When I first moved to Canada, I decided that a great way to meet some friends in my new adopted country was to join an outdoor running club ― in January.
My first run didn’t exactly go well. I slipped on a patch of ice at the entrance of a tunnel, fell on my bum and got totally soaked. When I returned home, the skin on my thighs was burning and prickling, and the end of my nose felt strange.
I jumped into a hot shower to warm up and quickly discovered that one of the worst things you can do for frostbite ― which, as it turned out, was what I had ― is add hot water to the mix. The patch of skin on the end of my nose was scratchy and hard for a solid year.
Despite this awful initiation, I did continue to attend the weekly get-togethers throughout the frigid winter. I quickly learned that simple precautions, including choosing the right clothing and knowing your limits, can guarantee that your running shoes get plenty of miles year-round.
Running in winter takes a little more preparation than simply lacing up your sneakers and heading outside. You’ll need to think carefully about the preparation and execution. Follow these tips from fitness experts to become a successful winter runner:
Stay hydrated during your run.
It’s obvious that you need to carry water on your run in the hot summer months, but when it’s cold outside, you might not realize that you are becoming dehydrated until it’s too late.
“When you work out in the cold, you don’t feel like you’re sweating as much as you do in the warmer months,” said Katie Barrett, an instructor at the fitness studios B/SPOKE and MyStryde and a six-time marathon runner. “It’s easy to get dehydrated in the winter because we don’t feel like we are losing as much water.”
Choose the right clothing.
Cover all exposed skin when running in super cold temperatures, but choose smart fabrics that help prevent you from overheating as they wick moisture away from the skin. Brad Lupton, a USA Triathlon team member, suggested dressing as though it’s 10 to 15 degrees warmer than it really is.
“You want to be a little cold as you are starting out because you’ll get warm quickly. And don’t forget the gloves!” he said.
Layer, layer, layer.
It’s important to build a wardrobe of layering basics for your run to keep you comfortable and warm, according to Christine Nienstedt, co-founder of Nuu Muu, a clothing company that makes organic tees and running dresses.
Nienstedt recommends wearing a running skirt over a bottom base layer and mixing multiple tops. You can also try running with a scarf, which can be used as an extra layer around your neck, to shield your face or cover your mouth as you run, and also as a sweatband, tissue or headband.
Watch your step.
One of the biggest dangers of running in winter, as I found out, is falling over. You can lose your footing and have an accident when roads are slick with ice or the snow covers tree roots or uneven pavement.
“The key is to be mindful of foot placement. Most of the time, when a fall occurs, it will be when a winter runner is running fast and not paying attention and/or turning,” said Kyle Kranz, an online running coach based in South Dakota. He added that he typically advises his clients to come to a near complete stop when making sharp turns or changing directions in winter.
Make yourself visible.
Winter days get darker quicker, which can make it harder for drivers to see and avoid runners. Monica Lam-Feist, an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and fitness expert for the supplement company AlgaeCal, said winter runners should invest in reflective gear.
“It’s easy to blend into surroundings and nature when running at dawn or dusk in the winter ― sometimes even during the day! So always remember to choose one reflective piece of gear when prepping for your run,” she said.
You should also make sure someone knows where you are heading in case you get lost or need any help.
Run with a buddy.
Prepping to go out into the cold and exercise is more of a mental hurdle than a physical one. It can be just too tempting to stay warm and cozy on the couch. Arrange to run with a friend. Not only will you be safer than if you run alone but you’ll also have someone to hold you accountable for your fitness goals.
“It’s harder to back out when someone is waiting. It also makes it easier when you have someone to commiserate with,” said Meghan Kennihan, a National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer and USA Track & Field running coach. “Give yourself something to look forward to at the end of the run; maybe you and your friend run together and finish at a coffee shop.”
Start slowly and then build up your momentum.
Even if you are an experienced runner, working out in the cold can bring new challenges, so start slowly and build up your endurance. Winter runners should increase their miles cautiously, according to Rui Li, a National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer with a specialization in injury prevention and gait analysis who is owner and CEO of New York Personal Training.
“Don’t push the distance if you aren’t used to running in the cold. Start off with just one mile, and don’t go too hard,” Li said. “You need to allow your body to acclimate to the cold air, especially your lungs and even your face and jaw muscles.”
Sign up for a race.
For runners who enjoy races, the winter can be a surprisingly great time to participate in one. There are often fewer competitors, entrance fees can be lower and you can avoid the crowds.
“The winter months are a great time to get out and race,” said Joan Scrivanich, an exercise physiologist and running and triathlon coach at Rise Endurance. “Just be sure to leave a bag with a friend or family member that has warm dry clothes to change into after the race.”
And don’t forget to pat yourself on the back when you’re done with your training session. After all, not everybody gets out there in the winter, so you should be proud!