We are spoiled by the weather in Western Washington because we can generally run outside year-round! There are times when it can be a little warm or a little cold for running at our best; however, November happens to be a month where temperatures can be pretty optimal for running performance.
What happens if it is too cold?
One of our body’s acute responses to cold exposure is to prioritize blood flow to the internal organs to keep them functioning at optimal temperatures, which diverts blood flow away from our less essential (to basic survival at least) extremities. We achieve this by blood vessels constricting in our limbs; however, this can be counterproductive for runners since our oxygen hungry, locomotive muscles are located in our legs and arms. Although blood flow remains sufficient enough to maintain activity, oxygen delivery to our working muscles is not quite as efficient as it might be in more optimal environmental conditions.
What happens if it is too warm?
When the mercury starts climbing, our body has to divert blood flow to the skin surface to disperse heat generated by our working muscles and internal organs. One of the cooling mechanisms we use is sweating; however, we lose a lot of water and sodium when we sweat heavily. The loss of water results in a reduction of blood volume, which means it is harder for our blood to deliver oxygen to our working muscles. Sodium is a critical electrolyte that is essential for muscle function. When we get too warm while running, we fatigue more quickly and the likelihood of muscle cramping increases.
What are optimal running temperatures?
In Western Washington, the November highs are right around 50℉ and the lows are in the upper 30s. A 1997 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, that compared time to exhaustion at 70% of VO2max at 4 different ambient temperatures, reported best results at 52℉ with performance decreases at 39℉, 70℉, and 88℉, respectively. A 2012 paper analyzing environmental conditions at six major marathons and the performance of nearly 1.8 million finishers over a 10 year period found that best results occurred when the temperature was between about 39℉ and 50℉. The temperatures in November will set us up for some wonderful runs and some great race performances.
– Maxx Antush currently lives in Moscow, Idaho where he is earning a PhD in Exercise Science with an emphasis on exercise physiology at the University of Idaho while also working as a graduate teaching assistant.