Running on Ice

Chris Conetzkey

The winter is just about upon us, and you know what that means – it’s time to put away the running shoes and wait for spring.

Not so fast.

It’s recommended to keep your workout inside where it’s warm, but for those who still want to bear the cold for a jog in a winter wonderland, it’s all about keeping your body safe by learning everything there is to know about cold weather running.

It all starts with a little bit of preparation.

Dr. Marc Shulman, staff physician for the ISU Thielen Student Health Center and with the ISU Athletic Department, said there are three things you need to consider before running in the cold – your skin, muscles and lungs.

He said the skin is often forgotten when you are running in the cold, which can result in frostbite on both the ears and hands.

“In the skin, blood flow under the skin is being restricted in the veins,” Shulman said. “And when it’s really cold we have to worry about frostbite, so you want to make sure to keep [your skin] covered and keep it warm.”

Both areas can be easily covered with a hat and gloves, but Shulman said that keeping the rest of the body warm comes down to dressing in layers.

“You want something that is going to wick the sweat off, so it doesn’t freeze against you,” he said. “You also want it to be comfortable to run in, and there are a number of brands out there.”

Under Armour, a popular brand of clothing for athletes to wear when it’s cold, makes a material that fits tightly to the skin and wicks sweat away, yet still allows you to be flexible.

No matter what you wear, however, the most important thing for you to do before bolting out into the cold is to get your body warmed up.

“A warm-up is not stretching, a warm-up is actually moving and getting the blood flowing,” Shulman said. “You might want to start out with a slow jog, get on an exercise bike or something like that, that gets the blood flowing before you get going.”

Josh Lewis, sophomore runner for the ISU men’s cross country team, is a bit more accustomed to the cold and said a proper warm-up indoors can make all the difference in keeping your body warm during a run.

“Maybe even get a small sweat going before going outside, then your body temperature will already be up a little bit so it won’t be such a shock going right out into the cold like that,” he said.

Getting your body warm before the run allows for the layers you are wearing to maintain the heat you created and helps maintain the heat your body produces during the run.

When running in the cold, there is no specific rule for how a person’s body will respond to the temperature. Lewis said he doesn’t like running in cold weather as much as warm weather because it takes more out of him.

A workout in the cold should definitely be scaled back, Lewis said, especially if you haven’t run much in the winter.

The reason, according to Shulman, is there is a good chance your lungs might not respond properly to the cold weather.

“The lung tissue may respond to really cold weather by going into spasms,” Shulman said. “It’s not an uncommon event; it’s just one of those things out there. I’d say that 40-50 percent of people may have some kind of a spasm in the cold weather where the lungs just shut down.”

Although there are risks, if you properly prepare yourself for the punches Mother Nature can throw, you won’t have to use the cold as an excuse to keep your running shoes stored for the winter.

Back into the glory of warmth

When you are all finished with your run, the key is to get out of the cold.

Marian Kohut, associate professor in kinesiology, said being outside in the cold after breaking a sweat actually hasn’t been linked with causing sickness in humans. However, she said that testing in animals has shown evidence that suggests they are more prone to catching an illness in the cold after breaking a sweat.

Until research suggests otherwise, it may be safest to take the cautious approach and make sure to follow some guidelines for after a cold-weather run.

The first thing Lewis recommends to do once you are inside is to get out of your clothes.

“Generally when we come in from a cold run, we’ll make sure to get the sweaty clothes off so your body doesn’t keep holding on to that. You will continue to be cold if you keep on your sweaty clothes,” he said.

Another thing is to resist the urge to look for a quick fix to your freezing body.

“You want to gradually warm back up again,” Shulman said. “You don’t want to jump into a sauna or a bath or something, because you may be so cold that it’s not going to respond to your organs and cause damage – so don’t try to super warm yourself up if you’re in really, really, really cold weather.”

One last bit of advice from Shulman – make sure to stretch. Despite the common belief that you only need to stretch before running, Shulman said that stretching afterwards could help with some of the aches and pains that naturally come with running in the cold.