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Runners Education: Tips to Keep Your Routine Going All Winter Long

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Winter Running

Stay Safe When Exercising at Night

This is another installation in a series of runners education articles written by UW Health Sports Medicine staff.

 

Running enthusiasts dread the onset of winter in Wisconsin, when they say goodbye to sunny, 60-degree weather and hello to the snow, wind, darkness and freezing temperatures. Whether you brave the weather and stay outside all winter long, or bring your routine indoors, winter is a great opportunity to work on running maintenance, running performance or recovery from a nagging injury.

 

The following tips can help you get the most of your run whether you are indoors or out.

 

Treadmill Running

 

If you are someone who can't bear to run in temperatures below 30 degrees, treadmill running may be your preferred method but the monotony can make it difficult to stay focused longer than 20 or 30 minutes. To help stay engaged with your routine, consider incorporating low-grade hills into the treadmill program, or work toward an interval program.

 

Interval Training

 

Intervals on the treadmill can be a combination of walking and running or running at various different paces. For example, following a 5-minute warm-up increase your speed for 2 minutes then return to your baseline for a minute. Repeat this 2-to-1 interval 5 times and then perform a 5-minute cool down and stretching. You can repeat the same workout but walk during the 1-minute recovery.

 

A slight variation in grade can be used in the same fashion. For example, following a 5 minute warm-up, increase the treadmill grade by 2 percent and run for 1 minute, then increase the grade to 4 percent and run for another minute. Return the grade back to zero and recover by walking for 1 minute. Repeat this combination 5 times and finish with a 5-minute cool down and stretching.

 

If you have to perform a longer run on the treadmill due to an upcoming race, consider recruiting a friend to run next to you, be sure to have an updated music playlist or start the run outside and finish on the treadmill if weather is a limiting factor.

 

Outdoor Running

 

Outdoor running during the winter can mean icy roads and sidewalks, brutal wind, freezing temperatures and dangerous wind chill. It is important to understand the potential dangers of winter weather, and be prepared with appropriate clothing recommendations, winter hydration and proper equipment.

 

Prepare for the Weather

 

Wind chill, a common term heard in winter, is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin and is described as the "feels like" temperature. The threshold for dangerous wind chills is -18 degrees Fahrenheit, with the potential for frostbite to occur in 30 minutes or less of skin exposure.

 

Dress in Layers

 

Despite the bitterly cold temperatures, your body still sweats. The increased moisture from the sweat causes your body to lose more heat. Dressing in layers is key to staying safe:

  • Layer 1 (closest to body): Moisture wicking fabric, such as polypropylene and wool. Avoid cotton as this is a moisture retaining fabric.
  • Layer 2 (and subsequent layers): Lightweight and insulating fabric
  • Top Layer: Wind-resistent fabric for wind protection

Don't Forget the Feet, Head and Hands

 

The lower legs and feet need just as much protection at the trunk and upper body. Consider wearing a pair of thermal long underwear and an insulating pair of pants over top. Smart wool socks have a variety of thickness options and are made specifically for runners.

 

The head and neck contribute up to 40 percent of heat loss during cold weather, so covering the head is essential. Depending on the wind chill, a facemask may be needed to assist with warming the air you breathe in. Running mittens are a better option than gloves since they provide greater warmth.  

 

Stay Hydrated

 

Staying hydrated and maintaining appropriate energy balance during cold weather running also assists with temperature regulation and can decrease the risk of hypothermia and cold related injuries.

 

Signs of Cold Stress:

  • Poor judgment
  • Slow, slurred speech
  • Numbness or burning in the toes
  • Clumsy movements
  • Burning of skin on face or nose
  • Excessive shivering

Proper Outdoor Running Equipment:

 

A fresh, new snowfall is a beautiful time to go for a run. However, the risk of slipping and increased apprehension can make the run long and challenging. Proper footwear can assist with tackling the rough snow and ice and improve your confidence. If the ground is slick or snow covered it's best to stay away from typical running shoes, as their traction ability is poor. Yaktrax and similar products can provide increased traction when trekking through the challenging terrain and strap on to the bottom of your running shoes. Depending on the degree of snow versus ice, trail running shoes can provide sufficient traction in the snow to minimize slipping. If there appears to be more ice, stick with the Yaktrax.

 

Along with tolerating the snow and ice, the days become shorter minimizes the opportunity to run in daylight. There are head lamps made specifically for runners assisting with comfort for prolonged wear. Additional recommendations for running in the dark include reflectors around the wrists and ankles and reflective material on your outer layer of clothing.

 

Learn tips to stay safe when daylight is limited

 

Winter can be long, dark and cold. However, staying active is a great way to beat the winter blues. And remember the UW Sports Rehabilitation team is available to assist with running related injuries or performance improvement. If you have a lingering running injury or you are interested in improving your running performance the winter months are a great time to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist in the UW Runner's Clinic.