For some, winter is the time to pack up their running shoes until spring. If you dress well, hydrate well, and fuel yourself well, there's no reason you can't run year round. Of course, some of you deal with several feet of snow that may hinder your running, but on those days, maybe you can hit the treadmill. I hear from my Canadian readers all the time about their winter runs, so I know it can be done. They are hardcore runners! Listed below are a few tips to keep you safe and help prepare you for cold weather running.
1. Fuel Up!—When your body temperature drops, your appetite is stimulated. This happens because food provides the fuel needed to warm the body. Because of this, runners need to “feed the fire” before a winter workout as well as after. Make sure your feeding that fire with quality complex carbohydrates such as whole grains. Refueling after a run is important too. A 4:1 ration of carbs and protein will help restock your glycogen stores as well as help your muscles recover quicker after your workout. Lowfat chocolate milk makes a great post-run snack. It already has that 4:1 ratio!
2. Protect Your Hands!—Be sure to wear moisture-wicking gloves on your winter run. Wearing a snug-fitting gloves topped with weather-proof mittens works well. The double layer insulation keeps your hands quite toasty. On milder days, just the gloves or the mittens may be all that's needed. Mittens may look like kids' stuff, but they tend to keep your hands warmer than gloves, because the fingers can share their body heat which then gets trapped in the mitten keeping your whole hand warm.
3. Don't Forget Your Feet!—Remember to keep your piggies warm too! Moisture-wicking socks made of synthetic fibers (not cotton) will help keep your feet dry. On really cold days topping those moisture-wicking socks with micro-fiber or wool socks will help keep your feet toasty. Because of the added bulk, you may have to go up a shoe size for your winter runs.
4. Look Out for Frostbite!—Typically your appendages will warm-up fairy quickly on a winter run, but be sure to keep a check on your fingers as well as your toes, ears and nose. Patches of hard skin that look pale may be a sign of frostbite. If this is the case, get inside ASAP and begin to warm the affected area very slowly (do not immerse the affected area in hot water). If sensation does not return, seek medical help immediately.
5. Check the Temperature!—It can get too cold to run safely. It's best to hit the treadmill if the temperature goes below 0°F or the wind chill goes below minus 20°F. Better safe than sorry.
6. Layer it!—Dressing in layers is the best way to stay warm on a winter run. A thin moisture-wicking shirt makes a good base layer. A top layer made out of something such as nylon that will breath, but also protect you from the wind, is a good idea. On really cold days, you may need several layers. Garments made of fleece or micro-fleece are good for the additional in-between layers. Treat the lower half of your body the same way. Running tights will help keep your legs warm. On cold and/or windy days, pairing the tights with wind or fleece pants will keep you warm. It's important to have fabrics that breath so you don't over heat or get chilled. Be careful not to overdress. Remember, your body will warm-up as you run. Dressing as if it's 10°-20° warmer than it really is will help you accommodate for the body heat you'll generate.
7. Top It Off!—Around 40% of your body heat goes right out your head, so cover it up! Trapping this heat will help your body have more heat to distribute to the rest of your body. Be sure your head covering is made of moisture-wicking material (not cotton). Ever been on a winter run and your body's all nice and toasty, but your nose feels like it's going to fall off? If it's really cold or windy, investing in a neck gaitor (a neck muff) or a full face mask is a good idea.
8. Drink Up!—Be sure to hydrated well. Runners often think because they don't sweat as much in the winter, they don't need to hydrate as much. Actually you can perspire as much, if not more, in the winter as you do during the summer. Your skin may look dry because the moisture-wicking materials you're wearing are taking care of the moisture. Also, cold air has a drying effect which keeps your skill free of visible perspiration. This drying effect can also lead to dehydration, so drink up (before and after)!
9. Pucker Up!—The dry winter weather can be tough on your lips. To prevent chapped lips, be sure to apply some type of protective lip balm before and after your run.
10. Save It!—Your body takes longer to warm up during cold weather. Overdoing it on a cold day can spell trouble—a pulled muscle. Be sure to start out slowly to help your muscles warm up. Save your really hard workouts for milder days or do them indoors on a treadmill.
11. Be Seen!—Winter runs are often done in the dark or at least some of the run may be done in darkness. Be sure to wear light-colored, reflective clothing and/or a reflective vest. A handheld flashlight or a headlamp is a must on early-morning and nighttime runs. If you're running in the snow, wear brightly colored clothing so you can easily be seen. Remember, it's your job to make yourself as visible as possible.
12. Dry Off!—When you're finished, get out of those damp clothes and into dry clothing as soon as possible to avoid getting chilled.