Seasonal Safety Tips for Runners
SUMMER RUNNING SAFETY TIPS:
One of the biggest factors in summer running or hot weather running in the summer months is the heat and how it impacts your hydration. “We generate heat during exercise and the human body is not particularly efficient in this respect – 75 percent of our expended energy is turned into heat,” writes Roy Stevenson in an article in the Washington Running Report. “Thus, the faster and longer we run, the higher the heat load placed on our body.” Add to that, hot weather, and it’s a recipe for a disaster. Here are some ways to beat running in the heat and other running safety tips for summer:
- Stay hydrated. A runner’s hydration needs may change during the summer running season because of the amount of sweat he or she loses during exercise. It’s important that every runner makes sure to drink enough to avoid thirst. If you find yourself becoming thirsty, it’s likely that you are well on your way to dehydration. Take water with you even if you don’t think you will need it. You will become thirsty faster on a hot run.
- A note on hydration: On average, a person who exercises may need an extra 1.5-2.5 cups of water a day to make up for fluid loss, according to the Mayo Clinic. But what about summer running? Do you need even more? The International Marathon Medical Directors Association’s (IMMDA) hydration guidelines say runners and cyclists should drink when thirsty to avoid hyponatremia, or water intoxication. “The new scientific evidence says that thirst will actually protect athletes from the hazards of both over- and under-drinking,” the IMMDA reported. So you may not need to drink at every hydration stop during a road race. An article by Runner’s World suggests paying attention to the color of your urine to determine your level of hydration. Totally clear urine may mean you are drinking too much. If it’s dark – like iced tea, the article points out – you’re not drinking enough. When you do quench your thirst, you may also need to think about the sodium, potassium and other electrolytes you lose through sweat. Training expert and writer for Competitor magazine, Matt Fitzgerald, recommends sports drinks as the most effective hydration during hot days in a recent article on summer running safety. He says, “…because a sports drink contains dissolved minerals and carbohydrates, it’s absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly than water, which has fewer or no dissolved particle.” Try sports drinks during runs before race day. If your stomach is sensitive to sugar, try an electrolyte tablet that dissolves in water, such as Nuun.
- Keep water cool: Fill water bottles halfway and then place them in the freezer the night before a hot summer run. In the morning, fill the rest. This will keep your water colder, longer.
- Run early or late: Run early in the morning or later in the day when the heat is not at its full intensity. Try to avoid running between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. – the hottest part of the day.
- Apply sunscreen: Did you know you can get a second degree burn from the sun? Practice safe running and prevent blisters, burns and skin cancer by applying sunscreen before an outdoor run. Use a sweat-proof sunscreen and apply it generously 30 minutes before you go outdoors, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Eat light: Avoid large meals before a long run or race in the summer since food digestion interferes with blood flow to muscles at work.
- Wear appropriate exercise clothing and running apparel: Wear moisture-wicking socks to keep feet cool and dry, which prevents blisters and painful foot chafing. See our page on blister prevention for more tips.
- Acclimate to heat. In a Runner’s World article, running expert and Olympian Jeff Galloway, recommends acclimating to hot weather gradually. “For the first two weeks of hot weather, do no speed sessions and keep your midday running bouts to 30 easy minutes at most,” he says. “In 10 days to two weeks, you should be fully acclimated.”
- Listen to your body: You don’t have to be running in extreme heat to get sick from the hot weather. Pay attention to your body and the warning signs of heat illness (from WebMD):
- Cramps that suddenly begin in the hands, calves or feet
- Hard, tense muscles
- Fatigue and/or weakness
- Excessive thirst
- Muscle aches and cramps
- Confusion or anxiety
- Drenching sweats, often combined with cold, clammy skin
- Slow or weak heartbeat
- Dizziness and or fainting
FALL RUNNING SAFETY TIPS:
- Step carefully: There will probably be a lot of leaves on the ground during the fall running season. The leaves can be slippery or they can disguise another running hazard, such as a pothole or large rock, or even patches of ice in the late season.
- Time change: Don’t forget that it will get darker earlier. If you still want to enjoy running at night or even early evening, make sure you wear reflective running gear and reflective sports apparel when you head out as your run may end in the dark.
- Hydrate right: You may need to adjust your hydration for long runs since you may be losing less sweat than during the summer running season, but you’ll still need plenty of water or sports drinks. See Summer Running Tips above. Remember: Drink when you’re thirsty.
- Watch for animals: Trail running is popular in the fall, but don’t forget you are sharing the trail with wild animals, especially bears that are eating more than their weight in preparation for winter hibernation. A Runner’s World article on animal encounters while trail running shares advice from the Colorado Division of Wildlifeon what to do should you come across a coyote, bear or mountain lion:
- Coyotes: Use a loud, authoritative voice and walk towards a coyote. They will typically run away.
- Bears: The most common species of bear in the U.S. is the black bear. Brown bears (Grizzlies) live in the northwest U.S. and in Alaska. If you are running in bear country, be sure to make plenty of noise so you don’t surprise a bear. If a bear acts aggressively, give it a “wide berth by stepping off the trail on the downhill side.” Tyler Baskfield, Communications Manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, says you should, “Look as big as possible, talk to the bear, and back away slowly…Don’t run or climb a tree because that’s prey behavior.” If attacked, the general advice is to play dead.
- Mountain lions: Baskfield says trail runners’ and hikers’ heads should be on a swivel. Don’t wear anything that could impeded your field of vision like hats, visors or headphones. If you do see a mountain lion, you should react as you would in a bear encounter. “Look as big as possible. If you’re wearing a coat, hold it out. Raise your arms slowly. You want to look like a formidable opponent to a mountain lion.” If you are attacked, fight back. Try not to crouch or turn your back, but Baskfield says you should throw things, fight, and go for their eyes.
- Snakes: Watch where you step. Snakes can usually feel the vibrations of the ground and will leave the area, but if you see one, tap a stick on the ground. It will most likely slither away. Baskfield says in the spring, snakes often sun themselves on rocks, so avoid rocky untraveled areas.
WINTER RUNNING SAFETY TIPS:
- Wear running baselayers, but don’t overdress: Wear a thin synthetic layer underneath a breathable shell layer made of nylon or Gore-Tex®. The first layer will wick the sweat away from your skin to help you avoid the chills and the second layer will keep the cold wind off of your back. If it’s very cold, you may also need an insulating layer, such as fleece or some high loft insulation like a down jacket or a synthetic down jacket. Avoid wearing cotton as it will keep cold moisture close to your skin because it doesn’t dry fast enough. Remember to avoid overdressing as it can cause excessive sweating, and instead dress in layers. A rule of thumb: Dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer outside than it is, as you will be generating quite a lot of heat through anaerobic exercise. Even if you will be winter running in the snow, the air temperature may not be as cold as you think it is. And, don’t forget: wearing reflective athletic clothing isn’t just for running at night. Wear it so vehicles can see you through snow and rain, or in the dark.
- Protect hands and feet: Mittens and winter gloves will keep hands warmer than in gloves as the fingers insulate one another in mittens. If it’s really cold, you can try putting hand warmers inside your mittens. Runners’ feet don’t swell as much in the cold, so you may need to wear a thicker sock or a sneaker cover to keep your feet from sliding around in your shoe, advises running expert and Olympian Jeff Galloway. Warning: Wearing two pairs of socks may cause blisters. (See our page on blister prevention.) Cold-weather running socks will wick moisture to keep feet dry and warm. Many companies, including Drymax, make dual layer running socks for cold weather that also protect against blisters on your feet.
- Protect your head: Humans lose up to half of our body heat through our heads. On his website, Galloway recommends choosing a hat that covers your ears and your entire head. Hats made with moisture-wicking materials work best. If you will be running in extreme cold weather, you may want to invest in a runners’ balaclava, such as the DryLete Balaclava by Saucony that helps regulate your temperature on the run. Don’t forget to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from snow-blindness if you will be winter running while there’s snow on the ground.
- Warm up and stretch indoors: For two or three minutes, walk on a treadmill, jump rope or do a few sets of stairs, then stretch before going outside, advises Janna Wentzell in an article on winter running safety in Reader’s Digest Canada. Wentzell is an instructor at Acadia University’s School of Recreation Management and Kinesiology in Wolfville, N.S., Canada.
- Watch for ice: If it is icy and you must run outside during the winter, wear grippers or running crampons on your shoes, such as Yaktrax. Running in snow is usually safer than running on ice. Go for fresh snow over packed snow.
- Know the warning signs for hypothermia and frostbite: An article by the New York Road Runners club shares the symptoms of frostbite – feeling numb or turning white or blue – and hypothermia – confusion and uncontrollable shivering. (See Winter Hiking Safety Tips for all of the signs and symptoms.)
- Stay hydrated: Sometimes it’s easy to forget to drink in the cold weather months, but your body is still losing sweat. Remember to drink when you’re thirsty. Remember that the dry air has a detrimental effect on your hydration.
- Stay inside: It’s probably never too cold to run outside, according to the article, “Too Cold to Exercise? Try Another Excuse,” in the New York Times. What’s actually dangerous about cold weather running is the tendency to overdress in insulating winter apparel or stop moving all together, according to the physiologists interviewed in the article. So, when it drops below zero, it may be advisable to run on a treadmill or an indoor track at a gym.
- Take it easy: Winter running means easier runs at a slower, more careful pace. Don’t try to do speedwork on snow and ice.
- Stride right: Jenny Hadfield, author of Marathoning for Mortals and Runner’s World columnist, suggests in the article, “Running On Snow and Ice,” that you should shorten your stride during winter running. It will help keep your feet lower to the ground and it will decrease your chance of slipping, falling, or straining muscles.
SPRING RUNNING TIPS:
- Watch for animals: Springtime animals to watch for include snakes, bears, coyotes and mountain lions. See Fall Running Safety Tip for what to do if you see wild animals during a run.
- Pay attention to traffic: You may have been spending a lot of time running on a treadmill over the winter months. Remember these basic running safety tips, when you return to outdoor running after the snow melts:
- Run with a buddy (human or canine) and make sure someone knows where you plan on running.
- Follow traffic rules. Look both ways before crossing a road. Before crossing the street in front of a car, make sure it stops completely and make eye contact with the driver to be sure the person sees you. Keep in mind that kids go back to school in the Fall, and that means more traffic on the roads at after dawn and at dusk.
- Wear reflective running clothes when running in the dark.
- Pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t wear headphones while running.
- Run against traffic so you can see oncoming vehicles.
- Carry identification and any necessary medical information. Write it inside of your running shoe. Or purchase an identification product, such as RoadID.