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How to Prevent Injury When Running in a Winter Climate

How to Prevent Injury When Running in a Winter Climate

It’s winter, it’s lockdown (at time of writing), and all the gyms are currently shut. Which means that our exercise options are limited. No Zumba classes, no CrossFit, no Olympic Weightlifting, and unless you have a pretty cool home gym, no cardio equipment!

So, what about going for a run? There are lots of benefits to doing so, both physical and psychological. But running in a winter climate isn’t without risk, poor visibility, slippery surfaces, and inclement weather can all lead to discomfort or even injury.

In this article, we will be talking about how to prevent injury when running in a winter climate. 

Why Run Outside this Winter?

There are several reasons why you might want to run outside:

  • It’s free compared to the gym.
  • Doesn’t require much equipment other than a good set of shoes/boots.
  • Scenery is ever-changing.
  • Lots of space to exercise.

These benefits are obvious, and if you asked a random person on the street, they could probably come up with an exact same list of benefits with 30 seconds of thought. But there are scientifically backed benefits that are a little less obvious. Such as:

  • Running outside can reduce the perceived exertion, allowing you to train harder.
  • Running outside has been shown to improve mood.
  • It can reduce stress and lower anxiety.
  • Outdoor exercise can boost creativity, and help you solve problems better.

Many of these benefits are not recognised on a conscious level, but after your run you may feel happier, more focused etc, and begin to fill in the dots. 

As you can see, there are numerous reasons to run outside in winter, so why might that be problematic?

The Trouble with Running Outside in Winter

You might expect this section to be filled with warnings about hypothermia (where your body loses heat faster than it can generate it). But as this is for a UK audience, the chances of hypothermia affecting your run are pretty rare.

UK winters are pretty mild compared to many countries; you are more likely to be rained on than to be snowed in! The main issues that can affect outdoor running in winter are:

  • Poor visibility due to rain or sleet.
  • Poor visibility due to sunset arriving earlier than you’d anticipated.
  • Slippery conditions causing you to fall.

Luckily, none of these issues are unavoidable! They can each be anticipated and avoided by following simple strategies. Which is what the rest of the article will contain.

Tip #1 Time Your Runs Better

It takes about 20 seconds to find out the times for sunrise and sunset each day, you can find it on weather apps, on the BBC website, or just typing it into Google. The best bit is that though the times change pretty much every day, it’s only by a minute or so.

Once you know that sunrise is around 8am in January and sunset is 4:30pm (roughly) you can plan out your runs for the rest of the month. By the beginning of February, sunrise is around 7:50am and sunset is 4:45pm. 

This means that you want to be starting your runs after 8am if you’re doing morning runs, and your runs need to be finished before 4:30pm if you are running in the afternoon.

Tip #2 Illuminate Yourself

If running in the dark is unavoidable, then you’ll want to wear clothes that are reflective, this will help you stay visible to cars, making running alongside the road or crossing it a lot safer. Though obviously, try to limit this as much as possible.

Wearing a head torch may seem quite embarrassing, but it’s a great idea if you are running in fields or woods in the dark. Particularly for dog owners, as a person randomly popping up out of the ether is a great way to send a dog crazy! 

Tip #3 Pack a Fully Charged Phone

Running is by far the most injury-laden sport, adding darkness, poor visibility, and slippery floors certainly does not help matters. Then you’ve got the risk of getting stuck in mud (absolutely hilarious until it actually happens to you), trees falling on you, and all the hundreds of other “that will never happen to me until it actually does” occurrences that could affect your run.

Carrying a phone will not prevent these issues from cropping up, but it can help you summon help. Falling over and fracturing an ankle in the middle of a wood might seem unlikely, but it happens more commonly than you think.

Tip #4 Bring a Running Partner

Obviously, if you are reading this during a national lockdown, then bringing a running partner along with you may not be practical (or even legal). But if you can bring an unwilling family member or spouse with you, then do. They can help prevent and deal with most outdoor running related issues. They can also offer support, motivation, and a pinch of competitiveness.

Tip #5 Pick the Correct Footwear

Running shoes are wonderful if you are running on dry ground, the pavement, or the track. A boggy field in England during winter? Not so much. They won’t provide you with traction, they will easily fill with water, and they don’t provide ankle support, which is useful when running in mud.

No, if you’re going to be running in wet grass and mud then you will want proper walking boots. Don’t worry, it is perfectly possible to run well in walking boots (the army manages it all the time). Of course, changing your route to avoid wet grass and mud may be a better move.

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