Depending on where you live, running in winter may mean adapting to cold and icy conditions. If this is the case, you need to prepare differently and develop a cold weather running strategy. As well as the risks of exposure to the cold, running can be more hazardous when surfaces are slippery due to frost and ice.
As well as the feel-good factor, running on winter days has extra benefits for health and fitness. The heart has to work harder to distribute blood in low temperatures, and this helps to build cardiovascular endurance. Running outside on winter days gives you exposure to sunlight, and this means you get a dose of vitamin D.
The following tips will help runners stay safe in winter conditions.
1) Dress for the cold.
When dressing for low temperatures, it’s important to remember that you will warm up quickly as you begin to run. Wearing layers is the way to ensure you are comfortable when exercising outdoors in winter. As you begin to warm up, you can remove outer layers. Long sleeve technical tops are ideal as a base layer. A windproof running jacket can make a big difference when it’s cold, as the windchill factor can reduce temperatures by as much as ten degrees. If clothing gets wet, remove it as soon as possible as it will drain warmth from your body.
2) Wear shoes for the conditions.
Cold, wet feet can mean cutting a run short, so wear appropriate shoes in winter. Waterproofing technology has improved considerably over the past decade, so water-resistant running shoes are flexible and breathable. In extreme temperatures, there may be a risk of frostbite, and this is usually caused by moisture reaching a runner’s socks. A good pair of winter running shoes will prevent this.
3) Buddy up.
If you usually run on your own, consider joining up with a buddy for winter running. Having someone waiting for you to join them can help with the motivation to get out of bed on cold mornings. Running with a buddy is also a way of reducing some of the risk factors. If you slip and get injured or become ill due to exposure to the cold, your running partner can call for help or get you to safety.
4) Keep hydrated.
You may not feel as thirsty as you would running on a hot day, but your body still needs water on winter runs. Sweat is still produced, but it evaporates more quickly in cold, dry air. This can make it feel as if you’re losing less water. Drink water before, during and after winter runs, just as you would in other conditions.
5) Embrace the mental benefits.
Studies have recognized many benefits to winter running, and these include boosting mood. The body works harder in cold weather, and this increases the amount of endorphins produced. Just being outside in the cold winter air can bring a sense of happiness and fulfillment.
6) Build tolerance to the cold.
Forcing yourself out into the elements can be painful at first, but you’ll build tolerance over time. Areas of exposed skin are the worst affected, so wear gloves and a hat. If you’re used to running in shorts, consider buying some tights or leggings to cover your legs. The extra effort the body requires to run in the cold means your performance will be reduced, but as you build a tolerance to lower temperatures you’ll notice it gets easier.
If you can motivate yourself to get out and run when it’s cold, you’ll reap the rewards of exercising outdoors in winter. Follow the tips in this article and you’ll stay safe and free from injuries.
Photo by Tomasz Wozniak.