With the ice, snow, frigid temperatures, and short supply of daylight, it’s easy to let your running routine - and your fitness - slide in winter. But with the right gear, and a few safety precautions, you can keep your training on track.
Follow these tips, and when spring arrives, you’ll feel fit, fresh, and ready to run your best.
DRESS RIGHT: Wear shirts and pants made of technical fabrics that wick the moisture away from your body so you stay warm. Dress in layers that you can shed as you warm up. Your outer layer should be windproof. Wear a shell that will keep you dry and protected from the snow, but also will vent the moisture you create as you sweat. Devices like YakTrax can provide extra traction.
SEE AND BE SEEN. During the short winter days, you’re more likely to be running in the dark. Wear reflective gear, use a headlamp or carry a flashlight so that you can see where you are going, and oncoming cars, trucks, and cyclists can see you.
COVER YOUR EXTREMITIES. Your nose, fingers, and ears are prone to freeze first, so be sure to keep them well protected. Try a balaclava—a knit face mask that covers the whole head, with holes for nose and eyes- or wear a hat with a scarf pulled up to help cover your face. Wear mittens; they keep your hands warmer than gloves because they create a warm air pocket around your entire hand. Pick a pair with a nylon shell, or wear glove liners underneath. If your hands start to feel numb and turn pale, warm them as soon as possible, as these are early signs of frostbite.
PROTECT YOUR PRIVATES. Wind robs your body of heat. On cold days, guys should wear briefs or boxers with a nylon wind barrier.
REMOVE WET CLOTHES ASAP. Damp clothing increase heat loss. So if you sit around in wet clothes post-workout, you’re going to get cold fast. Immediately after your workout, change into dry clothes.
GET SOME COMPANY. When conditions seem dicey, you’ll feel safer running with others. And knowing that someone is waiting for you will get you out the door when you’d rather sleep in. Don’t know anyone? Join the free Winter Warriors group runs at Fleet Feet Maine Running!
GO FOR TIME, NOT PACE. You may have to slow down or stop during your run as you negotiate snow, ice, and slippery patches. So when you’re running in areas where the footing is unstable, forget about how fast you’re going. Just focus on covering a certain distance, or working out for a certain period of time. Save your speed work or tempo runs for days when the roads are clear.
FIND STABLE FOOTING. Look for snow that’s been packed down—it will provide better traction. Fresh powder can cover up ice patches. Use the sidewalk if it’s clear of ice and slippery snow, and watch for areas of broken concrete. Run on the street if it’s been plowed, as long as there’s plenty of room to run against the flow of traffic.
BE FLEXIBLE. Midday may be the best time to run during the winter; that’s when the air is the warmest and the sun is out. So if you’re an early-morning runner, you may have to change your schedule. If you usually run on trails, you may need to stick to plowed, well-lit roads, or even the treadmill.
WATCH THE WINDCHILL. When you’re checking the weather, take note of the wind chill, which is how cold it actually feels once the wind hits your skin. As the wind speed increases, it drives down body temperature. If the temperature is O degrees Fahrenheit and the wind is blowing at 15 miles per hour, the wind chill is -19 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature you can develop frost bite on exposed skin in 30 minutes or less.
KNOW WHEN TO TAKE IT INSIDE. If the roads are covered with ice, it’s better to work out inside than risk slipping, falling, and sustaining an injury that could sideline you for weeks. If you can’t bear the treadmill, use the elliptical trainer or "run" in deep water for the same amount of time that you’d spend running or walking. If the treadmill feels like torture device, play around with the speed and incline, try the preprogrammed workouts on the machine, or plan to meet a friend to run on side-by-side treadmills at the gym.
WHEN TO WORRY. In most cases, as long as you’re exercising at a level of intensity that you’d maintain for an easy run - you can produce enough body heat to offset the cold. But if you’re working out at a lower intensity, don’t properly cover your skin, or get soaked from snow or rain you could put yourself at risk for frostbite or hypothermia.
Frostbite occurs when your skin temperature falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It usually strikes the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes. Frostbite can start with tingling, burning, aching, and redness, then progress to numbness. Windy and wet days are the riskiest times for frostbite. When the wind chill falls below –18 degrees Fahrenheit, you can develop frostbite on exposed skin in 30 minutes or less.
Hypothermia strikes when your body loses more heat than it can produce, and your core temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms can vary widely but typically start with shivering and numbness and progress to confusion and lack of coordination. You’re most at risk when it’s rainy or snowy and your skin is damp.