Winter Running

You'll freeze your lungs (my personal favorite), you'll fall on the ice and break a leg, you'll slip and pull a muscle, you'll get frostbitten. There are a lot of wonderful rumors about all the bad things that can happen when you run in the winter. Guess what, they won't happen if you take some simple precautions.

First, let's put to rest one of the most popular but most inaccurate rumors about running in the winter, the idea that you can freeze your lungs. This is a completely false rumor. The fact is that you can't freeze your lungs in any climate found in any populated parts of this planet. By the time the air you breathe in reaches your throat, just passing through your mouth warms it up to near your body temperature. By the time it passes through your windpipe and into your lungs, it is up to your body temperature. This doesn't mean that there aren't some side effects to breathing in this cold air but it is important to stress that there is no evidence that the side effects are long term dangers. The main side effect is that the cold air is very dry. As your body warms it, your body also has to humidify it. This can lead to a dry, raw throat and at times a dry cough after running. Some people claim that running in cold weather makes their lungs cold. The best explanation I can come up with is that the air they are breathing in is still dry when it gets to their lungs and their lung tissue may be drying out as it humidifies the air. This is not a long term problem, though, as your body tissues will recover with no long term damage once they are not being subjected to the dry air. Another popular myth about breathing in the cold air is that this will give you exercise induced asthma (EIA). While there is a lack of evidence that this won't happen, there is also a lack of evidence that this will happen. The most likely explanation is that breathing in the cold air increases the symptoms of mild cases of EIA enough to make themselves known, when running in warmer temperatures might not be enough for the symptoms to be noticeable or a bother. To prevent both the problems of breathing in dry air and causing a raw throat and possible onset of EIA symptoms, you could wear something over your face that covers your mouth. This will help you warm and humidify the cold air before it even gets to your throat.

So, we covered the rumor that breathing in cold air is dangerous. Now what? Well, the next big question is how to dress. The rule of dressing for cold weather is simple, layer! Wear a base layer made out of a material (polypropylene, coolmax, dri-fit, etc.) that will pull the sweat away from your body, followed by as many layers as you need (maybe none, maybe several) of insulating layers, then a windproof/weatherproof layer if needed. I won't get into how much to wear at different temperatures because that is an individual thing. I will say to not be real concerned about what kind of layers the insulating layers are. I've gone anywhere from all layers being the high tech wicking materials to several cotton layers. Just try different things and see what works for you.

What about other safety precautions? With the winter weather come short days and long nights. That means running in the dark. Also with winter weather comes ice. Running on ice, there's a recipe for disaster, right? Well, there are precautions that can be taken to minimize or possibly even eliminate the risk of these potential dangers.

For running in the dark, the rule is pretty simple. If you are around traffic, make sure drivers can see you. There are a lot of wonderful products on the market that are reflective, have lights in them, and probably have other ways to make you visible. Take a look around at your local or online running store and you will probably find plenty of gear designed to make you very visible on dark mornings and evenings. Depending on where you live, you may want to take other safety precautions. Ideally, having a running partner would be perfect but it's not realistic for everyone. Other precautions involve running on well lit routes, carrying personal safety products such as pepper spray, and running in areas where there are other people or that are well patrolled by police. Of course, your options would depend on where you live. Honestly, I have never felt any safety issues running in the dark anywhere I have lived but I know of neighborhoods where the precautions I listed would not even be enough.

As for running on questionable surfaces, that's something that is best figured out with experience. The best advice is to be too cautious at first. After you gain some experience, you will learn how to run on slippery surfaces and what is slippery and what isn't. If I could offer a few quick tips, here they are. First, take it very easy on corners if you aren't positive they are clear. Second, every route has its trouble spots. Get to know those spots and be extra careful at those places. Third, sometimes it's better to have a planned slide than an unplanned one. In other words, the best way to get past some slick spots is to actually purposely slide across them so you don't unexpectedly lose footing and go for a tumble. If you are still concerned about slipping on ice or snow, there are products that you can put on the bottom of your shoes to increase traction. Again, check a local or online running or sporting goods store.

I've been running through Wisconsin winters since the winter of 1993-1994 without breaks. I've taken a few tumbles on ice, I've faced some extreme cold. I've even run in -40F temperatures with windchills that I don't even want to think about. I've come out with no injuries or health problems due to the running in winter conditions and I've come out of the winters progressing to new fitness levels while those who were afraid to run through the winter had to spend their springs getting back to the fitness levels they were at the previous fall.





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