Getting the Most Out of the Winter Season

by Patti and Warren Finke, Team Oregon
Can't quite get out the door? Hate getting wet? Just don't wanna do it? Yes answers to these questions trouble many runners in the winter time. Let's look at some suggestions to keep you training throughout the winter or wet months so that you're ready to race again come spring.

Running in the Cold

Cold is usually not as hazardous for the runner as is heat. With exercise metabolism, the body is able to maintain a constant core temperature in air temperatures as low as -22F. This is regulated by internal mechanisms and not necessarily by the heat produced from exercise. Shivering can be seen during exercise when the core temperature is low. Under this stress, oxygen consumption is higher than when doing the same amount of exercise in warm weather.

Common sense tells you to be comfortable while running; this is also true in cold weather. Both body fat and clothing act as heat conserving mechanisms. High body fat is not conducive to good performance and is not common in runners, so most must learn to dress warmly. It is often difficult to determine how many clothes to wear in winter conditions. The heat generated by your body can be seven or eight times as great when running as it is at rest leading some runners to overdress at the start of their run. On the other hand, if you are dressed to be "just right" when you are running hard and you must slow down or walk due to fatigue or injury, you risk the threat of hypothermia. When you couple this variation in the body's heat generating capability with the rapid changes possible in winter weather and the loss of insulating properties of clothing when it is wet, the following guidelines emerge.

  1. You are better off to overdress than underdress. Very few people die from overheating in the winter, many from hypothermia.
  2. The more adaptable clothing is the better. Layers of clothing trap and warm air between them to act as insulation. You should use layers that you can remove as you get warmer and add as you get colder and clothing which can be zipped, buttoned, rolled up or down to provide more or less cooling.
  3. You should attempt to stay as dry as possible. If clothing becomes wet either through sweating or external sources (rain, snow), it can conduct heat away from the body. Regulate your clothing so it doesn't become sweat soaked, use new microfiber materials which wick moisture away from your skin as you sweat, and wear a rainproof shell which sheds moisture and does not soak it up when it is precipitating.
When deciding what to wear for your run, first check the temperature as well as the conditions outside. Running with bare legs in cold weather is not advised. The red color of the skin shows that a great deal of the blood is detoured to the skin trying to keep the body warm and is not going to the exercising muscles where it is needed most. Cold muscles feel tight and are more susceptible to injury, especially pulls and strains. We suggest tights, running pants or other leg covering when the temperature is below 40. Many options in materials for tights are available, from water resistant to extra warm fuzzy fleece which can be worn as the conditions change. Fabrics that are waterproof, but can still breathe are best for external layers. Gortex works quite well if you don't sweat a great deal. Microfiber materials are excellent next to the skin as they wick away the water and allow a warm air layer to remain. A major part of heat loss is through the head, so wear a hat or ski headband to help keep warm. Gloves are important as well and range from inexpensive cotton to microfiber to gortex. If it's wet microfiber keeps hands much warmer and the gortex mittens on top on a rainy day are a sheer indulgence.. You can remove gloves, hat or layers of clothing as you become warmer. Check your local running store for the latest in winter running fabrics.

Safety Concerns

After daylight savings time is over, many of us run mostly in the dark. The dark presents a number of safety problems. It is also often raining when it's dark, making runner visibility to cars very difficult. It is important to wear apparel that can be seen by motorists and cyclists. The best is a reflective vest. Jackets, T shirts, tights and shoes can be purchased with reflective strips. The most visible spots seem to be on the moving parts such as shoes,legs and arms. Not all shoes come with reflective strips , but you can buy stick on reflective material. You can also purchase flahing red led lights or run with a flashlight which helps on uneven roads.

The best places to run are areas where its lighted. Pick lighted streets with sidewalks or lighted bikepaths. Some running tracks have runner lights that can be turned on.

It makes sense to run away from cars, such as on a bike path or the sidewalk. Always run facing traffic so as not get hit from behind. The most dangerous crossing is in front of a car turning right with the driver only checking out what's coming. Never step in front of this car without recognition from the driver. It may be safer to run behind the car if you cannot confirm the driver sees you.

Women face more safety problems and must always be careful when running alone. The early morning hours seem to be a time when perverts are out. The best ideas are to run only in areas that you know are safe, and run with a companion or companions. Try to hook up with other runners or get a canine companion. Dogs can be fun to run with and great protection. They need to be trained for endurance, should run on a leash and never disagree with you. It would be a good idea to sign up for a personal safety program. These are often available from local Police departments.

Planning for the cold wet dark months of winter can keep your running on track. We hope we've given you a few ideas to keep getting you out the door this winter.

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