Encouraging Health and Happiness

Brrrr: 10 tips for cold-weather runners

Posted by Don Shelton

If you’re a Seattle runner like I am, you’re no stranger to running in cold, rainy weather. But the kind of bone-chilling temperatures and ankle deep snow that’s hitting the area now is a different matter.

We’re here to help. If you’re looking for some advice on how to stay safe and avoid a pratfall or injury, look no further. Here are 10 tips for runners to weather any kind of nasty extremes, courtesy of running coaches Jess Cover and Sam Davis from RunVermont. These folks seem to know their cold-weather stuff.

So read up and run on.

1. Layer, layer, layer: Layering clothes provides the perfect balance needed for winter running to avoid over- or under-dressing. When done properly, layers will trap the air warmed by your body while still allowing moisture and sweat to be wicked from your skin. Choose layers that can easily be tied around your waist once you begin to warm up; it’s important not to overheat while running since this can put you at risk of hypothermia.

• First layer: Base layers should consist of a wicking synthetic material, such as polypropylene. Since this layer touches your skin, be sure that it is soft, comfortable and non-chafing. This layer can be a short sleeve or sleeveless layer – just make sure it’s long enough for you to tuck in.

• Second layer: The next layer is more insulating and should consist of a long-sleeved, midweight synthetic shirt – moisture still needs to be able to breathe through this layer.

• Third layer: If it’s a little colder, a jacket or vest is recommended.

• Tights: Outside temperatures will dictate what type of running tights to wear. For temperatures between 25-50 degrees, lightweight tights (or capris for women) will suffice. For temperatures between 10-25 degrees, midweight full-length tights are recommended, and for temperatures below 10 degrees, try to wear midweight tights with a built-in wind-block layer or midweight tights and a wind-blocking layer on top.

• Socks: Most running shoes are designed to let heat escape, which is not ideal for winter conditions. Wear thick, warm socks to keep your toes toasty, as up to 30 percent of body heat leaves through your feet. Brands such as Darn Tough Vermont and Smartwool create a variety of merino wool socks that regulate temperature and wick away moisture, keeping your feet warm.

• Hats and gloves: Don’t forget about your head and hands. There are a variety of thin, wicking hats and headbands made for running; some even are designed with an opening in the back to allow for ponytails. There is an array of running gloves on the market, but 180s makes a pair of gloves that have overmitts, which are perfect for windy runs or when temperatures drop and you want the extra heat that mittens provide.

2. Stay dry: One of the biggest hazards of cold-weather running is hypothermia, which can be caused by dampness from precipitation or sweat. Unlike air, water is a strong conductor of heat and therefore it’s important to wear clothing that is both water- and wind-proof and made of materials that wick sweat. Avoid overdressing, as extra sweat increases the risk of hypothermia. A good rule of thumb is to dress for 15- to 20-degrees warmer than it actually is, since your body temperature will rise throughout your run. Being a little chilly during your pre-run is a good sign that you’re not overdressed.

3. Check the wind chill: Before heading out for your run, always check the current weather conditions, including the wind chill. Wind chill is what the temperature feels like on exposed skin due to wind. If it is windy at the time of your run, try to face the wind during the first half of the run so the wind is at your back during the homestretch – when you’re sweaty and prone to chills.

4. Warm up – and then some: During winter months your body needs extra time to stretch and warm up. Cold temperatures limit blood flow, which can cause muscles to contract and possibly cramp. To avoid cramping and potentially damaging a muscle, spend an additional five minutes at a slower pace or brisk walk before settling into your normal pace. But even with this tip, consider taking it easy on extremely cold days. In the big picture, a low intensity run is better for you than a crippling injury.

5. It’s all about hydration: Staying hydrated in cold weather is just as important as it is during hot summer days since cold air can actually increase the risk of dehydration. This can be prevented by drinking adequate amounts of fluids before, during and after runs. If you run with a water bottle or fuel belt but have problems with the bottle spout(s) freezing, try placing a sock over the cap. It may look a little goofy, but it’s just enough insulation to keep your water bottle from freezing shut.

6. Watch Out: When the weather outside is frightful, it is important to take extra safety precautions. Although fresh snow can be better for traction, it often hides patches of ice, so look for packed down snow to run on. Ideal places to run include plowed streets, sidewalks clear of ice or areas protected from harsh winds, such as wooded trails. Try to run on paths you are familiar with and watch out for cracks or holes lying under the snow. To avoid slipping and falling, keep your stride shorter and feet closer to the ground to prevent tumbles. There are also a variety of accessories you can purchase to give you better traction, such as YakTrax and studded running shoes. If you run on the road, always run opposite of traffic and be aware that plowed snowbanks often make the roads narrower.

7. Be seen: RunVermont recommends running in the sunshine, for both the safety of being seen and to also get that extra dose of sunshine most of us miss out on during the winter months. However, if you end up running while it’s dark, always wear a reflective vest, a flashing light/headlamp and bright colors to stand out against the snow.

8. Be aware: Two major concerns about cold weather exercise are hypothermia and frostbite. Take shelter indoors if you notice any indicators of frostbite, such as slight pain, paleness or hard skin, and seek medical attention if numbness persists. Symptoms of hypothermia include loss of coordination, extreme shivering or discoloration of the skin (becoming pale or blue).

9. Set goals: Are you the type to need motivation to lace up and get out the door? Register for a spring race! This will force you to train and have an event to shoot for. Or find a running partner that you can run with a set number of times per week. It’s much easier to head out into the cold when you know someone else is depending on you for the exact same reasons.

10. Hey, there’s always the treadmill: If roads and sidewalks are covered in ice or temperatures are severely freezing, stay inside. Treadmills are affordable and are a great way to get your miles in without putting yourself at risk.

And when the weather is bad but you still want to venture outside, don’t worry about distance. It’ll take you longer to run your usual distance when conditions are poor, so if it normally takes you 60 minutes to run six miles, just run for 60 minutes.

In addition to these tips, be sure to check with your local running store. The experts can direct you in the right direction for proper winter running apparel and accessories.

If you’d like to write a Take 2 post, email Sports Editor Don Shelton at dshelton@seattletimes.com or sports@seattletimes.com.

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