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Fit for Life: Tips for cold-weather running

Tips for cold-weather running

December 11, 2007 
By Aaron Brouwer

aaronbrouwerWith winter just around the corner it’s time to put the cardio training on hold, as it is too cold outside to train right? Wrong. Your cardio program should not be put on hold because of the weather; there are several options to choose from to keep your cardio up:
•    Join a fitness club and use its treadmills or bicycles to maintain your cardio levels;
•    Find an indoor running track;
•    Just keep running outside.

If you decide to keep running outside during the winter, then here are some things to consider before you do.

Winter mornings are usually dark, so wear something reflective to ensure that you are visible to the traffic, or, exercise during daylight hours, as this will help you see icy sections and be more visible for traffic. Don’t assume drivers can see you – wear bright colours. Avoid the road if the weather is bad. Dress in layers. Layers allow you to be prepared to deal with temperature changes and wind or rain/snow. Don’t dress in one warm layer: once your body heats up while you are running, one layer may become too warm and you could become overheated. Wear something with a zipper so you can unzip halfway if you get too warm. Keep your head, ears and hands warm with a toque or earmuffs and mittens (mittens keep fingers together and therefore they stay warmer). The greatest heat loss is usually through the head, so keep your head covered. recommends that you wear a scarf, facemask or balaclava to warm the air before you breathe it. 

Wear sunscreen and sunglasses: snow-covered ground reflects the sun, which can burn your face and obscure your vision ( ).


Protect your feet from getting wet. Look at buying a running shoe that hikers or mountain climbers would use; this type of shoe will be water resistant and provide lots of traction if you hit some ice. Wear two pairs of socks or buy synthetic fibre socks to keep the moisture away from your skin.

Proper hydration is not just a summer running consideration. Make sure you drink lots of water to keep properly hydrated. You may not realize how much you are sweating because of the layers you are wearing and the sweat quickly being evaporated. Proper fluid levels will help regulate body core temperature.

Plan your run based on current conditions. Ice can form at any time and just about anywhere, so plan your running route to avoid ice. Try running on snow instead of icy sidewalks or roadways.

The website says you should consider the wind direction when running. Try to run into the wind during the first half of your run so that the wind is at your back on the second half of your run. This is beneficial because you will likely be sweating more during the second half and having the wind at your back prevents you from becoming chilled. 

According to cold weather running can aggravate bronchial problems in some people. People with diabetes need to know how their bodies respond to strenuous training. Pounding heart, sweating and trembling are signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia and of a strenuous workout; also, thirst tends to be associated with high blood sugar and cold-weather training. It is important to know whether your body is responding to blood-sugar levels or the cold weather training. Diabetics are also susceptible to hypothermia because, as blood sugar levels decrease, so does the body’s ability to generate heat. Runners with bronchial problems or diabetes should consult their physicians before training outside to see what they can handle. At the very least, people with these conditions should train with a partner. 

Be aware of the signs and symptoms of hypothermia or frostbite. Hypothermia is defined as an internal body temperature of less then 35 C. The First Responder Level 3 Manual shows that early signs and symptoms of hypothermia are: shivering; mild confusion; clumsiness and stumbling; slurred speech; disorientation; faulty judgment; inappropriate emotion; combativeness.

Prolonged exposure signs and symptoms are: feeling of numbness; drowsiness and lack of interest; slow breathing and pulse rates; bluish skin; failing eyesight; unconsciousness; dilated pupils; flaccid muscles. Frostbite signs and symptoms are: skin appears white and waxy; affected area will feel numb to the patient; tissues below the surface of the skin may feel hard.

Anyone feeling these symptoms or noticing them in someone else needs to find a warm, dry place to recover and get medical help. The First Responder Level 3 Manual explains that these patients should be handled very gently. Do not rub the arms or legs. Keep the patient dry. Do not warm the patient too quickly and take extra care in assessing the pulse as it may be very slow. Do not perform CPR if not necessary.

In cases of frostbite, treatment according to the First Responder Level 3 Manual includes covering the frostbitten area and handling it gently. Again, do not rub the site and do not use excessive heat as this can damage the tissue. Get medical aid. Any re-warming should be done only if there is no risk of refreezing.

Finally, there are two things cold-weather runners should take with them. First, find a partner to run with so if you do slip and fall you have someone there to help pick you up. A partner will also keep you accountable and keep you on schedule even when you don’t feel like running. The other thing you should bring is a cell phone so that if the fall is bad or weather suddenly changes for the worse you can get help. 

As firefighters, we don’t get to put fires on hold until the weather gets better, so we should keep our training up even in the cold weather. Don’t let the cold weather be the reason you stop training.

Aaron Brouwer has 17 years of combined experience in structural and wildland fires. A graduate of Trinity Western University with a Bachelor’s of Human Kinetics, he is an instructor with Canwest Fire. E-mail him at .

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