Six tips to stay warm and avoid injury while running in winter

When it's dark and icy outside it's tempting to stay curled up in bed or in front of the heater. But for many runners cooler temperatures are a welcome relief from the sweaty summer.

Blue Mountains-based endurance runner and coach Brendan Davies trains athletes at 6am five days a week – rain, hail or shine. He says, "I like to tell my athletes that running is an all year-round sport, and a sport to be enjoyed in all conditions."

He adds that as most major races are held in winter months and feature early starts, it's important to train in conditions that will prepare you for race day.

So, don't let winter wreak havoc on your training plan. Embrace the cold, and follow these tips to stay toasty on your next winter run.

1. Layer up

Wearing appropriate running clothing will help you stay comfortable and dry in frigid conditions. Runners can vary in their sensitivity to cold weather, so experiment to see what works for you. General rules to follow include:

Don't wear too many heavy layers of clothing as these can make you sweat and leave you chilled. Remember that once you start moving your body will warm up, so don't overdress.

You should be slightly cool when you set off for your run. 

2. Warm up

Heading out for a run in chilly conditions can make your muscles and joints more susceptible to injury. Cold tendons and ligaments are tight and less stretchy, making them more prone to tears and inflammation. Also, when cool temperatures hit muscles that haven't been properly activated, joint tissues expand, restricting movement and leading to sore muscles post-run.

"Start with a light jog for five to ten minutes," suggests Davies. "Followed by dynamic stretches, some drills that go through range of motions, and finish with some strides."

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Before heading outdoors, move around inside to increase blood flow and perform these five warm-up exercises before hitting your stride:

  • Three sets of 10 squats.
  • Ankle alphabet – standing on your left leg, raise your right foot off the ground and draw each letter of the alphabet with your foot, moving the ankle through a range of movement. Repeat with the other foot.
  • Two sets of 10 walking lunges on both sides.
  • Ten legs swings in each direction. Repeat on the opposite leg.
  • Two sets of 10 butt kicks.

3. Stay hydrated

Don't be fooled into thinking you don't need to stay hydrated in cooler temperatures. Runners still sweat in cold weather and cold air is much dryer than warm air.

Besides preventing you from hitting the wall, maintaining your hydration on winter runs reduces the risk of breathing difficulties and hypothermia. Start your runs well-hydrated (which means your urine should be almost clear) and keep your fluids up throughout.

4. Breathe through your nose

When the air temperature drops and the wind-chill picks up, runners can experience issues including a dry throat, runny nose, restricted breathing and coughing when exercising outside. Davies says if runners experience asthma or have a cold they should adjust their training plan to run when they feel better or later in the day. "Wearing a multi-function head sock or buff can be helpful to breathe through," he says.  

To reduce the amount of cold air entering the lungs, go for longer runs instead of speed work that involves short bursts of running.

5. Be seen

Try to run during daylight hours when it's warmer and if you must run when it is dark, choose routes that are well-lit and wear clothing and shoes with reflective panels.

Davies says a big danger of winter exercise is becoming lost or hurt while running trails. "I coach many trail runners who tend to run very minimally. I can't stress enough the importance of always packing some basic survival equipment such as an emergency space blanket and a light thermal top or outer layer. A beanie and gloves is also very important, and above else they must always carry their mobile phone, water and some food."

6. Work with the wind

Start your run into the wind and finish with a tail wind. If you run with the wind at your back the first half of a run, you'll get hot and sweaty and when you turn around, the wind will get very cold.

Apply balm to your lips to prevent them from chapping and use Vaseline on exposed parts of your skin, such as your face, to help protect from the cold and wind.

The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.

Follow Laura Hill 

Check out the gallery above for some of the best cold-weather gear to take on the road.