Running in Cold Weather And Base Running Phase

by Tom
(Arlington Heights, IL USA)

My son and I finishing a 5K in spring of 2008

My son and I finishing a 5K in spring of 2008

I find that when I try to run in the cold weather that it's difficult to maintain the same pace compared to either running in warmer weather and/or inside on a treadmill.

For example, last week on Monday/Tuesday it was in the 50's and 60's it was easy to maintain a 7:10 pace or so for a 7 mile run.

On the weekend, it was about 20 degrees and I found it very difficult to get close to that pace. I've noticed this on other warm/cold days too.

When I run on the treadmill I always have the incline set to either 1.5 or 2 degrees to compensate for the outside/inside differences.

Even when I ran competitively in HS and college I would never do as well racing on cold days. I always felt it was a strain to maintain what should have been certain paces.

Is there a scientific reason for this that anyone is aware of?

For my second question about "Base Running Phase." There's a lot of talk about building a base. How long should the base running phase last? Do you worry about running pace when in this phase, or is the main concern just logging miles? How do you know how many miles is enough? Any good books on this subject?



Answer by Dominique:

Hi Tom,
Thanks for your running training question.
Very cool photo of you and your son.

Regarding the question about cold weather: my gut feel is that causes for this are loss of body heat and possibly also hydration.

In cold weather you lose a lot of body heat. This affects blood circulation and how your muscles function.

And even though in hot weather it might seem more prevalent, you actually need to hydrate just as well when running in winter. Again, dehydration would have effects on how your body functions.

Regarding your base running:
pace is not important during the base building phase. You just need to log miles.

When is it too much?
There is a concept known as "junk miles" which is where you'd be running that much, that your next running session is affected badly by it. That's what you need to avoid.

It's okay (in my opinion) if you have not completely recovered from the previous day's running session and because of that need to go a bit slower or shorter. But when it is so bad that you would have to stop your running that's when you should have probably taken it a little easier.

How long should the phase last?
As long as you like, the longer the better. Depends on when you have a big race scheduled. You would normally do your base running as the first phase of your training which can be anything from 4 weeks to 6 months. Then closer to the race (last 8-12 weeks) you would start doing more speedwork and tempo running.

Hope this helps and hope I have answered all the questions.

P.S. Good book on this and running training in general is Daniels' Running Formula. Other book, more scientific in nature and a harder one to get through is The Lore of Running.

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Feb 18, 2009
by: Tom


Thanks for the detailed reply.

Yes, you answered my questions. One additional question about "base running" though. You stated pace is not important. Does that mean you basically just run based on how you feel: slow if you're tired, faster if you feel strong? Is there a point that's too fast and defeats the point of the base phase? You don't have to worry about me running too slow. I tend to push myself too much all the time. I'm trying really hard to make my easy days easy.

Also, thanks for the links on the books. I just ordered the Daniel book.

Thanks again,


Feb 19, 2009
Yes, pace does matter...
by: Dominique

Hi Tom,

I should have been clearer with my reply. The pace does matter.
Every type of running / every running speed serves a different purpose. You run tempo runs to build up your lactic acid threshold, you do intervals to help speed up oxygen delivery to your muscles.

And you run easy to build up your base. So any pace is good, as long as it is easy or slower. Easy pace is the pace at which you'd be able to comfortably have a conversation with a running partner, if you were to run with somebody else.

Dominique (website-owner)

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