The Basics of Winter Running Safety
Running during the winter presents significant challenges. There is the obvious cold and slippery conditions to contend with, but also the additional mental toughness required to simply open the door. I know a few elite runners who have been sidelines as a direct result of winters evil scheming. If they can’t stay safe, what hope do we have?
If you’ve ever experienced hypothermia (which I have), or have slipped and thought you busted your tailbone (I destroyed an elbow once), nearly been hit by a car or been unable to use your fingers for a little too long after a run, keep reading. With a few basic tips and reminders about winter running safety, all of us can have a great winter full of running.
One of our readers, Don McGruder, is a Safety Specialist for Boston Scientific. He recently sent me a list of winter running safety tips to share. It is part of a talk he gives at the Running Room in Woodbury, MN. If you are new to winter running, these things will be extremely valuable. If you’ve been running through winter for many years, they will be helpful reminders.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Hypothermia occurs when you are unable to create enough heat to compensate for the cold. Hypothermia has been shown to occur not only when it’s super cold, but also when it’s windy and wet. Our body temperature is normally around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia begins at just 95 F (35 C). This is when bad things start to happen. As your core temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can’t work normally.
Don says hypothermia is,
a #1 danger. Traffic will come and go, some roads are well lit and some are dark, sometimes the pavement will be clear but the cold will be there all Winter long.
On the flip side, HyPERthermia is also something to think about in the winter. If you’re overly worried about heat, and overdress on a 40 degree day, you could be at risk. You can always remove layers, but the key is dressing right in the first place.
Don says to, “dress like its 20 degrees warmer than it really is due to the heat your body will generate.” and “wear a winter running jacket with a full zipper so you can vent if needed.”
I often feel like I am constantly dehydrated in the winter. My throat and hands are always cracked and dry. The air is much dryer due to the cold and indoor heating. To make matters worse, since I don’t sweat as much during the day, I don’t drink as much.
Don reminds us that,
…sweating can remain the same but you will lose moisture via your breath. Think of how dry the atmosphere is in the Winter months; that affects us internally as well. Skin is our largest organ so keep it hydrated from the inside out.
It’s also much more difficult to drink while you are running in the cold. I often plan to stop by a neighborhood coffee shop to grab something to drink during a long run, rather than trying to keep a water bottle from freezing.
We certainly have no shortage of articles about winter running gear on the site. We all know that wearing the right gear makes everything feel a lot better. Here are a few of Don’s quick tips.
- Layer up! Closest to skin will wick sweat away and keep you dry(er)
- Cover your neck, head & ears; not just a visor
- Wear gloves. Very light gloves will do a lot of good
- Cover the toes of your shoes with duct tape to keep cold air & snow/water out
- NO COTTON! Sweat will get cold and make you colder
- Wind can easily blow right through fleece and other tech fabrics. Wear a wind resistant yet breathable shell.
The adage that, “you get what you pay for” is so true of winter running gear. A good winter running kit will run you a few hundred bucks, but spread out over a few years, totally worth it.
This is always a good idea for runners, but especially important in the winter when there seems to be virtually no daylight! Don reminds us that,
Bright colored clothing is not the same as high viz. Wear reflective gear from head to toe!
Sure Footing is Everything
If you want to spent your winter actually running (as opposed to just shuffling over the ice), focus on your feet. Don share these three great options.
- Use Yak Traks or similar for packed snow
- Use spikes (or make your own) for icy conditions
- Run indoors! There are several great places around the Twin Cities, or use the treadmill… hey, it’s better than a broken ankle!
Trail shoes are also a great option, but won’t do much good vs ice.
Run With Your Phone
It can be annoying to run with your phone, but if you get lost, it may save your life. To keep it warm (so the battery won’t die) try wrapping it in a sock and placing it near the center of your body. Most winter running jackets have internal pockets for this exactly reason.
How Do You Stay Safe?
What are your best tips for winter running safety? Is there something you’ve learned over the years that you swear has keept you injury free? Share your wisdom below.