gradually.
Regardless of whether you love winter or hate it, stepping into the cold air from a warm, heated house never fails to bring feelings of shock and discomfort. Getting used to cold weather running isn’t something that happens immediately.
Adapting to cold weather is something that is done gradually and takes time. Preparing yourself for the unpleasantness of winter running may help decrease the surprise and shock you feel at the start of each run.
Understanding that your body will require time to get used to running – and breathing – in cold weather is key. Don’t give up after one rough run. Learning to breathe in cold weather takes time and patience. Try starting out with a few short, easy runs to give your body some practice before you increase distance.
Avoid heading out for hard workouts during the coldest months and try and coordinate your schedule with the availability of a treadmill or indoor workout equipment.
Breathing in the cold air feels miserable at first, no matter how many winters you’ve run through. Mentally prepare for the time it will take to adjust gradually, and before you know it you’ll be breathing without even noticing the cold air.
Make sure you’re protected.
If you’ve tried time and time again to run in the cold weather and are still struggling with a burning sensation or pain when you breathe, try layering up. The simple act of covering your neck and face may make all the difference.
Try a running scarf, high collared shirt, or face protection on the run. You’ll need to focus on practicality over fashion here, and on those brutally cold or windy days – don’t be afraid to wear a face mask.
Wearing some sort of scarf or face protection allows you to heat up the air you’re breathing by containing it to one area. You’ll exhale into the scarf and warm up the air with each breath.
Not only will a few extra layers keep you warmer on the run, but they’ll help reduce the pain of breathing in the cold weather. Experiment with a few different layers until you find the right one.
Practice alternative breathing techniques.
If you’ve allowed your body time to adapt to the cold weather and added some extra layers and still haven’t had any luck, it’s time to get specific with your breathing technique.
Many runners are able to adjust to the cold weather and find that the pain of breathing in the cold air eventually subsides. But if you’re still experiencing that painful burning sensation, there is one more strategy you can try.
A popular breathing technique for runners in cold weather is to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
The idea behind this strategy is that breathing in through your nose creates a greater distance for the air to travel before it reaches your lungs, thus warming and humidifying the air more than when you breathe in through your mouth.
If you’re a mouth breather on the run, this technique may take a bit of practice before it begins to feel normal. As you head out for a slow, easy run, focus on your breathing with each step. Focus your mental energy during this run on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
While it may feel redundant and tedious in the beginning, teaching yourself to adapt to this breathing technique may help reduce or even rid that painful burning sensation you feel in your lungs.
Winter running brings many obstacles, but that’s not to say it’s impossible. If you’re anything like me and despise the treadmill, you know that it’s worth sticking it out during those cold, dark months. The more often you complete an activity, the more your body is able to get used to it.
If you’re determined to run outdoors this winter, stick to it – don’t give up. Shift your perspective and adjust you’re training so you are able to enjoy easier workouts and relaxed runs this season.
Running in cold weather may involve a bit of preparation, but these winter runs create a different sense of joy and accomplishment unlike what you feel throughout the rest of the year. Enjoy this chilly season because before you know it, we’ll be back to humid, sweaty runs.