Winter running presents the runner with hazardous conditions that may not be present at other times of the year.

For example, in the winter we are often forced to work out in the darkness of early morning or after work.

One of the most important pieces of safety equipment for added visibility is a reflective vest. It is a small investment but may be the best life insurance one can buy for winter running. Also available are reflective tapes and arm bands. In addition, many runners carry a flashlight to alert on-coming motorists, as well as to see the road in front of them.

It is also important to do warm-up exercises (stretching and strengthening) before entering the cold weather, as it will reduce the initial chill and thus decrease the risk of injury that may occur as muscles tighten from the cold.

One should also use critical thinking about the clothing that is to be worn. Wear several layers of light clothing to keep the wind out and the proper materials to allow moisture to be released. Protection of the skin from frostbite is vital—especially the face; wear a scarf, a ski mask, or even a surgical mask over the nose and mouth. This will also aid in warming the air which is inhaled.

Since the largest amount of body heat escapes through the head, wear a hat. Safety in foot gear must also be followed; good traction in snow and on wet roads is very important. Also, make sure the shoes are roomy for movement of the toes, as tight shoes will reduce blood supply to your feet.

In addition to following these safety guidelines for winter running, also pay close attention to changes in your body temperature to prevent fatigue and perspiration which can lead to chills or perhaps hypothermia.

PICKING THE RIGHT SHOE

Over the years working with different shoe companies and field testing different athletic shoes has been a wonderful learning experience. From Nike to New Balance, Asics, Converse, Adidas and Brooks, I’ve had a great opportunity. We live in a technical world where everything is rapidly changing. However, change is not always for the best, as we see in the athletic shoe of today.

Personally, I have had good luck with Brooks Running shoes, and ran my first marathon in a Brooks shoe. This brand of shoe has moved into the area of forefoot stability for a balanced forward push off and recovery.

There are several important factors in the selection of the proper athletic shoe. First, beware of some of the models with the new midsole (between the insole and the outer sole) features. A number of the models are being notched out, both in the inside and outside of the arch section of the shoe to make the shoe narrower and lighter. However, since this is the section of the shoe which should have maximum control and stability, this new design leaves a strong possibility for injury.

The rear foot to midfoot control refers to the ability of the heel portion of the shoe to stabilize the heel inside the shoe. If this control and stability is missing, it gives rise to the largest group of injuries related to improper foot strike. This biomechanical imbalance involves the knee, followed by the ankle, shin, hip and lower back.

Another factor to beware of is the air shoes which have changed the air pressure in the shoe. Some of these air shoes have too much air pressure on the lateral (outside) portion of the shoe instead of under the heel which is necessary to prevent heel injury.

The athletic shoe to search for is the one that gives adequate impact protection and cushioning to absorb the heel shock. Another major factor in your selection of a shoe would be the shoes with forefoot stability for a balanced forward push off and recovery. We have been evaluating the gait of the running cycle, as manufactures need to pay more attention to this factor of the forward recovery system. The shoe should also be able to flex without resistance from the back of the shoe to the front to secure forward recovery.

AVOIDING SERIOUS SICKNESS

When exercising in cold weather, whatever the sport, even walking, one must consider the combination of wind and temperature. This is known as the effective temperature or wind chill index, which is the combined effect of temperature and air movements on the body surface. The wind makes a tremendous difference in comfort and at what temperature the exposed human flesh will begin to freeze.

There is real danger with frostbite of the feet when foot gear gets wet. Sixty-five percent of your body weight is made up of fluids, which are found in and around your cells, and circulate through your body as blood and lymph. When the temperature of your body drops below freezing, ice crystals form in the fluid around your cells. As a result, the cells are damaged.

The signs of frostbite are easy to recognize with skin temperature dropping. The blood vessels close up and less blood flows through. As a result, your skin turns white. When your skin temperature reaches 59 degrees your body attempts to rewarm the skin by opening the blood vessels and increasing circulation to the surface. Your skin will begin to feel warm, tingly and turn red. However, with a further drop in temperature the blood vessels begin to close up again.

If the skin is allowed to freeze, it will be white in appearance and feel hard to the touch. If frostbite is suspected, get indoors immediately and seek medical attention if necessary.

Cold weather can create other problems such as hypothermia (below normal body temperature), slippery footing and influenza. Many people are afraid to run in the cold because of the myths of developing frozen lungs or having a heart attack.

After reviewing literature on the subject of frozen lungs, I could not find any reports of cold air damaging a person’s lungs during cold weather exercise. This is probably due to the fact that air is automatically warmed before it reaches your lungs. Be especially cautious, however, if you have cold weather/exercise induced asthma. You’ll need to take the proper precautions to avoid breathing in all that cold air.

It is advisable to eat more as extra fuel is needed to run in the cold. Carbohydrates and fat are the primary source of energy; therefore, it is important to eat more fruits, nuts, bread, cereal, pancakes and pasta.

Dressing properly for cold weather runs is most important. The layered method is most efficient as air is trapped between each layer creating insulation. A gortex jacket is an excellent top layer as it is lined with a waterproof, breathable fabric that allows water vapor to escape but prevents moisture from getting in. It is also important to make sure that your leg muscles are well stretched and relaxed before starting out to reduce the chance of injury. If the proper methods are used, outdoor cold weather running can be safe, enjoyable and invigorating.

Dr. Robert F. Weiss, a sports podiatrist, was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials. Weiss is a veteran of 35 Marathon & has a practice in Darien; affiliated with Stamford Hospital and member of Stamford Health Medical Group-Foot & Ankle. For info visit his Web site at www.stamfordhealthmedicalgroup.org, and find a Physician-Dr. Robert F. Weiss