Mar 2, 2010

Cool Running: Snow days don’t stop Stephen

by Devin Olson

Students sit inside the Barrick-Falwell Lodge atop Liberty Mountain, swaddled in blankets, taking in heat radiating from a fireplace.

Not Stephen Barnes.

Barnes jogs along the shoulder of a road up the same mountain, unfazed by the twenty degree winds, the chunks of hardened snow and the drop-off of a couple hundred feet to his right.

For the 22-year-old, a senior kinesiology major at Liberty University, there is nothing odd about the situation.

He runs for a cause –– two, in fact.

“I run for my savior, Jesus Christ, and for my grandpa, Papa J. Lee, who died the summer before I came to school (in 2006),” Barnes said. “I am not a runner who is also a Christian, I am a follower of God who is also a runner.

The tradition of running outdoors even in those temperatures started when his grandfather found he could not donate blood –– a lifelong passion of his –– due to high blood pressure.

“He got into running and it helped him,” Barnes said. “Now it helps me.”

Running in freezing temperatures helps more athletes than Barnes, according to one of his former professors, Liberty Professor of Health Sciences Dr. David Horton.

“It builds physical and mental toughness –– running in ice and snow and tough wintry conditions,” he said. “…Some of my best runs have been when it was between zero and 20 degrees.”

However, he and fellow Liberty Professor of Health Sciences Dr. Joe Mix caution against running in difficult weather conditions if not properly prepared for the cold.

“Running in cold weather can sometimes trigger chest pain and asthma, and if either of those conditions is encountered then it is best to see a doctor or wait to run in warmer weather,” Mix said.

Mix also advised to dress in layers and bring spare socks if running long distances in the cold.

“Other tips are to keep the head covered since forty percent of the body’s heat is lost through the head. Also, runners need to stay adequately hydrated before, during, and after running,” Mix said. “This is especially important in cold weather.”

In addition, he advises runners to breathe through their nasal passages rather than their mouths, so that the air is warmed and fragile lung tissue is better protected.

Liberty’s head coach for cross-country and track and field, Brant Tolsma, points out more potential health concerns –– along with physical obstacles runners should stay aware of.

“Core temperature is generally not a problem while running, but hands, ears, the nose and cheeks can experience frostbite or at least hurt from the cold,” Tolsma said. “Other problems (include) slipping on ice (and) too much running on roads because trails are not cleared.”

Horton is no stranger to at least one of those problems: frostbite.
“Twice, I have been running and my nose got so cold that I could not feel it,” Horton said.  “When I asked some of the runners that I was with as to what my nose looked like, they said it was solid white, a fairly advanced stage of frostbite.”

However, he still believes in running outdoors despite freezing weather.

“Freezing temperatures are not that bad. The key is learning how to dress,” Horton said.

Barnes believes that the weather primarily increases health among most who partake in the exercise of stamina.

“It opens up your lungs so you can run better when the warm temperatures come around,” he said. “I’ve seen runners who haven’t gone out in the cold, and it just hasn’t benefitted them. People have done too much in the spring and the summer, but you need the balance of all the seasons.”

Coach Tolsma summarized the pros and cons of running in freezing weather.

“A nice, long run on snow-packed roads can be invigorating and fun on a cool, still day,” Tolsma said. “However, treadmills and indoor tracks were invented for a reason and there are certain days when they should be used.”

And Tolsma should know –– he has one of the state’s few indoor tracks named after him, Liberty’s own Tolsma Indoor Track.

“I know a runner from Alaska who went running in 50 degrees below zero, but such a run is one that you may start but never finish,” Tolsma said. “Anything below zero should send a runner to the LaHaye Student [Union] cardio room.”

When Barnes feels discouraged running in the cold Lynchburg temperatures that may seem to occasionally dip down as cold as Alaska, he remembers the precedent that his grandpa set for him.
“I run because he was a great example,” Barnes said.

Contact Devin Olson at
dwolson@liberty.edu.


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