Cold Weather Running Tips
Written By Scott Meier, MD, Kaiser Permanente Sports Medicine Physician
A few years ago, Runner’s World magazine named Sacramento as being among the 50 best running cities in the United States. The article noted the city’s beautiful trails and parkways where people can run for miles. Sacramento’s mostly mild weather also means running can be a year-round sport.
However, as we begin the winter season, it is important to adjust your running habits to remain healthy and safe. The winter can pose different challenges: Shorter days, longer nights and the weather can vary from location to location. Careful planning can help runners stay motivated and remain safe. Here are some cold weather running-safety tips:
Get shoes that are water resistant and provide the support and stability you need. Use socks that keep your feet warm, but also wick away moisture. Consider having a couple of pairs of shoes if you run in an area that is often wet; this will allow you to wear the other pair the next day while the first pair dries.
Make sure the gear you are wearing is visible with reflectors and bright colors and provides the perfect balance of warmth without causing you to sweat too much. Wear clothing that wicks away sweat and breathes but keeps out the cold. Running jackets with zippers in the arms, neck, and underarm area provide needed ventilation. For wet and windy conditions, use a waterproof windbreaker or shell. For more warmth, use hats and gloves that wick and breathe.
When it’s dark out, carry a flashlight or wear a headlamp to be seen.
It is easier to find excuses to avoid running during the winter, but being comfortable in the right clothing is a good place to begin. Before you run, choose a reward for when you return. Perhaps it’s a healthy snack you enjoy. Or maybe you will choose a new piece of running clothing after several successful runs.
Follow an indoor warm-up routine that gets the blood flowing. Do yoga, run up and down stairs or walk on a treadmill. Warming up and stretching your muscles prevents injuries.
Take it slow and set goals
Speed is not a priority. Not many people are setting personal records in the cold. If it becomes too cold on long runs, split the day’s run in two, or do half the distance. You will sweat less and be less likely to be affected by the cold.
Know your route. This is important if you are running in the dark. Check the weather before you go, so you are not surprised by any sudden change in the weather. Carry a cell phone, identification and some money.
Have a post-run outfit ready
If you are running at a location that’s not near your home, bring a set of dry, warm clothes, and hat and gloves that you can change into so you aren’t forced to wear wet, sweaty clothes home. Have a blanket in your car to help you warm up. Finally, bring a thermos of a warm drink. It’s a nice treat after a winter run.
Take it slow
If your running routine has taken a pause during the last few months, be sure that you pace yourself as you head back out there. Don’t assume you can go full speed right away; as a lot of injuries occur if you do too much, too fast. Start off slowly by walking or at least half walk/half jog at a very slow pace. You may feel some soreness, which is okay, but try to be aware of any pain you have. Use that pain and anything else that feels wrong as your guide for pacing yourself back to full speed. It should take you a minimum of two weeks, but more likely four weeks if you’ve been away from running for more than three months.
Some have asked if it is necessary to wear a mask while running because of concerns about COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people engaged in high-intensity activities, like running, may not be able to wear a mask if it causes difficulty breathing. If you can tolerate a mask while running, it is still advisable that you wear one. If you cannot, try to socially distance from others while running to help control possible spread of the virus. Right now, running events are generally not being held to protect our communities. Please review your local public health recommendations for the latest updates and information.
Author Scott Meier, MD, has been with Kaiser Permanente since 2009. He is board certified in both pediatrics and sports medicine. He treats both competitive and recreational athletes in the sports medicine department at the Kaiser Permanente Promenade Medical Offices in Elk Grove.
This story first appeared in the Ardent
for Life Holiday 2020 issue.