The thermometer has dipped below freezing and the snow has been falling for what seems like days on end. For the diehard runners among us, tired of cranking out boring miles on the treadmill, these are hardly insurmountable obstacles. However, it’s important to take additional precautions when running in the winter, since there are safety hazards you’ll need to navigate in order to make it home in one piece.
“Running in the winter is a great way to maintain physical fitness,” said Geisinger sports medicine specialist Justin G. Tunis, M.D. “However, unlike summertime where you can just throw on a pair of shorts and go, you’ll need to prepare a little more in order to stay safe.”
Five ways to prepare for your run
Keep these tips in mind to ensure your health and safety before you head out for a winter run:
1. Stay visible: The fewer daylight hours during the winter months mean that you’ll likely be running in the dark at some point. Wear bright, reflective clothing and carry a small light – one that will clip to your clothing or sneakers – so that motorists can see you. Also, never trust that a car will be able to stop in time to avoid you in the road.
2. Keep dry: Even though you’re running in cold weather, you will still sweat. The layer of clothing closest to your skin should be a wicking technical fabric, the kind that moves perspiration away from your skin. If you’re wet, you’ll put yourself at greater risk for hypothermia and frostbite when the temperature drops below freezing.
“Many runners forget that they’re still perspiring when they run in the winter since they don’t feel hot,” said Dr. Tunis. “This can lead to dehydration, so it’s important that you drink enough water to stay hydrated.”
3. Wear appropriate footwear: The running shoes you use during the summer may not work well for winter runs. If there is snow or ice on the ground, you’ll need waterproof shoes with extra grip to keep you stable. Look for removable spikes that slip over your regular running shoes for added traction.
4. Cut back on the mileage: Slow your pace and reduce your mileage on brutal winter days, just like you would at the height of summer. The cold increases your lactic acid production at a given pace, indicating that your body is working harder to produce enough energy to keep you going. You’ll still get a great workout even if you slow down.
5. Know when it’s better to cross train: Sometimes the risks of running outdoors in winter outweigh the potential benefits. Recognizing when it’s better to workout inside on a treadmill, on exercise bike or in the pool can save you from injury. It will also make you a more well-rounded athlete.
“Running in the winter puts you at greater risk for injuries, such as sprained ankles from slipping and falling on the ice,” said Dr. Tunis. “Runners should recognize that healthy wintertime running is a balancing act between maintaining fitness while remaining safe.”
If you decide to run outside this winter, follow these tips – and always use your best judgment before heading out into the ice and snow.