by Sports Medicine Physician and elite runner, Dr. Jason Blackham
Intermountain McKay Dee Sports Medicine
February 3, 2016 – Want to keep running in the winter and stay safe and enjoy it at the same time? There are four main things to consider for Winter Running Safety including staying safe in the dark, what clothing you should wear, proper shoes, and managing air quality.
Run Safely in the Dark
Since winter has less daylight many people have to work out before or after work, which involves long hours of running in the dark. My first tip for running in the dark, is to assume that cars cannot see you. Avoid blind turns or blind hills and run where you can see the cars. Avoid running in the area of the road where a car would be.
For example, I often see a group of runners or walkers in the middle of a road expecting the cars to go around them. Even though you are running, remember what it is like driving a car in snow and ice and avoid being in the path of a potential slide.
Wearing reflective clothing and gear makes it easier to be seen. Lights or headlamps are indispensable both for people seeing you and for you to see dangers.
Ice and potholes can be dangerous and I’ve taken a few spills due to a light going dim or not having a light. My wife enjoys running with other people which does many things. Being in a group helps you to be seen. It provides more eyes to see dangers and obstacles, as long as you don’t distract each other. It makes you get out of bed on those cold dark mornings when it is so tempting to stay in bed. Plus, there is safety in numbers.
Wear the Proper Clothing
For clothing, layers are essential. Know what the temperature is at the location you will be running, to help you plan what to wear. Based upon my running routes, and temperature at the outdoor thermometer at our house, along with weather apps, I know how many layers I will need and what layers I will wear.
Start with a base layer that wicks moisture away from the body. Most shirts that are from races now are a moisture wicking variety. Avoid cotton materials that hang on to moisture and get wet in the snow or storms.
A beanie hat, good gloves and wool socks are essential as most heat is lost through the head, hands and feet. I like a pair of fleece gloves or mittens for under 20 degrees, with a lighter pair of moisture wicking gloves for above 30 degrees.
After the moisture wicking layer on the upper body, running tights for the lower body work well. On colder days, a good pair of running sweat pants that fit tightly around the ankles and lower leg are great. I like long socks, not the ankle ones, to protect my ankles better especially if running in snow.
The next layer could be a windbreaker as the moisture wicking layer lets air through it. On days that are above 25 degrees, I have a windbreaker that is florescent green with reflective stripes on it. For colder temperatures, a fleece running jacket that allows moisture to escape is wonderful. I wear them when the temperature is below 20.
It is important to know that conditions can change what the temperature feels like. For example, running when it is sunny at 25 feels warmer than 25 and dark. Wind makes it feel colder and can go through clothing. If wind chill is bad, make sure your face is covered so as not to get frost nip or bite.
Running on a budget and can’t afford fancy or expensive gear? I found it best to gradually build up the running clothes from year to year. Most of the gear lasts a few winter seasons. Running gear makes great gifts, let your loved ones know what you need for your next birthday or holiday.
The Importance of Shoes
Even with a good light, black ice and potholes can be hidden. Having shoes with good traction is a must. I try to avoid shoes with worn soles during snow and icy conditions. Wearing trail running shoes is great for snow and ice. I have learned that many times running in snow on the roads isn’t as slippery as running on packed snow or a road that was just plowed.
If conditions are really bad then you can buy things that provide extra traction to the shoes. A few note of caution with them, make sure they fit correctly to avoid foot injuries and be careful if running on pavement that has been cleared.
I have learned to wear a running shoe a half size bigger if wearing thicker wool socks to avoid tight fitting shoes so that my toes have room to avoid blisters, numbness and cutting off circulation.
What to do if the Air is Bad
The last winter running tip is to know when air quality is bad and you should avoid running outdoors. Intermountain Healthcare now has a great app or website to check on the air quality with recommendations for people with certain medical illnesses and healthy people too. It gives recommendations on how much time should be spent outside exercising depending on the air quality.
With the tips discussed, you may enjoy your winter running experience better, be better prepared for it and be safer. When conditions aren’t safe, it is best to have an alternate plan for indoor training with a treadmill, track, bike, elliptical, etc. if conditions don’t permit the outdoor run.