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Top Tips For Safe Winter Running

Use these safety-minded suggestions for keeping most of your running outside this winter--and making the most of it, too.

Use these safety-minded suggestions for keeping most of your running outside this winter–and making the most of it, too.

Take it from someone who has spent the vast majority of his 15 years of running in cold and unforgiving climates: running in the winter is tough. It’s tough to get out from under the warm covers in the morning, it’s tough to run fast with an extra few pounds of clothes on, and it’s tough not to spend 75% of your run worried about slipping on ice and cracking a bone.

The simple solution is to stay indoors and run on the treadmill. However, if you’re like me and would rather punch yourself in the face than run a mile on the treadmill, here are some safety-minded suggestions for keeping most of your running outside this winter–and making the most of it, too.

1. Prevent Slipping

You can purchase or make your own special shoes that are designed to grip the ice and hard packed snow without sacrificing the comfort and stability of your favorite training shoe. You can purchase a pair of Yak Trax from your favorite local running store, which clip on easily to the bottom of your shoe and work great.

If you prefer a homemade and cheaper option, however, you can make yourself a pair of “screw shoes”.  Here’s how:

  1. Get an old pair of shoes that are a little worn down but still have some mileage left in them (I recommend a pair with about 250-300 miles left on them).
  2. Head to the hardware store and pick up some hex head screws or sheet metal screws (because the head on them is raised that really grips well on ice). You don’t want flat head screws.
  3. 3/8″ screws are the best bet in my opinion. If you have a very thin shoe, or you are just paranoid about how thin the front of your shoe looks, then you can use 1/4″ long screws. Be sure to buy a lot of them however because they come out rather easily.
  4. Screw the screws into the shoe, pointy end first, so the hex head is the part sticking out. Remember, it is the head of the screw that provides the traction—not the point!
  5. Tighten the screw until the head is flush with the shoe and viola, you’ve got yourself the perfect screw shoe! I recommend using a drill rather than a screw driver, it’s much easier; you’ll have to press really hard with a screw driver.
  6. Put the screws wherever you want. As long as you don’t have air or an iPod in your shoe, anywhere works.

MORE: Snow Chains For Your Running Shoes

2. Find A Clear Path

Colleges and university roads are the places that clear snow the fastest. Why? Most colleges and universities have their own maintenance departments and are not dependent on the city. Also, their paths are usually made for pedestrians and there is less automobile traffic.

The next fastest paths and roads to clear up are usually maintenance roads, where plows and salt trucks have to go back and forth; they are great if you can find them.

Cemeteries and office parks can also be great places to run in the winter. On a snowy day, traffic will usually be low and the roads will often be some of the first to be plowed. You might have to run continuous loops to get your mileage in, but it beats playing in heavy traffic on icy, snow-covered roads.

Finally, run near schools (high school and elementary schools) since administrators clear roads quickly to get teachers and students safely to the classroom.

3. Exercise Caution On The Roads

Run against traffic when running on the roads (many times, sidewalks will not be clear enough to run, which may force you onto the road). When you run against traffic, you can see what’s coming at you, assess what the driver is doing or what they’re looking at, and determine if they see you. If worse comes to worst, you can easily dive into a snow bank.

Also, remember that snow banks can get very high after a few snow storms and drivers may not be able to see you crossing the road. Pay extra attention when coming to intersections and crossing streets when drivers are taking right hand turns.

4. Stay Warm In The Wind

Run with the wind in your face on the way out and wind at your back the second half of the route. If you run with the wind at your back the first half of a run, you’ll get hot and sweaty, and when you turn around, the wind will get very cold.

Use a substance such as Vaseline on exposed parts of your skin, such as your face, to help protect from the cold and wind. Vaseline is naturally waterproof and quite windproof. It will help keep your face from “falling off” in bitter winds.

Lastly, invest in a jacket with wind-breaking features. This easy investment can go a long way in keeping your arms and upper body warm on a cold day.

5. Wear A Mask

Galen Rupp took a lot of heat from running enthusiasts when he showed up at the 2011 NYC Half Marathon wearing a mask. While many onlookers thought he might be a ninja, or worse yet a bank robber, Rupp was actually protecting himself from allergies and the cold air. The cold, dry winter air can cause bronchial spasms, which restricts air from filling the lungs. Running in a light mask can help warm-up the air before it hits your lungs. You don’t want or need a beefy scarf, but a light mask can help filter the air just enough if you tend to have breathing issues, especially when you try to run hard.

6. Adjust Your Workout

If you’re training for an important race, it is crucial that a snow day remains a small inconvenience, not a month long injury from slipping and sliding. It is much better to bag a workout and push it to a different day than tweaking a muscle you never knew you had in the first place. Waiting a day can sometimes be the difference between a winter of consistent and healthy training and a slew of injuries that lasts until spring.

7. Keep Your Shoes Dry

If you run in slushy or wet conditions, put newspaper in your shoes immediately after your run. The newspaper will soak up the water and help your shoes maintain their structure. Do not put shoes in the dryer, the oven or under a powerful heater — it will shrink the materials and lessen their shelf life.

8. Hydrate Like It’s Summer

It may be cold and dry outside, and you might not think that you’re sweating, but the truth is you lose almost as much fluid in the winter as you do in the summer. It’s important that you rehydrate soon after each run and stay hydrated throughout the day.

Staying healthy and running well in the winter will help you build the foundation necessary for setting personal bests in the spring and summer racing season. Use these eight helpful tips to make your winter running safer, more enjoyable, and most importantly, more productive.