Outdoor Exercise in Winter – 5 Important Things to Remember

Last weekend the mercury climbed to above 70 F for the last time (until some time in at least April) where I live, and it was bookended by mornings below 20F last week and this week. We also ‘fell back’ an hour, which no longer provides a two-week respite from total darkness at the start of my runs.

Winter has arrived in terms of darkness and temperature, and with it we need to remember some basics of safety as we embark on our morning – or evening – exercise routines.

Wear a Headlamp and Reflective EVERYTHING
Or maybe a waist-lamp in the front. Something that illuminates the path in front of you – and makes you visible to traffic. But don’t forget the rear as well. My best advice is some sort of white LED illumination in the front and a flashing red LED in the back. Also, it has been shown that having reflective gear while running or biking helps drivers identify you as a person rather than just something by the roadside.

I use a headlamp, reflective vest, and have reflective strips on my jacket and pants, as well as on my shorts if I ever get to wear those again. My shoes also have reflective strips. The more, the better.

Register a RoadID
Between the writers at Gear Diary we have heard about way too many severe accidents and fatalities this year involving cyclists in particular, but also with runners, walkers and so on.

I have had more than a couple of cars nearly run me off the road, and in our area we have some roads with steep drainage ditches by the road-side and other hazards that are difficult to see in the darkness.

So … just in case something happens, make sure you always have some sort of ID with you, and perhaps the best is a RoadID. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

You might think because you are not actively sweating as much as back in August that you are not losing as much water … but you’d be wrong. My great recent example was running the Red Baron Half Marathon in Corning just over a week ago. The temperature was ~30F and there was a stiff 10-20MPH wind that hit us from one direction or another for about half of the race – it was COLD. At the end of the race when I took off my hat to get into my car it felt like it weighed about 5 pounds! It was totally soaked and disgusting, even though I was cold the whole time.

So remember to keep hydrated as you exercise, and keep up nutrition as well. There are enough challenges to outdoor winter exercise without going down for an injury due to improper hydration or nutrition.

Everyone knows it is critical to stretch … and everyone also knows that you won’t get warm until you get running!

Stretching is no less important in winter, but it is easier to let yourself ‘blow it off’ just so you can get moving. My new winter strategy is to start stretching indoors, and then for my final stretches move outside and finish up while my GPS watch locates satellites.

Just please stretch …

Look Up at All Times
My ‘awareness factor’ is already pretty good because I have never run with headphones. I love being outdoors and hearing the sounds of the morning – and relishing the silence for reflection and thought. But I used to typically run head-down. This is a bad idea for a couple of reasons – first off it can negatively impact your stride (for speed) and your posture (for comfort); but it is also bad because it makes you less aware of your surroundings. This year I have made a concerted effort to keep my eyes up and forward, and it has helped my running – and kept me safe when a moron in a pickup truck decided it would be a fun idea to cross lanes and ‘buzz’ me.

As snow and ice come along it is important to keep your eyes on the road as well, but that is where the benefits of a headlamp come into play: by watching the illuminated road ahead you are keeping your posture correct, keeping yourself safe, and making yourself visible.

Look – it is hard enough getting up and out when the temperature drops below the freezing point, let alone when the elements get involved. I certainly understand that – which is why many folks choose indoor activities for the winter months.

But for those of us whose love of the sport pulls us out of bed at 4AM to head out in 18F temperatures … it is critical to keep safe. I mentioned someone who thought it would be fun at 5AM to try to push me into a ditch – that person was ACTIVELY being stupid. But I have had more than a few people who drift off the side of the road a bit unintentionally, others who are trying to do too many things, and so on. None of these things are new, but adding darkness and the potential that they have scraped just enough ice off their car to see straight ahead makes it even more important that we take the lead in maintaining our own safety.

What ideas do you have for staying safe during winter sports?

Categories: Health and Fitness

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