Running in winter is exhilarating, and stimulating, and cold. It’s a great workout year round, and since you don’t need a gym membership or a large amount of indoor space to do it, it can be one of the cheapest ways to exercise too. Unfortunately running in winter can also be incredibly dangerous, if you aren’t careful. There are simple ways to make it more enjoyable and less troublesome though like wearing the right types of clothing, paying attention to your body’s natural cues, and making sure to wear lights at night.
Avoid materials like cotton that are designed to absorb and hold moisture and instead opt for moisture wicking materials like polyester, polypropylene, and nylon. These materials will keep the moisture away from your body, keeping you warmer, longer.
Your outer most layer should be a protective shell against the elements. Ideally you should look for a waterproof windbreaker that breathes, so that it cuts the sting of the wind while still allowing your body to release heat without holding on to sweat.
Frostbite is serious and can occur to any skin, exposed to the elements, when the temperature drops below 32 degrees. Make sure you wear ear protection, gloves, and a scarf. Also consider investing in a pair of moisture wicking socks, so that your feet stay warm and dry.
You can lose up to 10% of your body heat through your head if you don’t wear a hat. While this doesn’t sound like much, it could at the very least be the difference between a comfortable run and a run cut short by the cold. The worst case scenario would involve hypothermia.
You’ll want to wear a pair of sunglasses for a few reason. The first of which is the fact that even though it’s winter the sun is still out and can damage your eyes without the proper protection. The sun can also reflect off of any snow and make everything seem brighter. You might also benefit from wearing sunglasses when you’re running into the wind, so that the wind does not have a direct path to your retinas.
Breathing through your nose while you’re running in the winter is much better than breathing through your mouth because it warms the air before being brought into your lungs. Adding a face mask to the equation helps even more because it means that the air you’ll be breathing in will have yet one more layer to go through before it makes it to your lungs.
If your skin has a tendency to dry out quickly you may want to consider rubbing vaseline or aquaphor on your face before you head out on your run. It will keep the moisture in your skin and prevent windburn.
Never forget to wear your lip balm! The windburn in the winter can be brutal and your lips will be the first of any of your skin to crack and bleed from the dry air. It’s a good idea to take the lip balm with you if you’re going to be out any longer than 20-25 minutes, because you may need to reapply for effectiveness.
While it should be common sense to wear extra layers when you run in the winter, it may not mean what you think it means. Make sure that you aren’t bulking up on layers as that will lead to a higher tendency to overheat, sweat, and actually make you colder. Pack on the appropriate layers for a warm and comfortable winter run.
Before you start to run you want to warm up your muscles from the comfort of your heated home. Your muscles tense up in the cold so warming them up before you venture out will prevent injuries. Do some jumping jacks or run or march in place to get your heart rate up and ready for your winter run.
Running in winter means that there’s a good chance that you’ll be running on packed snow or ice. These things do not mix well with speed. Trying to push yourself to run faster could result in you slipping, tripping, or falling. Having to focus more on your balance forces your muscles to work harder anyway so there’s really no reason to attempt additional speed.
When you start your run start out running into the wind and finish out your run with the wind. This does two things. First of all it keeps you cooler during the beginning part of your run when you’re less likely to need help keeping warm, and warmer during the end of your run when you’ll more than likely be cooling down. The second thing it does is make sure that the majority of your effort is given when you have energy to give (in the beginning of your run) while you’re pushing through the wind, so that when you’re winding down you don’t have to push so hard (at the end of your run).
Although you may enjoy running because it is an individualized activity, running alone in the winter is just plain dangerous. When ice and snow are on the ground your traction is significantly diminished which could easily lead to you slipping, tripping, or falling and seriously hurting yourself, without anyone around to know or help.
If you insist on running alone at the very least run in a well populated and traveled area so that in the event that you become injured you will not be alone in the cold for long.
Ice can be dangerous and even the most well traveled areas can become less populated during the winter months, when people tend to spend most of their time indoors. Be extra safe by bringing your cell phone so that no matter what happens, you can reach somebody and get help.
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you don’t need to stay hydrated. In fact, if anything, it means that you need to drink MORE to make up for the amount of water your body and skin will lose to the dry air. Take a water bottle with you on your run, and don’t forget to pause occasionally (briefly) to drink.
When you get home, strip out of your wet winter running clothes immediately. Do not stretch! Do not lounge! Do not check your phone! Take off your clothes and towel yourself dry. Once you are dry and warm make sure you remember to stretch your muscles back out, to stay limber and safe.
If it really is just too unbearably cold one day, don’t force yourself to go running. Instead stay inside and do some weight training or yoga. If you’re more interested in a cardio workout try dancing around your house or pop in a workout dvd that will get your heart pumping. Of course, there’s also always the option of hitting up your local gym or rec center to use their treadmills, on those ‘it’s just too cold’ days. It’s okay to admit that it’s just too darn cold out some days, and stay inside instead, just make sure you stay active, and keep moving.
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