It’s that time of the year when the days get shorter, colder and darker. This also means less than ideal road & trail conditions for all you runners out there! As a year round runner, I typically have a love/hate relationship when winter strolls around. Getting yourself out into the New England weather is almost like a daily chore, but the feeling of achievement towards your fitness goals makes it worth it (alongside a warm cup of hot cocoa). So don’t trade in the great outdoors for the dreaded treadmill quite yet! Here are some tips to ensure a safe, comfortable, and successful winter run:
• Take 5-10 minutes to warm up
Before you face the cold, try some dynamic stretches to increase your heart rate, body temperature, breathing rate, and blood flow to the muscles. This can reduce muscle tightness within the early stages of running and decrease risk for injuries.
• Plan your runs during the day
To avoid low temperatures and darkness, get outside to run when the sun is still out. I get it, with less sunlight, running in daylight may be impossible with a busy schedule. Make sure to wear reflective clothing (bright yellows and orange colors), headlamps & tail lights if running in the early morning or night.
Dehydration is common in winter running. We forget that our bodies still sweat in the cold which means hydrating before, during, and after a run is still important. It is recommended to drink 3-6 ounces of water every 15-20 minutes of running. (1)
• Watch the wind chill
Frostbite generally occurs below -18 degrees Fahrenheit. (2) Be sure to know the temperature AND wind chill to prevent hypothermia. Symptoms include shallow breathing, confusion, & drowsiness. Worst comes to worst, hit the treadmill for the day if the temperatures are dropping.
Dressing for success
• Dress as though it is 10-20 degrees warmer than it is outside
You’ll get warm a couple of minutes into your run. Wear layers to avoid overheating. Here is a tool where you manually fill in the temperature, time of day, wind chill, etc to help you figure out an appropriate running outfit: what to wear guide.
• Wear the right clothing
Avoid cotton clothing because it traps moisture and leaves you cold & uncomfortable. Try to wear synthetic wicking material, such as DryFit or ColdGear. This helps to keep the moisture away from the body & keep you warm.
• Cover the extremities
Be sure to wear hats, scarves, and gloves to cover your hands, ears, and face. The body loses most of its heat through unexposed skin. Shoes with traction are also an important accessory.
Benefits of Winter Running
• Immune system boost
Believe it or not, winter running can help to strengthen your immune system. According to the Mayo Foundation for Research, running in the cold can decrease your risk of catching the flu by 20-30%. (3)
• Beat the winter blues
Some of us face S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Disorder) due to decreased daylight in the winter. Running outside during the day increases our Vitamin D intake that we can’t get by staying indoors. Also, running increases endorphins such as dopamine and serotonin which can boost your mood!
• Improved performance
Winter running builds increased lung capacity and puts more demand on the cardiovascular system. It also increases your VO2 Max which improves overall exercise performance and speed.
• Sign up for a race
Can’t commit to your running plan? Register for a short term 5/10K “fun run” or plan long term for a half marathon/marathon. This way you are motivated to meet your running goals on a weekly basis. There are plenty of training plans online, like through the B.A.A.
• Great reads & listens
Listen to podcasts & audio books for your longer workouts to get your mind off of running. For motivational tips, I recommend running blogs or books. A colleague of mine recommended Let your Mind Run by Deena Kastor to help me mentally prepare for my next marathon.
• Run with friends
Whether it is a running group, a neighbor, a friend, or a dog, having a running buddy can get your mind off of the cold or long training runs. Joining a local running group can help you keep on track with your pace time for your next race.
• Post about your achievements
Download apps such as MapMyRun to track your stats. You can also post on your social media accounts to find some motivation from your friends and family. If you post about a running goal, you may be more inclined to stick to it!
Happy Holidays and Happy Running!
1. Fluids, Electrolytes, and Exercise.” Sports Nutrition: a Practice Manual for Professionals, by Marie Dunford, 4th ed., American Dietetic Association, 2006, pp. 100–100
2. Castellani JW, Young AJ, Ducharme MB, Giesbrecht GG, Glickman E, Sallis RE. American College of Sports Medicine position stand: prevention of cold injuries during exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006;38(11):2012-29
3. “Temperature Is Key to Performance.” DAREBEE, darebee.com/running/running-in-cold-weather.html.