Tips to Prepare for Cold Weather Running

Whether you are a casual runner or a seasoned marathoner, these tips will help you stay fit safely during Minnesota’s colder seasons.

Did all the fun at last week’s race inspire you to make running part of your fitness routine, even though snowflakes have begun to fall? There’s no reason to curtail outdoor running as the weather gets frosty. With a few safety guidelines, you can continue to run outside on all but our most bitterly cold winter days.

Dr. Kirk Scofield of Summit Orthopedics suggests the following tips:

Drink liquids. Remember to drink fluids. Dehydration is an issue in all seasons. Losing even 2 percent of your weight from sweat will lower your endurance. The rule of thumb is to drink for thirst—no more than one cup of fluid every 20 minutes.

Warm up inside before you go outside. The cold won’t feel so cold if you are warm when you begin. Don’t break a sweat, but do move around inside before you go out. Climb the stairs, do a few push-ups; whatever it takes to get the blood flowing.

Dress for the weather. The rule for cold weather runners is to dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer than it is. Dress in thin synthetic wicking layers that you can adjust as your body warms up. Your outermost layer should be wind resistant and waterproof. The trick is to avoid sweating brought on by too many layers; that can lead to a chill.

Wear a hat and gloves, and consider a face mask or scarf. If you are sensitive to cold weather, you might want to slip hand warmers in your gloves to stave off the cold. Daylight is limited in winter, so wear reflective, fluorescent gear that is easy for drivers to spot.

Male runners are wise to invest in windproof tights, windproof underwear, or other groin protection. Especially when windchill is an issue, windproof garments will help protect you from the risk of frostbite.

Look for running shoes that don’t have mesh—if the uppers are water repellent, even better. Socks should wick away wetness, but keep your feet warm. Check out traction devices that slip over shoes if your winter running route tends to be slippery.

Don’t stay in damp running clothes. Your body temperature drops as soon as you stop running. You’ll feel warm after you run, but it is important to get out of the cold quickly and change into dry clothes. If you drive to your running route, take a thermos of coffee or tea to sip as you drive home.

Know your limits. Cold temperatures restrict blood flow. If you feel stiff and try to force your pace, you could pull or tear a muscle. If there’s snow, ice, or water on your path, shorten your stride and pay attention to your footing.

Respect weather extremes. Strong wind removes the layer of warm, insulating air held within your layers of clothing. Snowy or icy conditions increase the risk that you’ll fall and injure yourself. If the temperature or the wind chill dips below zero, or if conditions are slick, forego your run and hit the treadmill instead.

Monitor your fingers, toes, ears, groin, and nose for frostbite. Even if your extremities feel numb at first, they should warm up in a few minutes. If you notice a patch of hard, pale, cold skin, get out of the cold immediately. If the numbness continues, seek medical help.

Check with your doctor before you run. If you have any medical conditions or concerns about the cold, don’t begin running until you’ve reviewed your plans with your doctor. In susceptible individuals, cold air can trigger chest pain or asthma attacks. Following these common sense tips will keep you safely active right through till next spring.

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