I’m running all-out. I’m about half way through my one-mile run and feel terrible in almost every way I can think of. It’s 35 degrees outside and I’m running in a T-shirt and light running pants. It’s been about a year and a half since I’ve exercised seriously and I can’t remember the last time I ran a full mile without walking part of it.

I’m completely out of breath, dying to slow down, to just walk for a little bit, but it’s so COLD! It’s only my first trial of the experiment, and already it seems like a terrible idea.

Just keep going! At least you found a motivation that works makes you not walk during the run: massive corporeal discomfort that can only be resolved by running faster, and an irrational fear of frostbite at above-freezing temperatures.

So why on earth would I commit myself to an experiment that requires me to start running consistently several times per week, at stupidly cold temperatures?

Why Running? Why Cold?

It was time to get it together. I recall a particular week where I consistently worked all day in front of a computer, and then with my work out of the way I would proceed to spend the rest of my day relaxing in front of the computer. In effect, nearly all of my time that week was spent in front of a computer! This had to stop.

As I thought about it, running one mile is a low-hanging fruit. I can go do it almost any time without having to plan it or schedule it, leaving me with fewer excuses to avoid it, and it doesn’t take very long. Working from home, I can fit a mile run between conference calls. It’s free, easy, quick.

So I designed an experiment and something remarkable happened: over time, I wanted to run. I still don’t love the running itself (though I don’t mind it as much), but by designing an experiment around it, by creating a hypothesis to prove or disprove and setting a goal to learn something that I couldn’t know without doing the running, I discovered a powerful personal motivator.

What is the experiment?

Very simply, I wanted to find out if running the same route at colder temperatures would cause me to burn more calories. I had been introduced to thermodynamics exercise research by former NASA scientist Ray Cronise via Wired and the Four Hour Body. Ray makes an extraordinary claim (i.e. that exercising in a cold environment, especially in cold water, causes a large increase in calorie burn), and I was curious to see if it would work for me.

So I designed the experiment as follows:

  • Over the course of a year, I would run the same one-mile route repeatedly, trying to keep everything as consistent as possible:
    • Distance of the run
    • Duration of the run (and therefore average speed of the run)
    • Clothing (wearing a T-Shirt whether it’s 35° F or 95° F, so that the cold can fully affect me)
    • Elevation
    • Time of Day
  • The main variable: temperature and weather over time

Quantified Self Talk

My presentation on this experiment at the Quantified Self Global Conference in San Francisco, October 2013:

Ongoing Updates

This experiment is ongoing, and I periodically add posts with my updates:

  • Defining the Experiment
  • Part 1 in which I run my first trial and look at initial results
  • Part 2 in which I reassess my methods in light of an early mistake
  • Part 3 in which I establish some new metrics and find what appears to be a preliminary correlation
  • Part 4 in which I get some good advice and adjust my methods accordingly
  • Part 5 in which I start to make some comparisons across different runs to see if temperature affects calorie burn.

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