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Tips on Running In Cold Weather

Published January 19, 1998, in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

It was not long ago that we discussed safety ideas for running in the heat. However, the hot weather season is very short in Central New York, and it is time to talk about running in the cold.

The Road Runners Club of America publishes an annual set of recommendations on cold-weather running that contains common sense and little medical wizardry.

These recommendations remind runners of the three dangers of winter running: frostbite, hypothermia and poor visibility.

Frostbite occurs when bare flesh is exposed to the elements. Tissues freeze rapidly when exposed to temperatures below zero degree Fahrenheit. Wind and cold provide a potent combination, providing extreme wind chills that can freeze poorly protected extremities. You can lower the wind-chill factor by running with the wind. Plan to start your run into the wind when you are still dry, and finish with the wind.

Dressing properly can reduce the risk of hypothermia, caused by the body's inability to maintain its temperature. Wet clothes lose their insulation value and accelerate the loss of body heat. Dress in thin layers. An innermost layer of polypropylene wicks away perspiration and keeps the body dry. A middle layer of cotton provides insulation and absorbs moisture. An outer layer of nylon or Gore-tex protects against the wind and allows moisture to escape.

Try to cover as much bare skin as possible. A face mask or even a layer of Vaseline provides protection to the face. Remember to wear a hat or a hood, since the rich blood supply to the scalp makes it a primary source of heat loss.

Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can occur even in winter, impairing the body's ability to regulate its internal temperature. As with running in the heat, limiting the total time of exposure plays an important role in preventing frostbite and hypothermia. Keep your runs short on extremely cold and windy days. Central New York winters are not conducive to marathon training.

There will always be days when it is safest to avoid running outdoors altogether. For both runners and motorists, winter brings shorter days and poor visibility, combined with slippery pavements. Icy roads are doubly dangerous. Poor traction increases a runner's risk of slips and falls, which may result in muscle pulls and bone fractures.

Runners and motorists compete for the shoulder of the road year round. The risk of accident is higher in winter, when snowbanks cover the shoulders. The shorter winter days force many runners to run in the dark at either end of the day. Ice and snow on the windshields, and the constant splashing of salt and mud off the pavement, further reduce a driver's visibility.

Avoid running in the dark if possible. Wear reflective gear and light-colored clothing when you run in the dark, but wear bright colors if you run in the midst of a snowstorm.

Slow down on wet pavement, and watch out for ice patches. For a change of pace, take advantage of open hours at a nearby indoor track, and check out the newest treadmills at a local gym or fitness store.

Despite winter's distractions and dangers, it remains a runner's friend. By forcing us to slow down, winter allows the body to mend and recover from summer races and fall marathons. Use winter to your advantage to start a new training cycle and rebuild a running base.

Kamal Jabbour enjoys running on virgin snow on the trails of Pompey, but goes indoors by the fire on the first sign of ice. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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