Dedicated runners and skiers are a unique breed. They enjoy the solitude and challenge of being outside. But when the temperatures are in the double digits below zero and winds are gusting up to 20 miles per hour, the risks are significant. Frost bite can occur quickly to exposed areas and usually involves numbing rather than pain, so it can be hard to decipher. Another risk is bronchospasm which can occur as a result of facial cooling or breathing in very cold air. Lastly, ice becomes a more significant risk for runners in these cold temperatures, especially for those who hit the running paths at the end of the day when skies are getting dark.
If the treadmill or some other indoor workout is not an option or simply not tolerable, be sure to follow these basic guidelines for exercising in the severe cold.
- Do dress in layers. A base layer should be polypropylene to help wick moisture away from the body. A non-cotton middle layer will preserve heat and an outer layer of goretex or nylon will help to break the wind. Don’t forget that your hands need layers too.
- Do cover your head and face. A balaclava (face mask) is essential in the severe cold to protect the delicate skin on your face. A hat, not a headband, should be worn as well, since significant heat is lost when your head is exposed.
- Don’t run or ski alone. Head out with a friend. This is an essential safeguard especially if you are running at night. If you insist on going out alone, or simply can’t find a friend who is as dedicated as you are, carry a phone.
- Don’t increase your mileage. Save your long runs until the temperatures moderate a bit. The body responds differently in severe temperatures, hot or cold, and what may seem like a do-able run might be too much under our current conditions. You want to avoid having to walk at all costs. While running may allow you to maintain a safe core body temperature, walking will let your body cool, putting you at risk for hypothermia.
Treadmill running is a great option for athletes. An energizing iTunes playlist, or a well designed interval workout can make the miles fly by when you are forced indoors. But if your body and soul need the fresh air, dress warmly, follow simple safety guidelines and stay safe
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