Since it is still summer where I live and presumably where most of my readers live(don’t worry, my Australian and New Zealander readers, I haven’t forgotten you), it may seem a bit strange to be concerned about running in cold air.
Although it is still hot out, it’s not as steaming hot as it was a few weeks ago. Soon it will be autumn, and then winter, so it is a good idea to prepare ourselves before the bitter cold comes in.
Which leads me to the question: To what degree does cold air cause problems for healthy runners?
According to Mahler DA, Loke J., in “Lung function after marathon running at warm and cold ambient temperatures“:
Using maximal expiratory flow-volume curves we studied the effects of endurance exercise on lung function in 46 and 41 runners before and after completion of a marathon race (42.2 km) at different ambient temperatures. There was a significant decrease (-3.9%; -5.9%) in the post-race forced vital capacity in runners at each marathon. The mean values for forced expiratory volume in one second did not change. Post-race peak flow at 50% of forced vital capacity were significantly decreased in runners participating in subfreezing conditions (-2 degrees C to -4 degrees C), but were unchanged when the ambient temperature was above freezing. These data demonstrated that healthy persons may develop bronchoconstriction during endurance exercise in subfreezing temperatures. The decrement in forced vital capacity noted in marathon runners competing at above freezing temperatures may be related to fuel metabolism and running performance.
So just because you don’t have any respiratory problems doesn’t mean cold air can’t be problematic. And as I understand it, it is more the dryness of cold air rather than the cold temperature itself that causes problems. Our lungs function best when they are kept moist and breath in air with some water vapor. Air that is too dry can cause lung inflammation and can make it harder to breath.
As far as finding ways around this, about all I can recommend is to stay well-hydrated even when running in the cold or if conditions are especially bad just exercise indoors. Giving up your fitness routine should never be an option.