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The Running Doctor: Winter running safety

Published 5:19 pm, Wednesday, February 12, 2014
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By Dr. Robert Weiss

Winter running presents the runner with hazardous conditions that may not be present at other times of the year. For example, in the winter, we are often forced to work out in the darkness of early morning or after work. One of the most important pieces of safety equipment for added visibility is a reflective vest. It is a small investment, but it may be the best life insurance one can buy for winter running. Also commonly available are reflective tapes and arm bands. In addition, many runners carry a flashlight to alert oncoming motorists of their presence and to provide greater personal visibility as they run.

Other important preparations for winter running include warm-up exercises before entering the cold weather. These will reduce the initial chill of going outdoors and decrease the risk of injury that can occur as a result of muscles tightening from the cold.

While appropriate clothing selection is always important for the regular runner, it is no more imperative than in winter. You should wear several layers of light clothing to keep the wind out, and proper materials closest to your skin that allow moisture to be released. Speaking of the skin, protection against frostbite is vital-- especially the face. You should always wear a scarf, a ski mask, or even a surgical mask over the nose and mouth if you have it. This will also help to warm the air that is inhaled as you run and keeps you going mile after mile.

Since the largest amount of body heat in the human body escapes through the head, wearing a hat is critical. Safe shoes must also be worn, as good traction in snow and on wet roads is necessary to avoid injury. Also, make sure your shoes are roomy enough for movement of the toes. Tight shoes will reduce blood supply to your feet and cause problems.

Finally, in addition to following these safety guidelines for winter running, pay close attention to changes in your body temperature, caused by changes in the weather and effectiveness of your clothing. Checking the forecast prior to your run to ensure you are dressed properly can prevent fatigue and excessive perspiration, which can lead to chills or perhaps hypothermia.

Dr. Robert Weiss, a sports podiatrist, was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and the 1988 Olympic Trials and is a veteran of 30 Marathon. Weiss is a Fairfield native and has a practice in Darien.

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