It looked like it snowed at my house on Tuesday morning. It doesn’t snow often where I live, but it can. However, when I walked out my front door into the dark and the moon reflected off of the white lawn, I could see it wasn’t snow. Just a crisp layer of sparkly frost.
At work, from my second story desk window, I noticed it was taking most of the morning for the sun to melt the icy parking lot, so I knew it would still be cold during my run on my lunch hour.
When it was time, I actually ran out of the front door of my office because I was late to meet my running buddy. The cold rushed into my lungs and took my breath away, even burning a little. I huffed and puffed in the freezing air for the next four miles.
What is it about the cold air that makes it so hard to breathe during exercise? Could it actually be dangerous to my lungs to run or bike in colder temperatures?
“No. It’s just because the air you’re breathing is colder than the air in your lungs,” said Kara Gallagher, PhD, in a Fitness magazine Q&A column. The exercise physiologist at the University of Louisville explained the burning sensation is caused by rapid water loss. She suggests wearing a light scarf or bandanna around your nose and mouth to help “trap” some of the moisture that is lost when you exhale.
Running in the cold weather may not be dangerous to your lungs, but there are many other hazards for runners when temperature drops below freezing. Here are a few winter running tips to get you through the season:
• Wear appropriate winter running clothes and cover your extremities. Wear gloves, cold-weather socks and a hat that covers your ears. But don’t overdress. Aim to wear clothes that would be appropriate in weather 20 degrees warmer. You may need a thicker sock in the winter as runner’s feet don’t swell as much in the colder weather. But avoid wearing two pairs of socks as that could cause chafing and blisters. (See 2Toms tips to prevent blisters.)
• It’s a good idea to warm up and stretch indoors before venturing out into the cold. 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.
• If it is icy and you must run outside, wear grippers on your shoes, such as Yaktrax. Running in snow is usually safer than running on ice, and fresh snow is recommended over packed snow.
• Do you 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.
• Don’t forget to drink water in the winter. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to drink in the cold weather months, but your body is still losing sweat.
• Sometimes it’s just safer to 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 or stop moving, 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.
• Running in snow means easier runs. Don’t try to do speedwork on snow and ice. Take it easy. 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 when you go running in the snow. It will help keep your feet lower to the ground and it will decrease your chance of slipping, falling or straining muscles.