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Running Safely In the Winter

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As the colder months of winter steadily descend, runners and other athletes are faced with all sorts of challenges – many of which are pretty unique to this particular season. The days are getting shorter and darker, the temperatures are dropping and the ground gets slick. In fact, even the air tends to change, shifting from the humid heat of summer to dry, blistering gusts.

So, what can you do? How can you run safely through the winter months?

Timing Is Everything

One of the biggest problems facing winter runners is the climate. Not just the weather but the sun itself. Make a plan to avoid the darkest, coldest parts of the day – primarily if you’re running outside.

While the exact timing  of these periods will depend on where the live, the darkest part of the day in most areas is between 2pm and 4pm. At this point, the sun is beginning its decline so light is decreasing. And as the sun drops, the temperatures follow.

Granted, this will take some planning and may even require you to switch around your regular schedule. But, really, this process isn’t that much different from what many runners do during the summer – rearranging their workout routine so as to avoid the hottest part of the day.

Dress The Part

Even if you aren’t out and about during the coldest, darkest hours, you’ll still need to dress for both low temperatures and low light.

First, consider visibility. Because the sun is lower in the sky and visible for less time, overall visibility is greatly reduced throughout the winter. Snow, of course, can make this exponentially worse – blanketed everything in the same, blinding shade of white. If you do decide to venture out in the winter, then, make sure that you are as visible as possible. Although yellow is a commonly used color, orange and pink are more easily spotted by passing drivers and tend to reflect what light there is more effectively.

But being seen isn’t your only concern. You also have to not freeze. To help you maintain a healthy, functional body temperature, start with a base layer of moisture-wicking clothes. This will prevent sweat from collecting on your skin and making you too cold. On top of that, you may decide to wear a looser mid-layer like fleece that will provide extra warm. Finally, use a running jacket to block the wind.

Of course, you’ll also need to consider your extremities. Use hats, headbands, scarves and gloves to make sure that you’re protected from the elements. But don’t forget your feet. In addition to thick, warm socks, pick shoes that are both water-resistance and able to provide you with some decent traction. You may even decide to pick up a pair of running cleats – portable devices that can go over your shoes to act like tire chains and give you extra grip as you run in the snow and ice.

Change Your Stride

The topic of footwear brings up the other main danger associated with running in the winter – that of falling. Apart from picking appropriate gear, what else can you do?

First, plan your routes with potential fall-risks in mind. This involves thinking about both long-term considerations – like areas that are generally challenging such as trials – and short-term problems like the weather. If it has recently snowed or ice has developed, stick to roads and tracks. Even, then, avoid areas that haven’t been cleared. When you have to run on snow, opt for the fresh stuff instead of portions that have been packed down.


Be mindful, as well, that leaves left over from the autumn can present a major hazard. As they collect moisture and other debris, those leaves can turn into an unpredictable and unsteady surface that could quickly slide out from under your feet.

When you are out running in the winter wonderland, you may also need to make some minor adjustments to your stride and foot strike pattern. Soften your knees and shorten your stride length to keep your feet lower to the ground and more stable. Avoid long-reaching movements like sprints which could make it easy for you to lose your balance and slip.

Stay In

Of course, the most obvious way to stay safe running in the winter is to avoid the outdoors as much as possible. If you can, make use of all those forgotten treadmills, packed neatly away in climate-controlled gyms.

While it can take some time to get used to running on a treadmill – since those machines may impact your form – this could also be a valuable chance for you to focus on other aspects of your fitness that are difficult to track when running outside. Remember, too, that you don’t have to spend all winter grinding away on the drudgery of the treadmill. Just keep this machines in mind as an option during times when it could be dangerous to train outside.