Last Updated on September 10, 2020 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
Don’t let the colder, darker, snowy months slow your training down. Here are 8 winter running safety tips to keep you going all year long!
I, Heather Gannoe, will admit right now that I’m the worst Vermonter ever. I loathe winter, I positively dread the six months (sometimes longer) of dark, cold, miserable weather.
And I’ll also be the first to admit that I’m what people often refer to (with a laugh) as a “fair weather runner”. Don’t believe what those pinterest worthy memes tell you about how “real runners” endure more adverse weather than a postal carrier, in my opinion it’s OK to throw in your towel and skip your run during a blizzard.
But, hardcore runner or not, let’s face it: during the winter months, it is significantly harder to muster up the motivation to leave the comfort of your warm home and go for a run. While some of you (us) may find retreating to the warm gym to be appealing, other runners prefer to avoid the monotony of the treadmill and head outdoors.
8 Winter Running Safety Tips
With the harsh weather that so often accompanies the winter months come safety concerns that all runners should be aware of. So, here are eight safety tips to help keep you…and me, when I muster up the courage… running through the winter months.
LAYERS, LAYERS, LAYERS! Wear lots of layers! That is the response Igive everyone who asks me for “what should I wear while running during the winter?” advice. Dress appropriately for the cold weather, but remember that your core body temperature will increase with activity.
Layer with lightweight sweat wicking clothing designed for running, to allow you to remove or add layers as your body temperature changes throughout your run. Further, many running apparel companies make winter specific clothing now, that will keep you warm without added bulk. Make the investment, you won’t regret it.
And then put on more Layers: Hats, Gloves, Socks, etc.
When you run, blood flow is naturally shunted away from your extremities and towards your heart, lungs, and active muscles. This, combined with the fact that a significant amount of heat is lost through the large surface area of your head, hands and feet, means that it is very important to wear hats, gloves, and socks to keep your extremities warm.
Find accessories that are sweat wicking, such as wool or other technical fabrics, to help keep you dry and warm. If necessary, wear face protection, such as a balaclava (not to be confused with baklava, while tasty, it won’t protect you from frostbite), to help protect your skin. When in doubt: cover as much exposed skin as possible. Remember, as mentioned above, layers can be removed if you become too hot.
This is a very important winter running safety tip that a lot of people tend to forget. Because winter isn’t miserable enough, mother nature has also decided to take away available hours of daylight. Further, winter storms can drastically decrease visibility to both drivers and pedestrians alike.
Wear brightly colored clothing to ensure that you are visible to oncoming traffic as well as other runners and pedestrians. Headlamps and reflective clothing are also a great idea if you are running during dawn, dusk, or evening hours. Most experts recommend reflective tape OR a light source on all four appendages (legs and arms). The natural movement of running will move these light sources in a pattern that is much more visible to motorists.
Plan, Know, & Share Your Route
Know where you are going to run ahead of time. If you live in an area where snow is common, snowstorms may pop up unexpectedly, and cover your tracks or make your route somewhat unrecognizable. Occasionally this can happen even in places where snow isn’t common (see photo below). Knowing ahead of time where you plan to go, and probably more importantly,how to get back, will help lessen the possibility of getting lost.
In addition to planning your route, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. This is a good idea for any runner in any climate, but even more so in the cold. In the event that you do become lost, a speedy recovery, and return to warmth, is much more likely when someone has a general idea of where you might be.
Watch Your Step
Let me state the obvious: ice and snow are slippery. Try to stick to well-maintained roads and sidewalks to avoid the possibility of slipping and falling on ice or packed snow. Wear shoes with significant tread, such as Icebugs, or use a product such as YakTrax to give you extra grip.
Or, if you’re looking for a fun running cross training option, give snowshoeing a try! Check out “Snowshoeing for Runners 101” for more information on how to get started!
This should be any runner’s #1 mantra, but you’d be surprised how many of us forget it…especially in the winter. Sure, it’s easy to remember to drink water during the summer months, when the temperatures are suffocating and sweat is more profuse. Though harder to force yourself to consume adequate water during the cold winter months, it is equally as imperative as it is during the summer.
Be sure to properly hydrate before, during, and after each run to ensure proper hydration levels. Carry an insulated waterbottle, or a hydration pack with an insulated straw. Don’t forget to blow air back into the straw after using it if you are running in sub-freezing temperatures. It will help keep the water from freezing your straw shut!
Limit exposure to freezing temperatures in order to avoid frostbite or hypothermia. When checking the weather and temperatures before a run, be sure to factor in the effects of the wind chill. Wind chill measures how quickly water is evaporated from your body in the form of sweat, which is the body’s natural mechanism for cooling itself. Thus, a high wind chill may cool your body more than desired, and even drop your body temperature to dangerous levels. If possible, run during the predicted warmest times of day.
Don’t be a hero. If the weather is dangerously cold, or a harsh storm is about to blow through, skip your run. Seriously, no one is going to revoke your “I’m a bad-ass runner” card, I promise.
Are you a cold weather runner, or do you retreat to the indoors (Hey…I’m not judging!) Have any winter running safety tips to add? Comment below!
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.