The weather outside may be frightful, but that doesn’t mean you should not be running in it. As the winter running season rushes in, runners are always tortured with the question, is it time to get on the treadmill? The answer should be no, but you have to be smart about running in the winter.
The risk of injury does increase in the winter due to internal and external factors. External factors would include slipping on ice, tripping on a rock that is hidden under snow or leaves. If it is very cold or windy, you can also get frostbite. Injuries caused by an internal factor usually means your body was not warm enough to run outside. If you decide to run outside in the winter months, it just takes a few extra steps.
Let’s first discuss your metabolism. Your metabolism creates energy which you use to run. When your body is cold, the energy that your metabolism creates is used to warm your body temperature. Because of this phenomena, it is normal to feel like you are working harder than usual. Runner’s that are newer to running outside in the winter should expect their times to be slower, it takes time for your body to adjust to this new level of energy.
Your clothing choice is always important when you are running, especially in the winter. Learn to layer. There are certain materials that are more important as base layers and others that
should only be worn as an outer layer. Wind makes insulation of fabric less effective so it is important to not only check the temperature but also the wind. The inner layer should always
be a sweat wicking fabric like synthetic wool or polyester. Middle layer should keep you warm, micro fleece and wool are both good for that. When picking an outer layer, consider if it’s going
to be wet or windy. Your outer layer should allow for ventilation but also keep you dry. Hats will decrease heat loss and mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves because your fingers are
In the summer you may feel tight for the first few strides but your legs warm up quickly. This is not the case in the winter. It is important to get your muscles moving before you run, especially if you have been sitting at work all day. Dynamic stretching is easier to do if you are already outside and is a great way to familiarize your muscles with movement. First walk for a few minutes at a quick but comfortable pace. You want to make sure you are taking big strides. You should also do some knee high hops, this wakes up the calves, hamstrings and also gets your heart pumping. Lateral leg swings are great to open up the hips also. 10-15 of each of these and you are ready to go.
Running in the winter can be cold but it is also special. The world is quiet and empty. If you normally run on a treadmill through the winter, put on an extra layer and try it. There is a special energy you only get when you run outside with jack frost.
Ely, M., Cheuvront, S., Roberts, W., Moutain, S. Impact of Wether on Marathon-Running Performance. American College of Sports
Medicine. 2007. 487-493.
Fudge, J. Exercise in the Cold: Preventing and Managing Hypothermia and Frostbite Injury. Sports Health. April 2016. 8(2).
Kathleen J. Leninger, PT,DPT
NY Custom PT & Performance