How Cold is Too Cold to Run Outside?

It may take an extra push of motivation, but running outdoors in the winter sure has its benefits.  You’ll banish winter blues, improve your energy levels and be in better shape and more prepared when race season resumes. That is, if you’re brave enough to tackle a Michigan winter.

But go ahead and be brave! Experts agree that as long as you prepare your body the right way, you can run safely outdoors until it hits below zero (or a wind chill of negative 20). However, it’s important to know your limits. The winter air can cause your body to shut down and your muscles to go cold quickly, so don’t take shortness of breath, dizziness or stiff muscles lightly.

Before you head out in the snow and ice, check out this list of tips for how to run through frigid temps.

How to dress appropriately:

  • Rule of thumb: Dress as though it’s 20 degrees warmer. Once you get moving, you won’t feel as cold as you felt when you first walked out the door.
  • Keep heat close to the body by wearing layers and tucking the bottom one in.
  • Avoid cotton socks because they capture moisture and can keep feet cold and wet. Opt for wool or synthetic materials and your feet will stay warm and dry.
  • Once you’ve returned home, change out of your clothes and into warm dry ones as soon as possible; your core temperature can drop as soon as you stop moving.

How to fuel up the right way:

  • Fill your water bottle or fuel belt with lukewarm water – leave the ice in your freezer.
  • Reach for a sports drink to add electrolytes to your body if you’ll be running for more than an hour. You still lose fluids even if it’s 10 degrees outside.
  • Most retailers carry insulated packs that can keep your water from freezing. You can easily wear them on your back while hitting the trails.

Be safe:

  • Dark winter nights and mornings mean runners are less visible to drivers, so light yourself up with reflective gear, flashlights and/or a headlamp.
  • Monitor your fingers, toes, ears and nose for frostbite. If you notice a patch of hard, pale, cold skin, get inside immediately and seek emergency care.
  • Before bracing yourself for the cold, talk to your doctor about any concerns or medical conditions such as chest pain or asthma attacks.

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Photo credit: Sladic

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