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A dozen tips for running safely in winter

By Henry Howard

Winter is here. A time for hibernation as the days are darker and often colder. For runners, there are fewer races to serve as motivators during this time of the year.

However, spring races are just around the corner. And the time and effort runners put in now will pay off when it’s race day.

There are more extenuating circumstances for runners heading out at this time of the year. Storms can leave behind snow, ice and slush. Temperatures can cause dry and cracked skin, frostbite and even hypothermia. And the dark days present safety challenges.

Here are a dozen tips for runners on how to stay safe regardless of what winter throws your way.

1. Protect your extremities: Heat escapes from our head and hands. Wear gloves and a hat when it’s colder out. My hands tend to be cold at this time of the year, so I have several pairs of gloves that I use depending on just how cold it is outside.

2. Don't ignore shivering: That is the first sign the body is losing heat. Don’t try to tough it out. Seek shelter or help before hypothermia sets in. Signs of hypothermia include confusion, slurred speech and memory loss.

3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: It’s just as important to hydrate as when it’s warm out. Sometimes, air is drier in winter than in other seasons, and becoming dehydrated can make you even colder. On long runs, it is advisable to have water with you. If you don’t want to lug around a bottle of water that might freeze, here are some suggestions:

  • Put warm water in the bottle. By the time you need it, it will be at a good temperatures.

  • Use a hydration mix to ensure you are getting a proper dosage of electrolytes. I’ve developed a taste for Gnarly Hydrate.

  • Stash the bottle along your route on a spot where you know you will return.

4. Stay alert: Winter storms may weaken tree limbs, causing them to fall. Hearing the crack before the fall may save you from a branch or limb.

5. Know your surroundings: Oncoming winter storms can quickly drop the temperature putting you at risk for frostbite or hypothermia. When a winter storm is imminent is not the time to explore somewhere new. Know where to find shelter if the weather worsens.

6. Layer up: Layers of clothing will help you maintain your core body temperature during the run. It is better to wear a little more, and shed your layers as needed, than not wear enough and develop hypothermia.

7. Get shoe traction: There are a number of ways to ensure proper foot traction on treacherous terrain such as ice and snow. Yaktrax and Microspikes are both good options. Other options include putting screws in the bottom of your trail shoes.

8. Find a buddy: There is safety in numbers. Not only does it provide additional safety, but it’s an extra motivator when both the alarm clock and wind chills are in the single digits.

9. Be visible: If you run when it is dark out, make sure you have a properly charged light source and wear a reflective vest, especially in areas with lots of traffic. Bright clothing is a good option, too. I’ve recently moved from wearing a headlamp to a waist light, and the difference is stark. Read more about why I’m committed to my UltrAspire waist lamp.

10. Warm up properly: It’s always a good idea to loosen up the body with a dynamic warmup. In colder weather, it takes on added performance so your body is warm before heading out into the cold air. A good 10 to 15 minutes of dynamic stretches will help get you loose and ready to go.

11. Run during the day: While my schedule rarely allows it, running during daylight hours is safer. It has the side benefit of allowing you to absorb needed sunshine (read vitamin D) we rarely get in the winter.

12. Use the treadmill: I rarely get on the treadmill, as I much prefer running outside. However, it does provide a good, safe option when temperatures and/or icy conditions prove to be a threat to safety.


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