Tips for cold-weather training – Mayo Clinic Health System

Preparing for a marathon takes months of hard work, and some of those months may be during a Midwestern winter when the air can make your face hurt. That’s when it takes a little extra dedication — and some extra care to stay safe when training in the cold.

Here are some tips to consider:

Know yourself.

Exercising in the cold is safe for almost everyone, but you should talk to a health care professional first if you have certain conditions, such as asthma, heart problems or Raynaud’s disease.

Watch the weather forecast and wind chill.

When the wind chill gets below minus 18, frostbite can occur on exposed skin within 30 minutes or less. The wind can penetrate your clothing, even if you’re bundled up. Some days, it may be best to take a break or bring your workout indoors if the temperature dips below zero, the wind chill is extreme or if visibility has been reduced by falling or blowing snow.

Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

Exposed skin, such as your cheeks, nose and ears, are most at risk for frostbite. It also can affect your hands and feet. Early warning signs include numbness, loss of feeling or a stinging sensation. Get out of the cold, and slowly warm the affected area. Don’t rub the area because that can damage the skin. Seek emergency care if the numbness doesn’t go away.

Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature. Signs and symptoms include intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination and fatigue. Get emergency help right away if you or your running partner experience these symptoms.

Dress in layers.

Your mom probably told you this one, but it’s wise advice. Why? Because as you sweat, you can peel off a layer to avoid losing heat from evaporation. Start with a thin layer of synthetic material, such as polypropylene, which draws sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton, which stays wet next to your skin. Add a layer of fleece or wool for insulation. Top this with a waterproof, breathable outer layer.

You might need to experiment a bit. A rule of thumb for layers is if you feel a little chilly at the start of your warmup, you’ve probably layered correctly. If you’re warm before your warmup, you’re probably overdressed.

Protect your head, hands, feet and ears.

Wear thin glove liners made of a wicking material, such as polypropylene, under heavier gloves or mittens lined with wool or fleece. Remove the outer pair when your hands get sweaty. Wear a hat or headband and thermal socks. You may need running shoes one size larger than usual to accommodate thicker socks. If it’s extremely cold, consider wearing a scarf or ski mask to cover your face.

Don’t forget safety gear and sunscreen.

It gets dark early this time of year, so it’s always best to run during daytime hours if you can. If you’re not able to make that work and are running as it gets dark, wear reflective clothing so you’re more visible, and run in well-lit areas.

Choose footwear with enough traction to stay steady on your feet. If some or all of your run will be over ice and snow, consider investing in a pair of ice traction devices to improve grip in icy and snowy conditions.

It’s as easy to get sunburned in winter as in summer, especially when there’s snow on the ground. Wear a sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB rays, and a lip balm with sunscreen. Protect your eyes from snow and ice glare with sunglasses.

Drink plenty of fluids.

Don’t forget about hydration. It’s just as important during cold weather as it is in the heat. Drink water or sports drinks before, during and after your workout, even if you’re not thirsty.

Tell someone where you’re running.

It’s a good idea to tell a friend or family member what your running path will be and when you can be expected to return. They can alert authorities if you happen to become injured or worse and don’t return on time.

Your hard work will pay off. Keep at it, and stay safe no matter the weather.

Corey Wencl is an athletic trainer in Sports Medicine in La Crosse and Onalaska, Wisconsin.

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