When the temperature drops and the snow starts to fall, going for an outdoor run can seem like a dangerous prospect. Winter weather conditions can put the uneducated runner at risk for hypothermia, frostbite, respiratory pain, and falls. With just a few precautionary measures, however, the runner can take much of the hazard out of winter running. Some of the most useful winter running safety measures are dressing strategically, regulating respiration, and keeping aware of fall risks on the roads.
Two of the greatest risks of winter running are hypothermia, or severely low body temperature, and frostbite, or freezing of the skin. In extreme cases, these conditions can lead to amputation of one or more extremity and even death. Strategic dressing is one of the best safeguards against these dangers.
Moisture on the skin, whether from sweat or falling snow, can cause the body temperature to drop to dangerous levels. Thus, a good winter running outfit should involve carefully chosen layers that keep the elements out while drawing sweat away from the skin. This may include a waterproof jacket worn over a long-sleeved athletic top specially designed to wick away sweat. As the runner's body temperature rises, he may wish to temporarily remove the jacket to reduce sweating.
Keeping the skin covered is one of the best defenses against frostbite. Hats, gloves, and warm socks — ideally with sweat-wicking capabilities — are thus essential to winter running. On the coldest days, the runner should take care to cover his entire face by wearing a ski mask and a scarf or neck funnel.
Respiratory discomfort is another risk of winter running. It occurs when extremely cold air dries the respiratory passages, making breathing painful. Since this condition tends to worsen as the breathing becomes more rapid, winter runners should consider avoiding heavy breathing by trading short, fast runs for long, slow ones.
Wet or icy roadways or trails are another common hazard of winter running. Falls on these slippery surfaces can lead to soreness, bruising, sprains, or even broken bones. Unfortunately, the runner has little control over the conditions of the roads and trails in his area. He can, however, control his running route by planning ahead. As most US towns and cities provide municipal snowplowing and salting during the winter months, runners may find it safest to choose local streets instead of rural or private trails, which may not be cared for in the wintertime.