Running in Cold Temps

January 11, 2010


This past week, the United States experienced some highly unusual weather and cold temps. "Global freezing" as I heard it coined, has taken the country by storm with massive snow storms and extremely low temps. Even Florida fell victim to the freezing!

Whenever weather gets into extreme temperatures, runners and outdoor athletes have to be especially careful and pay more attention to safety rather than just getting in a good workout. Although we're all driven and are dedicated to the running game, we also need to use our noggin and some common sense. Here's a few tips to stay safe during the next few months of cold and snowy weather.

Temperature and Wind Chill
The stronger the wind, the more it will penetrate through your clothes. We've talked several times before about the importance of wearing the proper layers and protection. One thing to take into consideration is that your movement creates wind chill because it increases air movement past your body. If the temperature goes below zero or the wind chill is below minus 20, opt for the treadmill. Any brand of cold or winter gear should do the trick.

Your Hands, Feet and Head
About 30 percent of your body heat escapes through your hands and feet. There are several brands of running gloves and mittens to help keep your hands warm and insulated. Choose gloves for milder temps and mittens for colder conditions. Keeping your feet warm, shouldn't be that much of a problem. The bigger issue is keeping them dry from snow or puddles of melted snow. What you don't want are sweaty feet, which can increase the chances of blisters or other fungal issues. If you are running through water, consider a different type of running shoe for trail running. About 40 percent of your body heat is lost through your head. Wearing a scull cap will help prevent heat loss, but if it's really cold, opt for a face mask or a scarf over your mouth to warm the air you breathe and to protect your face.

Layers and Overdressing
When facing the cold temps, I think most people have the tendency to overdress, not realizing that their body heat will increase along their run. A good rule of thumb is to dress 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature outside. Start with a thin layer of a wicking material. Add an outer layer of breathable material that will protect you against wind and precipitation, while it still lets out heat and moisture to prevent overheating and chilling. For the really cold temps, add a middle layer such as a fleece jacket for added insulation.

Watch for Frostbite
Be sure to keep an eye on your fingers, toes, ears and nose. They may feel numb at first, but they should warm up a few minutes into your run. If you notice a patch of hard, pale, cold skin, you may have frostbite and you should get out of the cold immediately and slowly warm the affected area. Do NOT take a hot shower, as it could send your body into shock. If the numbness continues, see a doctor immediately.

Protect Your Eyes
The snow can cause blindness so invest in polarized lenses to avoid the glaring sun if your area gets lots of snow.

Get Out of Wet Clothes Immediately
I actually made this mistake the other day. I ran at the gym, went outside in the cold temps, then went to the my wet gym clothes. I ended up sitting under the dryer for an hour with my NorthFace jacket on trying to warm up. If you get wet from rain, snow or sweat in cold temperatures, you're at an increased risk for hypothermia (this is what happens when your body temperature lowers). If you're wet change your clothes and get into warm shelter as quickly as possible. If you suspect hypothermia (intense shivering, loss of coordination, slurred speech and fatigue) seek emergency medical care.

Keep Hydrated
Even if you are in cold weather, you're still sweating and losing fluids. Cold air also has a drying effect, which can increase the risk of dehydration. Drink plenty of water or a sports drink before, during and after your run.

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