If you stay alert and dress smart, there's no reason to stop running in winter

Layering is the key to staying warm and dry when it's chilly  Credit: Tim DeFrisco/Allsport
It isn't hard to come up with palatable reasons not to run in the winter.

It's too darn cold ... the footing is too slick ... too much crusty snow on the sidewalk ... your nose turns red and starts running faster than you are ... and, besides, your lungs can freeze, right?

Well, not exactly. But a person who has exercise-induced asthma can precipitate an asthma episode by running in cold, dry air, and perspiration-wicking clothing is a must.

So says the University of Washington's Dr. John O'Kane, a sports physician who serves as team doctor for Husky athletic teams.

"Overall, there's no reason that you have to stop your training in the winter," he says. "There are just some different considerations to keep in mind."

One of those is exercise-induced asthma, a condition the runner may not even be aware of.

"Some runners may find they can run in the summer without problems, but if they run in winter they may cough or wheeze or have shortness of breath. If they're having those symptoms, they should talk to their doctors, because there may be simple remedies that will allow them to continue training."

O'Kane makes these suggestions for cold-weather runners:

  • Wear "wicking" clothing. Modern synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene wick away perspiration, something that becomes increasingly important as the temperature drops.

    "People think when you're running you're going to be hot," O'Kane says. "But if you get wet, you lose body heat quickly and run the risk of hypothermia, particularly if you're going on a long run."

  • Keep exposed skin to a minimum. Frostbite can become an issue if skin remains exposed for a long run in sub-freezing temperatures. If it's that cold, it's even a good idea to have a wool or polypropylene pullover facemask that covers all but the eyes.

  • Dress in layers. Temperatures -- external and internal -- may vary over the course of miles, and you may want to remove or add on a layer during the run. O'Kane suggests a wicking polypropylene shirt against the skin, perhaps a fleece pullover or vest and then a "breathable" waterproof outer layer, such as Gore-Tex.

  • Dress to be seen. This is not a fashion statement, but a safety tip.

    "The days are shorter in winter; you may be running in the dark," O'Kane says. "You have to be wearing something bright or reflective, and you really have to watch out for cars.

    "Really, without question, the highest risk for someone who's road-running is being hit by an automobile."


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