Running in Cold Weather

Depending on your geographic location, winter may not be an optimal time to plan a dramatic increase in mileage or to add speed work to your training regimen. Cold and icy conditions make running more hazardous. Slipping, muscle guarding (a muscle spasm in response to a painful stimulus), and cool muscles can contribute to hamstring and groin pulls.

Cold Weather Strategies

Warm up well before going out, and be especially careful when running on surfaces that are wet or icy. Shorten your stride, and run slower than usual. When running just after a winter storm, if you have a choice of running on ice or snow, choose the snow. You will be less likely to slip because the traction is better.

To help yourself keep warm, a good strategy to remember is to run out against the wind and return with the wind at your back. The greater the amount of cold air passing over your exposed body surface, the faster your body will cool off. By running against the wind, you'll be facing the most environmental stress when you are fresh, maybe running faster, and you will not be soaked with perspiration during the first half of the run. You will tend to stay warmer on the return leg when running with the wind to your back, especially if you have been sweating. The wind behind you will also help keep you moving.

Dressing for Cold Weather Runs

It is important to protect all areas of your body from exposure. This includes your face, head, hands, feet, legs, arms, and chest. Also, don't forget your other more delicate parts: Men should consider investing in underwear with an insulated front panel for extra protection.

To protect your feet, which conduct cold through the soles of your running shoes as they strike the cold trails or roads, wear dry socks made of a wicking material. Acrylic material can wick moisture away, which prevents moisture from forming around your feet while you run and turning to ice when you stop running. You can cover a thin inner sock with a thicker outer sock, provided this doesn't pad your foot so much that you can barely squeeze your foot into your shoe. Immediately following your run, change into a dry pair of socks.

Nike Dri-FIT®, Capilene®, Varitherm®, Cocona®, and Coolmax® are names of fabrics designed to keep your body either warm and dry or cool and dry. No longer is it necessary to wear multiple layers of T-shirts, sweatshirts, or even a parka to stay warm in the coldest weather. Although you still need to layer, today's materials are less bulky, more comfortable, and better designed to protect against the elements. Cotton fabric will hold moisture and lose its insulating properties. Wool and today's Smartwool® will continue to insulate and keep you warm even when they are wet.

A combination to keep you toasty and dry consists of a thin layer of synthetic material to pull moisture away from your body, covered with fleece for insulation, then topped with a breathable, waterproof layer.

Your skin is the part of your body most exposed to environmental conditions. Nourish and protect it by staying hydrated (whether it's hot or cold out) and wear sunscreen when you run. Sunblock and moisturizer help prevent a weathered face.

A facemask or scarf further minimize exposure, especially of the thin skin on your face, and a hat and gloves are musts. For your head, choose a lightweight synthetic fabric that wicks away moisture and won't itch. A fleece or Smartwool® gator will keep your neck warm, which can make all the difference when running in cold weather. For hands in relatively mild temperatures, some runners wear painters gloves as recommended by Bill Rogers. For colder weather, you can wear inner polypropylene gloves with an outer layer of mittens. Choose a soft and absorbent material that can also go in the wash, since cold air hitting the warmer air from your nose will cause your nose to run, in which case wiping it with the back of your hand is the most practical solution.

For your legs, you can add sweatpants over polypropylene tights, or if it is exceptionally cold wear Gore-Tex® or nylon pants on the outer layer.

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