Running Outside in the Winter

Q: I’m training to run the Race for the Light on Dec. 1 in Oshkosh and am looking for advice on running outside as winter approaches.

A: There’s no reason you need to stop exercising outside as the seasons change. As long as you dress correctly and take safety precautions, you can run and walk outside year round.

When running outside in cold weather, there are two main things to focus on – wearing the right clothes and staying safe. When it comes to wearing the right clothes, layering is key.

On your upper body, the layer closest to your body should feature wicking fabric that will pull the sweat away from your body, keeping you dry and warm. Top that with an insulating layer, such as fleece. Finally, you need a top layer that is both windproof and waterproof. Depending on the temperature, you may only need two layers – you need to experiment and see what works for you.

As for your legs, they’re working hard and will be warm so one layer, such as a pair of running tights, may be all you need. For added warmth, you can also top the running tights with a pair of wind pants.

Don’t forget a warm hat – most of our body heat escapes through our head. You also need to protect your extremities – your hands and feet. Warm socks are essential as are gloves or mittens, depending on your preference. As for your shoes, you should be able to wear the same shoes outside as you do inside. Many shoe and ski companies offer winter running shoes. They are usually water resistant and have trail-style soles for comfort and safety.

Sometimes, runners say their throat becomes irritated when the temperature drops below freezing. One way to avoid that is by wearing a ski mask or scarf over your mouth so you’re not directly breathing in the cold air.

Wearing the right gear also plays a role in staying safe. With daylight hours limited, most people need to run in the dark. Make sure you wear reflective clothing so drivers can easily spot you. You can also get a small clip-on light for the back of your jacket to help you remain visible to drivers. If you’re running in an area without a lot of street lights, it makes sense to wear a headlamp or get a handheld lamp so you can better see your surroundings, especially the road or sidewalk.

I advocate running in pairs or groups. You are more visible to motorvehicles and can provide assistance in case of an injury. If you are alone, bring a cell phone and tell others the route you are taking.

Start your run into the wind so you have the wind to your back on your way home. That will help you avoid getting chilled after you’ve been sweating.

If the roads and sidewalks are snow covered and slippery or the wind chill drops too low, then it’s best to take your workouts inside. Until then, get outside and enjoy your run.

By Eric Smiltneek, MD, family physician at ThedaCare Physicians-Oshkosh.