Sunday, January 20, 2008

Below zero miles

he thermometer read minus-1 today -- a virtual heat wave compared to the reading 24 hours earlier, when it was minus-16. Between the weather and several things to tackle at the office, it was easy to excuse myself from taking a morning run Saturday.

Today was a different story, especially with Madame X anxious to log a few miles after also skipping out yesterday. So, we bundled up and ventured out. With the combination of proper attire, sunshine and low wind, we got through our three-miler without incident. By the turnaround point, I had shed the mittens that covered my gloves and had worked up a decent sweat.

Anyway, runners need to take special precautions if they choose to head outside in conditions like these. A few personal suggestions:

Run with a partner, especially if it's dark. Slips and falls are more common in winter (duh!), and should you take a serious tumble -- the kind in which you can't regain your feet -- in frigid conditions, you need help soon. You don't want to have to rely on an observant motorist to spot you, amid the snowdrifts, and stop to help.

Don't stray too far from home base or a place of refuge. Rather than out-and-back routes, where the turnaround point is a long way from home, consider a loop route where, should you need to abort the run for some reason, you are closer to home (or help).

Layers. Multiple layers of clothing (starting with a dri-fit or synthetic base) are better than one mega-sweatshirt or jacket. I especially like layers over the hands, rather than one heavy pair of gloves or mittens. Mittens are better than gloves. Until the temperature dips into the teens, I just wear a pair of cotton socks over my hands; they are just right for retaining heat and taking chill off the hands.

Don't overdress. It's OK -- even preferable -- to feel cold the first 3-4 minutes of a run. That's better than being comfortable at the first step, because you then are likely to too warm at the end. Your body generates lots of heat during a run.

When possible, plan your route so the wind is in your face at the beginning. Not only do you get the worst over with, you avoid having the wind applying a chill when you are sweaty later in the workout.

My favorite tip: Take a day off. There are just some days, during our Midwest winters, when running is dangerous or ill-advised. The risk-vs.-reward ratio just isn't there. Rest does a body good. Plus, if you are miserable out there one day, you might lose some enthusiasm for heading out the next day, when conditions are likely to be better.

Winter runs can be among the most enjoyable outings of the year. However, it takes planning and common sense to stay safe.

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