My preparation for the Lake Biwa Marathon in Japan


Here I am in my final preparation for my 6th career marathon, the Lake Biwa Marathon in Otsu, Japan on March 1st.

Patrick Nispel Marathon Runner
Patrick Nispel

Biwako Mainichi Marason (in Japanese) is an IAAF Gold Label and male elite only race with an entry standard of 2 hours 30 minutes or under. Due to its high standards it is one of the world’s top marathons and is broadcasted all across Japan as one of its major sporting events of the year. The course record of 2:06:13 is held by former World Record holder Wilson Kipsang of Kenya.

My personal goal is to improve on my best time of 2:22:55 set in Zurich in 2013. I was running well in last year’s Biwako Marathon until the last 6 kilometres when I started to get severe leg cramps and lost a few minutes finishing 69th in a time 2:23:47 out of 314 starters.

After pulling out at the recent Berlin Marathon in September 2014 due to sickness, I have now slightly changed my approach of my preparation. I am feeling ready to run a fast time and avoid both sickness and cramping this time. I am following my running.COACH training schedule which is based on world-class distance runners such as Viktor Röthlin, European Champion from 2010 and 6th at Olympic Games in Beijing 2008. I was very fortunate to train with Vik (as he calls himself) and the Swiss national marathon team at high altitude in July last year for their final preparation for the European Athletics Championships in August. I learned a lot there that added to my own experience of 20 years of competitive running.

Some of the key changes to my marathon training since learning from Vik and running.COACH included to put more emphasis on my three main sessions of each week while taking my easy days easier for recovery.

First key change was to increase the length of my interval sessions to regularly run 10km total efforts at around 5-10km race pace with a focus on improving my VO2max and LTVO2. Though VO2max work is an important part of a marathon training plan, it is not as crucial as for a 5k and 10k runner. The other benefit of doing longer interval sessions are improvements in running economy (oxygen consumption at marathon pace) as well as LTVO2 (oxygen consumption at lactate threshold pace)  which is a better performance predictor for marathoners than VO2max. I have run these sessions alternating between a natural walking path  as well as a synthetic 400m track. An example session would be 10x 1km in 3:00 – 3:10 (on natural path) on 4.5 minute cycles. Or 8x 1200m in 3:40 (400m jog recoveries) plus 1x400m on a 400m track.

Second key change: My long runs have become faster with average pace aiming for 85-90% of my marathon pace (approx. 3:50 pace) and including more marathon pace efforts (3:20 pace) towards the end of my 30 to 38km long runs, simulating marathon conditions as closely as possible. Often starting at 5am or earlier to avoid the heat and associated dehydration.

My training partner Jonny and I included one over-distance long run on hilly trails of 52km 7 weeks before the marathon, conditioning the body to that distance, increasing capillarization of muscle fibers and blood vessels as well as training the mind to push for over 4 hours. This was part of beautiful but challenging trail running event through the Glasshouse Mountains. The race started at 3:30am and the first hour was run in darkness with just our headlamps trying to guide our way on technical trails with water holes and fallen tree logs. Not our usual or favourite type of running as marathoners, but once we got some daylight we could start running a bit more of a steady pace over the many hills. We got to the halfway turnaround point in 5th position with 9 minutes to the leaders, many of whom had gone out too fast. I changed into my lighter On Cloudracer shoes and we started rolling in the field, taking the lead around 36km. Jonny and I finished 1st and 2nd in our first ultra-trail event.

Third key change to my training schedule has been to increase the length of my tempo runs to anything from 40 to 80 minutes aimed at marathon pace of around 3:20 or bit quicker. This has been the most challenging element of my new training so far and one I still need to master. Often I would break up these tempo runs into manageable parts of e.g. 3x5km or 4-5x 4km as I was trying to keep the quality of my run up.

With 2 runs most days, this brings the total km to anything between 150 and 205km of running per week with an average of 170km over an 11 week period (including 2 recovery weeks of around 120km).

I am now starting my tapering, the most crucial phase of any marathon preparation. Another difference in my training schedule this time is to start my tapering 3 weeks instead of 2 weeks out with a focus on more recovery, a strict diet, good sleep quality, boosting immunity and lots of muscle release, foam rolling and relaxation. Training will be shorter and I am aiming to spend a slightly increased portion of my time running fast at goal marathon pace of 3:15-3:20.

The last few months of marathon training have definitely been made even more challenging by adding in the hot summer we just had here in Queensland with temperatures reaching 30 soon after sunrise and humidity of anything between 60-90%. There is some research that says that benefits of training in the heat can have similar effects to training at high altitude. Hope this is true! I am looking forward to flying to winter in Japan and enjoying the light feel of running in perfect 5-10°C conditions.


Patrick Nispel  is a 2:22 Swiss marathon runner and accredited running coach living in Brisbane. Pat is also the Australian coach for running.COACH

Follow Pat’s journey on Facebook  or through his website

Teeth and sports – a topic that is often forgotten


Runners who want to improve their performance typically think of more extensive and intense training. An increase in dietary supplements often accompanies that increase in activity.

Because the athletes are often caught up in the training and all that goes with that, hardly anyone thinks about the increase in high sugar foods and acidic drinks, which can cause an increase in stress on the body and possible poor oral hygiene. All of these problems can compromise good dental health and are common in athletes.


In addition, runners who work hard with inadequate water intake can suffer from a decrease in saliva which can lead to dry mouth, rough lips and gum infections. Athletes in general, and in particular runners, tend to predominantly breathe through their mouth. This results in a drying of the mucous membrane and this can cause additional aggravation to a runner. On long runs, the constant fluid intake with sugar and acid containing energy drinks, and an energy bar or gel necessary for energy boosts, seriously endangers the heath of your teeth.

Photo Caption: Sports drinks can endanger our teeth
Photo Caption: Sports drinks can endanger our teeth

Saliva is our natural “toothbrush”- if it does not flow, the sugar and acid that is in all of our standard isotonic drinks and bars, is not washed away. Your mouth becomes a paradise for bacteria! Yuck! Tooth decay and gum disease are directly related to bacteria and plaque. Without regular saliva flow and proper oral hygiene the destructive bacteria thrive. Bacteria thrives with the additional sugar and acid, and this causes plaque to form. Plaque is the great enemy of teeth and gums.

Ritualize brushing your teeth (especially after exercise with drinks and gels), so it becomes habit.
Ritualize brushing your teeth (especially after exercise with drinks and gels), so it becomes habit.

Some simple precautions can make for a tooth-friendly workout:

  • If possible, take along ‘dental gentle’drinks on long workouts and be sure to drink lots of plain water with them. Tea or highly diluted fresh fruit juice is also good. Add a pinch of salt, and you have a wonderful electrolyte drink.
  • After meals and any competitions be sure to drink a full glass of water.
  • After meals and competition chew a piece of sugar free gum to help stimulate saliva production.
  • Make brushing your teeth as much a part of your post workout routine as taking a shower.
  • Use fluorinated oral hygiene products! Fluoride makes teeth more resistant to acid. Once a week, use a high dose fluoride gel product.
  • Floss regularly as well. This will also help prevent tooth decay and the development of gum disease.
  • At a minimum, have a professional teeth cleaning once a year, and ideally try to obtain a cleaning by a dental hygienist once every six months.

Good oral health should be an objective of all athletes!

This blog was designed by Karin Hophan, prophylaxis assistant

Should I do it or not?


Who is not familiar with the inner voice that says, “I’m tired, today resting would sure be nice”? But running.COACH is telling me to do a 60 minute tempo run. The dutiful runner laces up her shoes and goes out to run the workout regardless. Few others actually listen to their bodies, lie down and take the day off. Maybe those mindful runners are thinking of Alberto Salazar, the winner of the New York City and Boston marathons in 1980, 1981, and 1982. When asked the question about the key to his success, he stated, “My problem was that I was training too hard”. Thus, he built in, on a regular basis, a complete rest day that allowed him to improve his performances.

Sometimes less is more. We should take this to heart. In particular, if it is not the ‘lazy guy’who just doesn’t want to train, but the “true” inner voice. Training and relaxation go together like the tides. Only when one has recovered from a workout, is it time for the next training session. At times this can take longer than normal. Sometimes the last workout was more stressful than usual, or that last training session just was not productive, or there was little time for sleep or rest since the last workout. Whatever the reason, it’s smart to listen to your body.

Here are my tips for you:

  • Rest and recovery is also training. Resting exclusively is not training 🙂
  • When looking at today’s workout, consider your current professional or family demands, social environment, and, above all else, your internal voice.
  • After a rest day, your motivation is usually much greater than before the rest day.
  • Exercising in an alternative sport (Biking, Swimming, Nordic Skiing) adds variety and additional motivation for running.

by Valentin Belz

Broaden Your Training Base


Two out of every three runners have to deal with some sort of orthopedic problems during the course of a year. This number is alarming, and is due in large part to the fact that running as a sport is underestimated in its complexity. We typically care only about how many miles we run and at what rate we run those miles.

Laufen sieht einfach aus, ist aber eine komplexe Sportart
Running looks simple, but it is a complex sport.

Anyone who plays golf, dances or swims, automatically focuses on his/her technique. As runners, we rarely, if ever, think about our running mechanics or technique. We feel that we learn to walk upright at the age of around 12 months, and somewhere along the line during that learning progression we figure we master the art of racing. There’s actually much more to it. Running is a complex matter that involves endurance, coordination, strength, flexibility and speed. Those who want to run quickly and avoid injuries are primarily guided by these factors. The more we invest in endurance, coordination, strength, flexibility and speed, the more stable our foundation becomes.

As runners, we are limited or constrained by the weakest of these five factors. As you plan your training calendar, you need to address a more holistic approach to training. We should be athletic and invest in endurance, coordination, strength, flexibility and speed. The goal is to enlarge your base so that your performance is rooted in a stable foundation. Exercises to help with all five of these factors can be found at under “Videos” and here.

Je breiter das Fundament, desto stabiler die Leistung
The broader the base, the more stable the performance.



Avoid overtraining


Running is good for body, mind and soul. But too much running (as is often the case with just about everything else in life) is not. The right balance of running, active rest (or cross training) and recovery is crucial to effective and efficient training. You must pay attention and adjust your training accordingly when factors such as family, job, sleep, illness and diet affect your ability to exercise.

Training + Recovery = Increased Efficiency

Training is one very important component to becoming a more efficient runner. Yet, optimal performance occurs only when the training stimuli is balanced with a solid recovery plan. Each workout leads to fatigue and a dwindling of the energy sources. After the workout, it is imperative that an athlete replenish those energy sources and recuperate to receive the full benefit of that workout. By continually breaking down the body with workouts and then recovering from those workouts you experience an ‘overcompensation’phase and you’ll see a boost in performance. On the other hand, training too soon without adequate recovery can lead to overtraining which can manifest itself in fatigue, performance degradation, increased heart rate and a weakened immune system.

Sufficient recovery leads to over-compensation and an improvement in performance.
Sufficient recovery leads to over-compensation and an improvement in performance.


Training Balance

The right balance between the intensity and the duration of the sessions should be monitored. Typically, a rest or recovery day follows an intense run day. This easy day can include very light running, or, better yet, an alternative activity like swimming, biking or nordic skiing. Also, the long run day should be well planned and worked around. If a training session must be moved, other training during the week may need to be modified or skipped. Your running.COACH training plan will adapt to external circumstances.

Don’t try to fit everything in if it’s just not going to work. To avoid overtraining, it’s best to err on the side of caution. With that said, your running.COACH plan has been laid out to maximize the training effect, so try your best to stick to the plan.

Your running.COACH plan, which is tailored to the days you can train, ensures the correct sequence of training stimuli.
Your running.COACH plan, which is tailored to the days you can train, ensures the correct sequence of training stimuli.


Nutrition and Body Signals

Your diet plays a significant role in your ability to handle the training stimuli. Your everyday food choices play a large role in your overall performance. The food you eat before, during and after your workout help with both today’s as well as tomorrow’s workout. As important as anything else, keep the fun in your training and listen to your body’s signals constantly. If you’re feeling tired and worn out, it’ll be counterproductive to do a hard workout. Your body’s signals or feelings should overrule ‘what’s today’s workout’in your calendar. This way, you’ll reduce the risk of overtraining, and in the long term, get more joy from your running.

Lots of success and fun with your training!

This blog was written by Ingalena Heuck, sports scientist and German Champion (2010) in the half-marathon.

Well-trained fat metabolism or ‘why less is often more’


The Conconi Test is a sports medicine test intended to measure an individual’s maximum anaerobic and aerobic threshold heart rates. The test measures a person’s heart rates at different loads (e.g. faster speeds on a treadmill). The points are plotted on a graph with heart rate on one axis and load on the other axis; the graph’s deflection point indicates the aerobic threshold. The heart rate increases (approximately) linearly up to the deflection point, where the heart rate reaches AT (also known as LT, lactate threshold, in more modern nomenclature). The test continues for a while, under increasing load, until the subject has gone well past the anaerobic threshold.

In addition to the Conconi test, an ambitious endurance athlete can use a cardiopulmonary exercise test called a Spiroergometric test. It’s a physiological test that does an analysis of your oxygen inhalations and your carbon dioxide exhalations to give you your aerobic and anaerobic threshold. In addition, it will tell you how well trained your fat metabolism is.

Training zones I-IV
Training zones I-IV

When we talk about endurance training, there are four different physiological training zones (Zone I-IV). These zones are named differently depending on the sport. Training in Zone I predominantly uses an aerobic energy supply. Aerobic is defined as ‘with the aid of oxygen’. The mitochondria, or power plants of the muscles, are used during aerobic exercise. The metabolism of fat accounts for more than 50% of the energy supply for Zone I. Consequently, muscle glucose storage ( glycogen ), is preserved. There will also be no measurable increase in blood lactate concentration.

In the transition zone ( Zone II ), the energy supply is both aerobic and anaerobic. The increase in blood lactic acid concentration can be measured, but lactate production and the body’s ability to flush out the lactic acid stays in a state of equilibrium. The carbohydrate metabolism plays an increasingly important role in the energy supply.

Zone III corresponds to the anaerobic training area. Carbohydrate metabolism is predominant. This leads to a continuous increase in blood lactate levels and an imbalance in the production and reduction of lactic acid. The body can no longer keep up with this acidification of the muscles, and sooner or later (depending upon the individual’s fitness level), the intensity must be reduced.

Zone IV corresponds to a sub-area of Zone III. This zone is only for short interval loads and is all anaerobic. The duration an individual can stay in Zone IV is a few seconds to a couple of minutes in a highly trained athlete.

Training zones, aerobic and anaerobic threshold graphed during a spiroergometric performance tests
Training zones, aerobic and anaerobic threshold graphed during a spiroergometric performance tests

An analysis of the training of various endurance sport athletes (eg marathon runners, cyclists or skiers), show that over 66% of the training volume takes place in basic endurance zone of Zone 1. Zone II is only for very specific training and not a zone to spend much time in. Zone III should comprise about 15-20% of the training. Training in these zones helps to optimize fat metabolism and trains the body to preserve the glycogen reserves. Sprinkling in higher intensity Zone III workouts helps to maximize oxygen uptake and improve overall running economy.

Fat metabolism efficiency can be measured with a spiroergometric performance test. This principle is shown in the following two graphs:


A mountain biker with a very well-trained fat metabolism (red arrow). This is characterized by the athlete’s glycogen reserves (glycogen - black arrow) not being used up until later. AT: aerobic threshold.
A mountain biker with a very well-trained fat metabolism (red arrow). This is characterized by the athlete’s glycogen reserves (glycogen – black arrow) not being used up until later. AT: aerobic threshold.


A triathlete with an insufficiently-developed fat metabolism : (black arrow) with left shift by the aerobic threshold (AT) and an earlier depletion of glucose reserves (glycogen – black arrow). Basically, it takes less time for the triathlete to start burning glycogen as opposed to the mountain biker.


running.COACH applies this model to their training programs. This way, there is an optimization of fat metabolism, improved oxygen absorption, and a focus on greater variation and less monotony with the training.

This blog was written by Dr. Luke Trachsel, Cardiovascular Prevention, Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, Swiss Heart and Vascular Center, Inselspital, Bern.

The Basics of Sports Nutrition


Your diet has a significant impact on your performance. It’s important for everyone to eat a good balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats, and athletes should make sure that every meal contains a protein source.

Extra special attention should be paid to your diet immediately before, during and after a competition or an intense workout. With the right supply of nutrients, you’ll be ready for your best effort:

  • Energy Source: Carbohydrates provide energy for your muscles so you’re able to sustain your effort throughout a workout. The body can metabolize carbohydrates fastest, but fats are also used for energy. They’re stored in your body and used at a slower rate, however, they last longer.
  • Minerals: Your body loses minerals through sweat and the metabolic processes going on in your body. Sodium is one of the most important minerals that needs replenishing after the stresses of training or competition. After these efforts, the other minerals that are crucial to your recovery are potassium, magnesium, zinc and selenium.
  • Recovery: To replenish the depleted energy stores, carbohydrates are needed. Proteins are also very important in order to stabilize your immune system and support muscle repair and regeneration.

Dietary supplements such as gels, sports drinks, bars, or other amino acid delivering products and protein shakes are perfectly matched to the needs of athletes. They have the right composition and are rapidly absorbed into your body. In preparing for half marathons and marathons, you should train with these types of products. Experiment during training to see what works best for you. Most of us ‘non-elite’athletes are subject to the on-course nutrition provided by the race organizers. Try to find out ahead of time what these products are and train with them. That way there will be no surprises come race day.

Sports drinks and gels (always with water) are perfect supplements during longer distance competitions.
Sports drinks and gels (always with water) are perfect supplements during longer distance competitions.

These foods can also be beneficial for training when taken during the following times:

Before training (120 to 30 minutes before):

  • Ripe Banana
  • Mineral water with a pinch of salt (NaCl)
  • A handful of trail mix
  • Bread or roll with honey

During training (from 60 minutes to 120 minutes):

  • Dried fruit (if your stomach can tolerate it)
  • Water with salt and dextrose (important: note the concentration!)
  • Granola bars

After training (best within the first 30 minutes):

  • Rice pudding with cinnamon
  • Spelt with applesauce and raisins
  • Banana smoothie (1 banana with 150 ml of milk (soy or rice milk is great too!), vanilla or chocolate protein powder and 1 handful of oats)
  • A handful of pretzel sticks
  • Non-alcoholic wheat beer
  • 200 ml of grape juice with 400-600 ml of mineral water
A banana is a perfect snack and great before, during and after training. The more ripe, the more beneficial!
A banana is a perfect snack and great before, during and after training. The more ripe, the more beneficial!

During ‘light’workouts of less than one hour you should refrain from carbohydrate supplements and focus more on proteins. This is especially true after a workout. This helps promote the growth of mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cell). Test different products during training and try to keep a log of what you eat and when you eat it to try to determine what works best for your individual needs.

This blog was written by Inga Lena Heuck, a sports scientist and German Champion (2010) in the half marathon.

Increased daily energy


A healthy diet not only increases your energy levels and general well being, it helps your body deal with the stress associated with your training. Supplied with the right nutrients, your immune system is also more stable.

With a healthy diet and the right nutrients, you’ll be healthier and your running will be easier!
With a healthy diet and the right nutrients, you’ll be healthier and your running will be easier!

With these simple tips, you’re everyday life will improve and your running training and racing will be that much more successful.

1 Have a weekly meal plan

What’s in store for the week? Appointments, training schedule, family obligations? On Sunday, plan a basic menu for the week based on your upcoming schedule. All of the basics for those meals can be purchased ahead of time, and then you can pick up your fresh ingredients as need be. This way you avoid eating only what’s available.

2 When you cook, cook more

Sometimes it’s hard to eat a quality lunch on the job? One way to avoid this problem is to cook more than needed for dinner and then save small portions of those quality healthy meals to take with you to work for lunches and snacks over the next couple of days.

3 Don’t Skip Breakfast

It’s probably the most important meal of the day. At best, eat a healthy meal with a balance of carbohydrates and proteins. At worst, take something healthy to go – a snack bar, yogurt, or granola.

4 Use herbs and spices

Spices and herbs help to make almost any food taste better and often healthier. The more fresh the herbs and spices the better. You can put cinnamon on your oatmeal or in yogurt, chives on bread and cheese, and chili powder in your tomato sauce. Variety in your spices . . . is the spice of life!

5 Pack a Snack

Often things don’t go as planned. Be prepared for that and take along a snack that you can eat in between meals. A granola bar, a piece of fruit, a bag of trail mix, or a handful of almonds are ideal snacks that are easily carried with you.

6 Always have a Water Bottle

Most people do not drink enough water. A lack of fluids will reduce your power output whether that be at work or while running. So always have your water bottle with you and have a designated place for it at work. Try to drink about six to eight 8 oz. glasses of water a day. On very hot days you’ll want to drink even more.

7 Always have a Recovery Nutrition Plan for post workout ‘re-fueling’

For about 30 minutes after a workout your body is in a super compensation state and craves replenishment. It’s during this window of time where it is important to refuel your body. You should have a plan for this whether your at home, at work or someplace else. This replenishment plan can be in the form of recovery drinks (e.g. PowerBar Recovery), recovery bars, pretzels, raisins, grape juice, chocolate milk, etc…A good combination of carbohydrates and protein is ideal.

A healthy sensible eating plan, based on these easy steps, will not only improve your strength and stamina for your training – it’s the key to a healthy life!

A Strong Immune System = More Power


In the late fall and winter, the risk of catching a viral infection increases substantially. Sports in cold weather, rooms with forced air heating, and coughing and sniffling people are just a couple of the contributing factors during this time of year. While, in the long run, regular aerobic exercise strengthens your immune system, in the short term, long or difficult workouts weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to infections. With the following behavior and nutrition tips, you’ll help to keep yourself healthy throughout the winter.


Running in cold weather simultaneously strengthens (long term) and weakens (short term) the immune system.
Running in cold weather simultaneously strengthens (long term) and weakens (short term) the immune system.


Clothing and Behavior

1. Three Layer Principle:  

Carefully choose your running clothes based on the weather and how long you plan to run. Is it windy? What’s the temperature? Are you going for a long run? Dressing in layers is the key to staying comfortable in inclement weather. Each of these layers should be made of a functional fiber that wicks the moisture away from your skin and moves that moisture to the outside of the fabric. Your first, or base, layer, must be this type of material. Cotton, on the other hand, holds moisture and is a poor choice. A running vest is my favorite piece of clothing in winter. As a second layer, it really helps to keep your core warm. In windy and colder conditions, make sure to wear a high quality jacket with ‘windstopper’functionality. For more on the 3-layer principle and other clothing tips > runningCOACH in the infobox > How it Works > What to Wear

2. Keep a Warm Head

Most of your body’s heat escapes right out the top of your head. Keep it covered. If you’re not a hat fan, you should at least wear a headband or ear-muffs.

3. After training

As soon as possible you need to get out of your wet clothes. After that, it helps to relax with easy stretching in a warm environment.

4. Bath and Sauna

After a cold weather workout, heat feels good and is very relaxing. A hot tub or sauna can help with recovery and promote blood circulation. A short cold shower, or ice bath after the heat also can aid in your recovery.

A hot bath relaxes the muscles.
A hot bath relaxes the muscles.


1. A carbohydrate deficiency affects the body and makes it more susceptible to infections. After long workouts, you should consume about 1gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. For example, you can prepare the correct amount of PowerBar Recovery Drink with milk. As an additional ‘immune booster’you can add 1tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp cocoa powder.

2. Sharp, or hot, spices and fresh herbs should be eaten every day, especially in winter. They support the immune system and stimulate your metabolism. Of particular note are:

Chili, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves and ginger , and all green herbs, such as oregano, parsley, chives, sage, thyme, rosemary, lovage, basil, coriander, and dill.

3. Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. To help strengthen your immune system, you should eat a variety of different vegetables and fruits as raw as possible (or lightly cooked). At least two pieces of fruit and three servings of vegetables should be your daily goal. Consuming beverages high in vitamin C is also very good for you. (Acerola juice is not something that is available in the U.S.)

Here is a great post workout recipe for the winter months:

Double Hot Spice Cocoa


  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1-2 tsp low fat cocoa powder
  • 1 pinch chili powder
  • 1 tsp honey

Preparation: Heat the milk. Add the cocoa and then the spices. Sweeten with the honey.

This blog was designed by Inga Lena Heuck, a sports scientist and German Champion (2010) in the half marathon.

Sports and cold


For some athletes, there is nothing better than gliding on a freshly groomed trail after the first snowfall. However, caution is advised on bitterly cold days, especially when it is early in the morning. Among other hazards, you must be careful not to damage your lungs. This can happen when you haven’t properly warmed up and your exercise is to vigorous right away. If this happens, you may need to rest and take time off training. If you continue with normal training and ignore damaged lungs, you run the risk of developing nasal drip, a hacking cough, a sore throat, or a worse condition like exercise induced asthma.

Anyone who exercises at freezing temperatures, should warm up well.
Anyone who exercises at freezing temperatures, should warm up well.

Disorders of the respiratory system

Because we spend most of the winter months indoors with warm forced heated air, the mucous membranes of our lungs can become irritated. As a result, our natural defense barrier to viruses and bacteria is weakened. Cold outside air intensifies this effect. It does this because the temperature in the area of our upper respiratory tract, which remains constant during average outdoor temperatures, falls under very cold ambient temperatures. One way for athletes to help alleviate this problem is to breathe through the nose. It cleans the air, warms it to body temperature and saturates it with steam. Cold, dry air can also cause an increase in mucus in your nasal passages.

Prevention of respiratory illnesses

When temperatures turn very cold, shortening your training time and reducing the intensity of those efforts will help to prevent illnesses. A good warmup starting very slowly with a gradual increase in running tempo is very important. A scarf pulled up over the mouth and nose can also help to warm and humidify the cold air. There are also commercially produced air warming products (masks) used by some top athletes who train regularly at cold temperatures. However, these masks can not be used in competition though as they increase breathing resistance. Functional clothing, that wicks moisture away from the skin and protects you against the chill of the wind, is absolutely necessary. If it’s just too cold, try to train indoors on a treadmill.

Exercise-induced asthma

If you cough, wheeze or feel out of breath during or after exercise, it may be more than exertion causing your symptoms. You might have exercise-induced asthma. As with asthma triggered by other things, exercise-induced asthma symptoms occur when your airways tighten and produce extra mucus. This can often occur when the temperatures drop. However, having exercise-induced asthma doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise. Proper treatment of exercise-induced asthma and precautions can keep you active —whether you’re taking a walk or running a race. Again, a proper warm up is crucial along with following your doctor’s prescription for inhalers or other therapies.

Fluid Intake

Under cold conditions, athletes often lose from 3-8% of their body weight during long duration exercise. The reasons for this could be: excess fluid loss through sweating or respiration, a suppressed sense of thirst, cold-induced urinary urgency, and limited access to fluids. These things can lead to dehydration, which becomes even worse at altitude. For this reason, you should carefully monitor your fluid intake before, during and after your workouts.

At cold temperatures, access to adequate fluids may not be easy. Carry your own fluids in a drink belt or hydration backpack.
At cold temperatures, access to adequate fluids may not be easy. Carry your own fluids in a drink belt or hydration backpack.


In cold weather, the body needs more energy to maintain a constant normal body temperature of 98.6º degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, functional sports clothing is especially important in the winter. Cold causes a narrowing of the blood vessels in the body and an increase in blood pressure. As a result, the heart beats faster and pumps more blood through the body. This explains why people with clogged coronary arteries often experience angina, or chest pain, while exercising in the winter.


Exercise during the winter months is basically no problem as long as you heed some of the basic advice suggested here. Before your workout plan accordingly with extra fluid intake and proper clothing (dress in layers of functional, moisture wicking material with wind protection). Start your run with an extended very gradual warm up before any intense effort is performed. Wear a scarf or other breathing preheating system to help protect your respiratory tract. Keep up with fluids during your workout. People with heart disease, high blood pressure or exercise induced asthma need to heed their doctors advice.

Sometimes, it’s just too cold to be safe. The Medical Commission of the International Ski Federation (FIS) has the following temperature limits for the carrying out of competitions:

  • Long distance races that are greater than 30 km: 3°F
  • Shorter distances of less than 30 km: 0°F
  • Sprint race: -4°F
  • Children racing under the age of 14 years: 10° F

This blog was written by Dr. Patrik Noack, Medbase St. Gallen SUI.