Running in cold weather sucks, but these tips make it easier

Nov 20, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. ET
Image: Jordna Siemens/Getty Images

Running is all well and good in the early winds of fall, but the situation turns pretty ugly when temperatures plummet in the winter.

In fact, many runners blame cold weather for a lull in their commitment to the sport, and it's easy to see why. Running in the cold is dark and even dangerous. According to Dr. Robert Rinaldi of Vermont Sports Medicine, runners are at increased risk of serious injury from slipping during cold weather — often resulting in stress fractures, shin splints or even head injury. And I don't even need to mention what can happen to the body when it's exposed to dangerously cold temperatures without proper attire.

The good news, however, is that you don't need to abandon your workout regimen just because of ruthless weather. Runner and triathlete Cynthia Pickett Steele has figured out a way to make the winter weather work in her favor, without unreasonable risk of injury. She thanks a smart wardrobe for her cold weather success, and even brags that she was able to regularly run during last winter's brutal polar vortex.

1. Give thanks for wool

Even with the advent of sweat-wicking materials, wool is still the only fabric that holds in warmth when it's wet. "I don't have any special running gloves or hats," explained Steele. Instead, she uses a wool hat, gloves and socks to hold warmth in her extremities.

2. Layer smart

Steele advises women to wear multiple layers of smart fabric, including several sweat-wicking shirts and pants, with the innermost layer tucked in — to pants, socks, gloves and scarves. "Thumbholes are a bonus, because they'll keep cold air out of your sleeves," she says. A wool or fleece sweatshirt and a windbreaker can finish the ensemble.

3. Traction accessories

Yaktrax

Possibly the scariest part of cold weather running is the risk of slipping and knocking yourself out cold. "Snow-traction accessories exist, and they're extremely helpful to some people," says Steele. She suggested Yaktrax RUN, which allows women to safely run on ice and snow, up to -41 degrees F. (Yaktrax, $41)

4. Take it easy

Running in the cold is a feat in and of itself, so Steele says that there's no reason to push yourself if you feel uncomfortable. For instance, Steele regularly runs marathons, but may only push herself for 2 miles in the frigid cold. "I run slowly and carefully to make sure I have solid footing with each step," she says. After all, the only sure way to miss out on an entire winter of running is to suffer an unnecessary injury due to a haphazard misstep.

Finally, don't forget to leave ample time for stretching, since cold weather can cause muscle spasms if you don't take care of your joints and connective tissues. And if cold weather is more of an emotional stress than a physical one, it's always a good idea to enlist a running buddy for motivation.

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