Knee pain when running in the cold

I’ve been running for about 18 years now, and knee pain was a regular companion throughout my running career. After finishing the Ironman in 2012, the pain was so bad that I was seriously considering giving up running. Luckily this could be averted, and I have been running mostly pain-free since 2013 thanks to lasers and an impulse purchase on Amazon. But that is a story for another day. Today I want to talk specifically about knee pain when running in the cold.

As I said, I’ve been mostly pain-free since 2013, but when the temperature dropped low enough to warrant long clothing, the pain returned. I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to cold temperatures, so I just accepted it as a welcome excuse to reduce my mileage over the winter.

As it turns out, I was mixing up correlation with causation. A couple of weeks ago, it dawned on me that it’s not the low temperatures causing my knee pain, but my long clothing. You have to know that I always run with tights because I find them more functional. I could never understand how anyone can run in shorts or – god forbid – in sweat pants. For me, it has always been short tights during summer and long tights during winter.

Apparently, my long tights are a bit too tight and apply some force to my knee that makes it unhappy. Begrudgingly, I put on some sweat pants and went for a run. Lo and behold, no knee pain in sight. After some pain-free runs, I put my theory to the test and wore a tight under the sweat pants. I was sweating as I stepped out of the door, so this outfit was more than warm enough. Any pain I would encounter would be caused by the tight. I’m happy to report that after 8 km, my knee hurt so bad that I barely made it home. While not entirely statistically sound, I consider this experiment a success.

So there you have it: if you have knee pain when running in the cold and usually wear long tights, give sweat pants a shot. Pro tip: wear some long briefs or your short tights underneath to prevent chafing.

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