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Preparing for a marathon takes months of hard work. Getting out and training during a Midwestern winter, when the air can make your face hurt, takes a little extra dedication. Here are a few tips from Mayo Clinic Health System to stay safe while training in the cold.
- Know yourself. Exercising in the cold is safe for almost everyone, but you should talk to your doctor first if you have certain conditions, such as asthma, heart problems or Raynaud’s disease.
- Watch the weather and wind chill. When the wind chill gets below minus 18, frostbite can occur on exposed skin within 30 minutes or less. The wind can penetrate your clothing, even if you’re bundled up. If the temperature dips below zero or the wind chill is extreme, consider taking a break or exercising indoors.
- Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Exposed skin, such as your cheeks, nose and ears, are most at risk for frostbite. It also can affect your hands and feet. Early warning signs include numbness, loss of feeling or a stinging sensation. Get out of the cold, and slowly warm the affected area (don’t rub it, as that can damage your skin). Seek emergency care if the numbness doesn’t go away. Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature. Signs and symptoms include intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination and fatigue. Get emergency help right away for possible hypothermia.
- Dress in layers. Your mom probably told you this one, but it’s wise advice. You need to be able to peel off a layer when you start to sweat, or you’ll lose heat from evaporation. Start with a thin layer of synthetic material, such as polypropylene, which draws sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton, which stays wet next to your skin. Next, add a layer of fleece or wool for insulation. Top this with a waterproof, breathable outer layer. You might need to experiment a bit.
- Protect your head, hands, feet and ears. Wear thin glove liners made of a wicking material, such as polypropylene, under heavier gloves or mittens lined with wool or fleece. Remove the outer pair when your hands get sweaty. Wear a hat or headband and thermal socks (you may need a pair of running shoes one size larger than usual). If it’s extremely cold, consider wearing a scarf or ski mask to cover your face.
- Don’t forget safety gear and sunscreen. It gets dark early this time of year, so wear reflective clothing. Choose footwear with enough traction to stay steady on your feet. It’s as easy to get sunburned in winter as in summer, especially when there’s snow on the ground. Wear a sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB rays, and a lip balm with sunscreen. Protect your eyes from snow and ice glare with sunglasses.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Don’t forget about hydration, as it’s just as important during cold weather as it is in the heat. Drink water or sports drinks before, during and after your workout, even if you’re not really thirsty.
- Tell someone where you’re running. It’s a good idea to tell a friend or family member what your running path will be and when you can be expected to return, so they can alert authorities if you happen to become injured or worse and don’t return on time.
Your hard work will pay off. Keep at it, and stay safe!