5 ways to protect yourself when running in the winter


Woman running in snow

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Staying indoors during extreme cold is a no-brainer. But dedicated runners may be reluctant to stay inside when temperatures temporarily rise during the winter. That’s when runners should be particularly aware of hazards: when it's not too warm, but below freezing. 

Dr. Paul Langer — a podiatrist with Twin Cities Orthopedics and president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine — is also a marathoner who runs throughout the winter.

“Some people find they run better in cold weather conditions,” Langer said. “I have set most of my personal records in spring races.”

“The only thing that keeps me from running outdoors in winter is ice,” he added. “I have seen too many walkers and runners with ankle fractures when it is icy out.”

Here are Langer's five tips for staying safe on your winter run:


1. Don’t be surprised by ice

Ice catches even experienced winter athletes by surprise during freeze-thaw cycles, especially in the morning when the previous night’s freeze hasn’t melted. Langer recommends using cleat-like foot gear that improves traction or just playing it safe and running indoors.


2. Protect knees and ankles with tights or knee-high socks

“The cold can exacerbate overuse injuries,” Langer says. “I advise patients with knee or ankle issues to keep their lower extremities insulated in winter.” He says the Achilles tendon, for example, has very little soft tissue protection where it attaches to the heel and less blood supply to keep it warm. Extra layers on joints can help prevent pain.


3. Consider winter running shoes or duct tape your regular shoes

The wind- and water-resistant uppers and more aggressive outsoles on winter running shoes are great for cold climates and snow conditions, Langer says.

“Even in the extreme cold, I have never had to worry about cold feet when I wear winter running shoes,” he said. “It seems the blood flow is strong enough to keep the chill away.”

He suggests duct tape on the toe and upper of regular running shoes to minimize wind chill.


4. Wear shoes with extra cushioning

Midsoles are firmer and less compliant in the cold. Langer says heavily-cushioned shoes in winter and more stable shoes in summer are best for injury-prone runners.


5. Enjoy it!

“On those days when the snow is falling and my feet are cutting fresh tracks, I value the opportunity that running gives me to be outside instead of letting winter trap me inside,” Langer says.