Updated December 2009

Common Sense Tips For Winter Weather Athletes

Runners and other athletes from colder climates brave the elements every day to pursue their passion, some looking for a competitive edge or preparing for the spring and summer seasons. Others just get a kick out of being the only ones exercising outside on a cold or snowy day.

For the outdoor athlete participating during the winter, having fresh air in their lungs, even if it's cold air, is always better than the stale indoor air. It's like having the whole world to yourself. There's a special quietness.

To these warriors, outdoor winter activity is more than a sport. It's a lifestyle defined by tumbling mercury, inclement weather and shorter daylight hours. The hardiest athletes are often tested by the frigid, stormy conditions like those seen this winter in the Northeast — 31 below at Watertown, N.Y., minus 12 in Worcester, Mass. — and that's without the wind.

"Don't be deterred to run just because it's cold," said Dave Watt, executive director of the American Running Association. "Just use some common sense."

Experts say that with the right clothing and sound judgment, it's OK to keep running or exercising outside even at 20 below. But they also tell athletes to know their personal limits.

Dressing properly is key. Wear layers but don't overdress since your body will warm up when you exercise. Modern outdoor athletic gear is lighter and designed not to trap heat and moisture. To prevent frostbite, athletes should protect extremities, and wear layers of wicking material like Lycra or microfiber. Avoid cotton, which tends to stay wet when you sweat.

If you are running, don't wear a light-colored outfit that will blend into a snow bank. Reflective gear and blinking lights make it easier to be seen. Always run facing traffic and against the wind.

Start slow and work up to speed, making sure your footing is solid and take shorter strides. Several shoe makers have ridged or studded running shoes or attachments to improve traction.

Warm up and stretch before and after each run/exercise. Run/exercise with a buddy or carry a cell phone when running alone.

If you're running/exercising for a couple of hours, remember to wear sunscreen and stay hydrated. Experts recommend carrying a bottle of water upside down to keep the spout moist and prevent the water from freezing or wearing a water pack so that your body heat keeps it from turning into ice.

One of the biggest obstacles in the winter for runners is finding a safe route. When the streets and sidewalks become too dangerous, consider cross-country ski or winter hiking trails.

When conditions are too windy or slippery, turn to other sports such as skiing or snowshoeing — all of which build other muscles. Or move indoors and lift weights, use an elliptical trainer, stationary bike, rowing machine or treadmill.

"Winter is a good time to cross-train and build up strength in other parts of your body," said Bill Roberts, president-elect of the American College of Sports Medicine and an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Minnesota.


We insure all types of outdoor winter sports events, including skiing, running, biking, golf, rowing, and swimming. See our Sports section for details.