We all have to admit that we’ve been spoiled with the late arrival of winter in Southwestern Ontario this year. The past couple of weeks have been the first real exposure to snow days, icy roads and sub-zero temperatures that seem to be here to stay.
For those of us who are braving the winter cold to continue running outdoors, here are some tips to keep yourself on track and safe during the season.
- Dress appropriately.
The best advice is to layer your clothing with sweat-wicking materials that will keep you warm without being too bulky or too warm. Your body will lose heat faster than it can produce it when the temperature drops. However, research has shown that the rate of heat production while performing exercise can be high enough to compensate for heat lost with limb movements. Remember to grab a headband or running toque to prevent heat loss and I also recommend a lighter pair of gloves because cold induces peripheral vasoconstriction, reducing blood flow to our extremities. A neck warmer is also important to protect your face from fierce winds and blowing snow, which are also a major contributor to heat loss due to convection
2. Wear the right footwear.
The other essential piece of advice to prevent falls and injuries is to try out footwear accessories that will improve traction and prevent yourself from slipping on black ice when running on streets, sidewalks, etc..(I learned this the hard way). Whether you are running or walking outdoors, these traction devices can reduce your risk of FOOSH injuries (falling on an outstretched hand) that could lead to fractures, dislocations, contusions, strains and sprains. The devices are very easy to use and can attach to your road or trail-running shoes. You can find Yaktrax and other devices at local sporting goods stores such as the Mountain Equipment Co-op.
3. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t beat your PB.
Running in colder temperatures can be much more physically taxing on the body to achieve steady-state and alters the function our cardiovascular system. The body tries to preserve heat for the vital organs and will reduce peripheral blood flow by increasing vascular resistance. This also causes our cardiac output and stroke volume to increase to work against this resistance, which causes a higher work rate to achieve the same distance in a milder temperature. If you have any medical concerns regarding your cardiovascular health you may be at risk for a cardiac episode and should refrain from high intensity activity in colder temperatures. For those who are well-trained, running in the winter can help improve your cardiovascular endurance by challenging your system and prepare you for the upcoming race season.
Overall, I think continuing to run outdoors can be great to maintain fitness throughout the winter season. Just be mindful of some of the risks involved with the temperature and terrain to ensure safety and avoid getting injured.
Kenney, W. L., Wilmore, J., and Costill, D. (2015). Exercise in hot and cold environments. Physiology of Sport and Exercise (6th Ed). p. 295-318. Human Kinetics. Available from https://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=tsy4BwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR1&dq=Cardiovascular+training+in+cold+temperature&ots=CRgv6ucE1T&sig=nb_EmwO905KLQCFiLDB8cB5FUzU#v=onepage&q&f=false
Young, A. J., Sawka, M. N. and Pandolf, K. B. (1996). Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research. Nutritional needs in cold and in high-altitude environments: Applications for military personnel in field operations. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 7, Physiology of Cold Exposure. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK232852/