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Don't let winter freeze your running routine

  • Published
  • By Al Bromley
  • Scott Health and Wellness Center exercise physiologist
With proper planning and the right clothing this can be the best time of year to log serious training mileage. Several spring marathons are held in April each year for good reason. Runners agree that cold weather motivates them to run harder and longer. Cold weather exercise will not make you sick. The myth that you "catch" a cold by running in the winter is false. The fact is germs cause illness, which are spread mostly indoors. Research confirms that only if temperatures fall below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit that the lungs may be damaged.

When preparing for cold weather running, several factors need to be considered. First, define your own comfort zone. Some runners feel more comfortable if they are cool when they run. Others always want to feel warm and are uncomfortable with the slightest chill. Remember that during vigorous exercise the body produces up to six times more heat than at rest as working muscles produce heat. If you begin a run feeling nice and warm in a few minutes you may be sweating profusely and actually over-heat. Over-heating tires you more quickly, leads to dehydration and soaks your clothing. These factors can lead to rapid cooling and hypothermia when you stop.

It takes some experience to dress properly for all cold weather situations. Your attire needs to be adjustable. This means wearing several layers that can be vented (zippers are nice) or removed. A good hat (wool skully, beanie, balaclava) is equal to one whole extra layer of clothing and won't slow you down. Make sure to never leave the house without that hat; it can be a life saver. Cotton clothing is not recommended, including socks. Cotton collects and holds moisture (i.e. sweat and precipitation). Wet cotton clothing against the skin will cause a rapid loss of body heat. Purchase synthetics such as nylon, DriFit, Under Armor, polyester, and Lycra. The new wool blends make excellent running gear and do not itch. Wear tights or thin running pants, long-sleeved shirt and a vest. As it gets colder add a wind proof jacket and gloves to add extra protection from the cold winter winds.

Always review the latest forecast before going outdoors. Pay attention to passing weather fronts that can suddenly lower the temperature or produce precipitation when you are miles from home. The wind chill factor is vital information. It is imperative to check out the "real feel" temps and dress for it. Safety is always first.

Always remember to carry a cell phone. Emergencies are never planned and a turned ankle or a cramping calf can end a run. Let people know where you are going and when you expect to return. Running with a buddy is always a good idea, not only for safety but also for motivation. When running in the sun and snow always protect your eyes and skin. Purchase a good pair of sunglasses and make sure to wear sunscreen.

It is not recommended to run in icy conditions. One fall on black ice can cause serious injury. Running at night is always risky. To decrease your chances of injury or a possible accident always run facing the traffic flow and be ready to move over quickly. Wear reflective outer wear to ensure drivers see you. Add a LED strobe light strapped to the arm and a good headlamp to see the ground in front of you.

Embrace the cold weather and challenge yourself to train outdoors. Few things are as special as running through new fallen snow. Outdoor training and the brisk cool air can help your mind and body feel renewed. So layer up and come outside and enjoy a winter workout that will be worth it for all levels of your wellbeing; physically, mentally and spiritually.