Running Tips for Cold and Snowy Weather

February 19, 2015 Brigham and Women's Hospital

Don't let the cold weather and snow discourage you from running outside.

Today’s post comes from Dr. Elizabeth Matzkin, Surgical Director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Team Physician for Stonehill College Athletics, and research assistant Caroline Hu.

As we head toward March, many people are running because of their weight loss resolutions or even training for the Boston Marathon. During these frigid winter months, however, many settle for the treadmill, or even worse, for not running at all. Don’t let the cold weather and snow discourage you from running outside. Winters are beautiful here in Boston!

Here are some cold-weather running tips for staying warm and safe during the winter months:

1. Layering and wearing appropriate clothing is crucial for cold-weather running.

You will want to keep most of your body covered and protected from exposure. Wear synthetic, sweat-wicking clothing as your innermost layer. Wearing moisture-wicking clothing as the fabric closest to your skin keeps your body dry and makes your clothes a better insulator. Make sure you are not wearing cotton underwear or socks. Lycra or polypropylene running tights are optimal for the waist-down. Your outermost layer should be wind-resistant and waterproof if it is raining or snowing out. GORE-TEX® is a breathable material and is ideal for your outermost layer. If it is very cold, a fleece liner or a long-sleeve shirt is a good option for a middle layer. Dressing in layers allows you to adapt to the weather during your run. A significant amount of body heat can be lost through the head, so make sure you wear a hat. A balaclava or face mask is a good idea when it is extremely cold. Do not forget to wear gloves as well! After your run, it is important to quickly change into dry and warm clothes.

2. Run smart! Be aware of the many cold weather hazards.

During the winter months, the days are shorter and more people will be running in the dark. Try running routes that have street lights, and sidewalks or extra space for runners. If you are running in the dark, make sure you wear reflective clothing, and consider wearing a flashing light. Visibility may be poor in bad weather and you are no match for a car.

It is also important to run carefully, as balance and perception are more difficult with low light. Try to avoid running in snow or slushy areas and certainly avoid running on ice. If you end up running in snow or slush, shorten your stride to avoid falls or groin/hamstring strains. Consider wearing  traction cleats on your running shoes in these conditions.

3. Know the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite.

Hypothermia is a dangerous condition that occurs when your body temperature drops below 95°F. Risk factors for hypothermia include extended time in cold temperatures, wetness, improper clothing, dehydration, and exhaustion. The initial signs of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering and poor coordination. Don’t exceed your fitness levels and run out further than you can comfortably return in cold weather. Also, it’s easy to forget to drink water during the winter, but you still lose moisture in the cold. Remember to remain hydrated.

Frostbite is an injury caused by excessive exposure to extreme cold. It involves tissue damage, usually in the fingers, toes, ears, or nose, that may become permanent if not treated promptly. Symptoms include stiffness and numbness, and the affected area may turn white. The best prevention is to dress properly, but frost nip or mild frostbite can be treated by rapid re-warming of the area by soaking in warm water.

4. Be prepared for an emergency. 

It is also a good idea to carry a phone or to have a running buddy. With some extra preparation and forethought, the winter months can certainly remain a great time to run and train!

Stay tuned.               

Keep an eye out for more segments of our running/marathon training series. We will feature nutrition tips for marathoners in February, how to avoid overuse injuries in March, and race day preparation in early April.

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