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With restrictions still in place, it’s hard to know when gyms will reopen. If running is part of your training program, don’t let the cold stop you. By taking some basic precautions, it’s very possible to run in the winter without getting injured.
Risks of running in cold weather
Running outdoors in the winter isn't generally considered a dangerous activity. According to the Ordre professionnel de la physiothérapie du Québec, the most important risks you could expose yourself to by doing physical exercise in the cold are:
Learn the risks so you know how to avoid them, how to treat them and what to do if you or someone else needs help.
If you have a known health problem, you will need to be extra careful. For example, if you have asthma, cold, dry air and the clothes you wear could affect your breathing. Also, if you have heart disease, pay more attention to your heart rate, since running outdoors takes more effort. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, always speak to your doctor.
Gear up for winter
Clothing is one of the most important aspects to consider when planning to run outdoors in cold weather. Your clothes should be adapted to the weather conditions, making sure that they're neither too hot nor made out of a fabric that doesn’t breathe. Here are some basic tips on what to wear while running in the cold.
When you are out being active in winter, it’s recommended to put on several layers of clothing, each of which has their own purpose.
- Base layer: The first layer helps keep your body dry by wicking away moisture. This garment should be snug and made of natural fibres, such as merino wool, or a synthetic fabric that breathes well.
- The second layer: A little thicker, the second layer is worn for heat regulation. It can be adjusted to your body or not, according to your preference, and it shouldn't impede movement. Adapt the thickness of your garment according to the temperature, for example by choosing a warmer fabric when it’s below -15°C. You can opt for an insulating fabric like polyester or for a natural fibre.
- The third layer, the jacket: It can be difficult to determine which jacket to choose for winter running. When making your choice, think about your resistance to the cold and the intensity of your workout. As you get warmer while running, a thick, bulky jacket probably won’t be ideal. In fact, it's recommended to dress as if it’s about 10°C higher. That’s why a lighter jacket with breathability to repel moisture will better meet your needs. To protect yourself from the cold and the rain, choose a windbreaker jacket with an adjustable hoodie.
To protect the legs, tighter pants are a better option, as they will better retain heat. If it’s colder or if you're more sensitive to cold, use the multi-layered technique as for the upper body, for example by wearing long johns under windproof pants.
Good shoes are a key component when running. To avoid falls, choose shoes with a good slip-resistant outsole. Some styles even come with grips, which are especially useful for running on snow-covered roads or trails. Also look for breathable footwear that is completely waterproof, which will help keep your feet warm and dry.
When looking for socks, opt for thermal ones, preferably in merino wool. They will keep your feet warm without being too thick, which could affect your comfort.
Extremities and accessories
Heat escapes mainly through our extremities. It’s important to keep them warm when running in the cold. Here are some accessories to protect your extremities:
- A neck warmer (fabric for intermediate temperatures, wool for colder weather)
- A hat that covers the ears well
- A headband, for milder temperatures, between 0 and –5°C
- A balaclava that covers the head and part of the face
- Gloves or mittens. Note that gloves are adequate when it’s above -5°C, but that it’s best to wear mittens when the temperature drops below -10°C, as they retain heat better.
With reduced sunlight, your workouts might happen before sunrise or after sunset. To increase your visibility, get accessories that reflect light. For example, you could put reflective strips on your clothes, get a headlamp or even wear an armband.
Injury prevention while running outside
Take a safe route
There are several factors to consider when planning your route. Choose snow-plowed and well-cleared paths, that are well lit and don’t stray too far from home. This will allow you to get back home faster if you need to rest or if you’re dehydrated.
If the weather conditions aren't safe (e.g., extreme cold [below -27°C with the wind chill factor], ice, snowstorms), postpone your run to avoid accidents. It’s better to take a break than to expose yourself to dangerous conditions.
Protect your eyes and skin
According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, the sun’s effects are more harmful in winter because snow reflects more than 80% of UV rays. To protect your skin, wear sunscreen that protects you from UVA and UVB rays with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 and above, even on cloudy days. Also remember to keep your skin and lips well-moisturized, as the cold weather could dry them out and even cause frostbite.
It’s also important to always wear sunglasses during the day that will protect your eyes against 100% of UVA and UVB rays. If possible, choose lenses with hydrophobic coating, which repels condensation. Wearing glasses will also protect your eyes from wind or precipitation.
Listen to your body
Running in winter requires more effort. In fact, when it’s colder, your body has to work harder to retain heat, which will tire you out more quickly. In addition, running in the winter may reduce your sense of thirst, which will increase the risk of dehydration.
It’s important not to push your limits, to set goals adapted to winter conditions, and above all, to pay attention to the signs that our body is sending.