Winter Running Safety
How avid runners can avoid injury in the cold, dark months
Running in the winter poses a specific set of challenges — cold temperatures, icy conditions and shorter days with more hours of darkness. When the temperature drops, a runner’s risk for injury goes up. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop running outside. Reduce your risk of getting hurt and increase your safety level with these best practices.
Protect yourself from drivers
Gone are those 7 p.m. summer runs in the bright evening sun. During winter, those of us who plan to squeeze in an outdoor run before or after work will most likely have to do it in the dark. This means low visibility for drivers and the very real concern of getting hit by a car. To stay safe on the road:
- Run with a buddy. Not only will it help with motivation but there’s truth to the old adage about strength in numbers. Women especially should consider running with a friend or group as they are more likely than men to be attacked.
- Wear lights and reflective clothing. This will help motorists spot you from a distance. If you’re running on the road, run facing the traffic. A headlamp will increase drivers’ ability to see you and also help you see what’s in front of you.
- Ditch the earbuds. What you lack in tunes will be made up for in the ability to hear oncoming traffic.
Warm up and stay loose
The cold makes your muscles stiff, which can lead to injuries if you haven’t warmed up properly, says Amy Devaney, a physical therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Warm muscles are flexible muscles.
Before an outdoor run, warm up your muscles by:
- Jogging in place
- Jogging and lifting your knees up high
- Doing jumping jacks
- Taking the stairs
- Walking outside before you begin to run
When you don’t feel hot or sweaty, it’s easy to forget to drink enough water. Make sure you’re hydrating before, during and after a run. You’ve likely heard the advice about drinking 8 cups of water a day, but that’s largely unsupported by data. The Institute of Medicine suggests that men consume about 13 cups of liquid each day and women consume 9 cups. Runners should drink more on the days they run.
Get the right gear
When the temperature drops, it’s time to bundle up. Avoid cotton, which retains moisture (like sweat) and will make you feel colder. Always think in terms of layers and dress for weather that’s about 10 degrees warmer than it is because once you start moving, you’ll heat up.
Suggestions for proper gear:
- Moisture-wicking base layers will lift the sweat away from your body and dry quickly. Look for words like nylon, Lycra, elastane, and acrylic. Athleta, Lululemon and Under Armour offer stylish layering options that work well together.
- Breathable middle layers like cotton, polyester or a blend of both
- Water repellent and wind resistant outer layers
- Slip-on cleats such as Stabilicers give you traction on ice and snow so you can avoid a nasty fall. They wrap around your shoe and have metal coils on the bottom. Look for them at stores like LLBean, REI, EMS and Dick's Sporting Goods.
- A hat and mittens to prevent heat from escaping through your extremities
Exercising consistently is one key to avoid injury. But how to stay motivated in winter?
Brogan Graham, co-creator of the nationwide free fitness movement November Project, routinely motivates hordes of runners to rise, shine and work out with him at 6:30 a.m. outside, year-round. With chapters in more than 15 cities across North America — including Boston, New York, Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis — Graham is no stranger to a wind chill. “Even when the weather is miserable, we embrace it. It’s a badge of honor,” he says.
How to keep the workouts going:
- Create a community. When you have someone relying on you to be there, you’re more likely to go.
- Invest in high quality gear. It will inspire you to use it. “You feel like you have on an extra layer of armor,” Graham says.
- Think about the rewards. Remind yourself how great it will feel to get that workout behind you. “I’ve never regretted any workout,” Graham says.