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Cold Weather Running Safety Tips

by Gary Reading, Nov 2018

Falling temperatures and fewer daylight hours don’t mean that your outdoor running routine has to go into hibernation for the winter. Running in cold weather can help shake those winter blues, boost your energy level, and guarantee that you’ll be in better shape once bathing suit season rolls around. Follow these tips for cold weather running to make sure you stay safe and comfortable.

Start with a thin layer of synthetic material such as polypropylene, which wicks sweat from your body. Stay away from cotton because it holds the moisture and will keep you wet. An outer, breathable layer of nylon or Gore-Tex will help protect you against wind and precipitation, while still letting out heat and moisture to prevent overheating and chilling. If it’s really cold out, you’ll need a middle layer, such as polar fleece, for added insulation.

Protect Your Hands and Feet

Body heat escapes through your hands and feet. On moderately cold days, wear running gloves that wick moisture away. Mittens are a better choice on extremely cold days because your fingers will share their body heat. You can also tuck disposable heat packets into your mittens.

To keep your feet warm, add a wicking sock liner under a warm polar fleece or wool sock, but make sure you have enough room in your running shoes to accommodate these thicker sock

Pay Attention to Temperature and Wind Chill

If the wind is strong, it can penetrate your clothes and remove the insulating layer of warm air around you. Your movement also creates wind chill because it increases air movement past your body. If the temperature dips below zero or the wind chill is below minus 20, hit the treadmill instead.

Avoid Overdressing

You’re going to warm up once you get moving, so you should feel a little bit chilly when you start your run. If you’re warm and comfortable when you first start, you’re going to start sweating very early in your run. A good rule of thumb is to dress as if it’s 20 degrees warmer outside than it really is. If you really can’t handle being a little cold, warm up inside with some jumping jacks or other exercises before you head out.

Cover Your Head

Wearing a hat will help prevent heat loss through your head so your circulatory system will have more heat to distribute to the rest of the body. When it’s really cold, wear a face mask or a scarf over your mouth to warm the air you breathe and protect your face.

Watch for Frostbite

On really cold days, make sure you monitor your fingers, toes, ears, and nose. They may feel cold at first, but they should warm up a few minutes into your run. If you notice a patch of hard, pale, cold skin, you may have frostbite. Get out of the cold immediately and slowly warm the affected area. If numbness continues, seek emergency care.

Start Your Run Into the Wind

If you head out into the wind, it will be at your back at the end of your workout. That’s preferable to running into the wind during the second half of your run when you’re sweaty and could catch a chill.

Stay Hydrated

Despite the cold weather, you’ll still heat up and lose fluids through sweat. Cold air also has a drying effect, which can increase the risk of dehydration. Make sure you drink water or a sports drink before, during, and after your run. Most public drinking fountains are turned off in the winter, so you’ll have to carry your own fluids using a hand-held water bottle or belt water bottle holder.

Don’t Stay in Wet Clothes

Getting wet from rain, snow, or sweat in cold temperatures raises your risk of hypothermia, a lowering of your body temperature. If you’re wet, change your clothes and get to warm shelter as quickly as possible. If you suspect hypothermia—characterized by intense shivering, loss of coordination, slurred speech, and fatigue—get emergency treatment immediately.

Be Visible

It’s best to avoid running in the dark but, if you have to run at night, wear reflective gear and light-colored clothing. You can also wear a small flashing light. Dress in bright colors if you’re running during the daytime or in the snow. Drivers may not expect to see runners out on the road or in crosswalks during the winter, so you need to make sure they see you.