As temperatures dipped below zero in Johnson County, most people fled indoors, only stepping into the Arctic conditions if they had to.
But a group of Franklin teens had other ideas. Bundled in compression shirts and leggings, wind-resistant shells, moisture-wicking hats and layers of gloves, the runners from Franklin Community High School prepared to get in three or four miles regardless of the freezing conditions.
Just because the weather has turned nasty doesn’t mean that runners and other outdoors exercisers are condemned to spend the season on treadmills and stationary bikes. Thousands of runners continue to take to the streets and trails as they train for a spring and summer filled with distance runs.
Advances in specialized clothing and gear have made a wintertime jog safe, comfortable and even beneficial. Though people need to use some caution before they put in their miles, the right preparations can make even the fiercest winter day pleasant.
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“It goes without saying that it can be pretty miserable outside, but they know that runs still need to take place,” Adam Schwartz, the boys cross-country coach at Franklin Community High School. “We are fortunate enough to have good resources at the high school and parks department where we can usually get runs in even if we can’t venture outside.”
Living in Indiana puts outdoor runners at a disadvantage. The snow, ice and cold that come each winter has the potential to rob them of valuable training time in the lead-up to such big, popular Indiana races as the Mill Race Marathon in Columbus and the 500 Festival Mini Marathon.
But sporting good companies and shoe suppliers have adapted to give runners the best chance of success even in the cold.
Getting the right gear is the most important place to start before any winter run, said Dusty Rhode, manager at the Runners Forum in Greenwood.
“The most important thing is to stay warm,” he said. “That includes a base layer to start with, and lots of layers.”
Keeping the core of your body warm is vital, so he tells customers to start with tights on their legs and long-sleeved compression shirts that are warm without being bulky.
Covering that up with a wind-resistant shell and then a fleece is good protection against even the coldest of days.
But just as important as the central body is making sure your hands and feet aren’t exposed to the elements. Rhode wears a pair of Merino wool socks that wick away sweat while keeping his feet warm.
Rhode warned about over-dressing for the weather, though.
“It is really cold out right now, but if you start out really warm when you go running, you’re just going to be burning calories as you heat up, and you’ll start sweating,” he said.
His recommendation was to slightly underdress, so that as your body heats up, you’re working into a comfortable temperature. Dressing in layers, too, allows you to strip off clothing as you get too hot.
Hardcore runners who want to brave the snow and ice without worrying about slipping can slip on an accessory called YakTrax. The coiled traction device goes around the bottom and sides of your running shoe, giving an additional level of traction on slick surfaces.
While a runner may be outfitted correctly, there are still tips to follow to protect against serious injury, Schwartz said.
He leads athletes on training runs throughout the winter as they get ready for track season or just to stay in shape.
His foremost priority for the runners is to stay safe. He asks that they wear hats, gloves and pants to run in when the temperatures dip below 32 degrees. After that, though, the outside temperature and length of the run dictates how much gear they wear.
Schwartz also advocates the buddy system when the cold sets in.
“I tell the kids that safety is first, so to always try to stay with someone else,” he said. “On the really cold days I ask that they never go too far away from shelter they can take in case something were to happen.”
1. Wear synthetic fabrics and layer your clothing: The fabric closest to your skin should be synthetic, preferably sweat-wicking and should fit snugly. The outermost layer should be wind-resistant and waterproof if it’s raining or snowing.
2. Protect the face, head, and extremities: Wear a hat and gloves, and in extreme cold use a face mask or scarf to cover your neck and face.
3. Respect your limits: Cold temperatures restrict blood flow, which can cause muscles to contract and even cramp. You may feel stiff and tight, especially as you begin a run, and if you try to force the pace, you might damage a muscle.
4. Know the signs of hypothermia and frostbite: Hypothermia symptoms can include confusion and uncontrollable shivering. Frostbite symptoms can include feeling numb or turning white or blue.
5. Don’t forget to drink: In cold weather, it’s easy to overlook your fluid needs. Your body is still sweating, so replenish your fluids appropriately. The rule of thumb during exercise is to drink when you feel thirsty and no more than 8 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes.
6. Shorten your stride in snow, ice, sleet or heavy rain: Shorten your stride slightly and pay attention to your footing and the runners around you to avoid accidents. Ice creates a much greater danger of a fall, which can send you to the hospital with a broken bone.
7. Take care of yourself after your run: Get inside right away; although you’ll feel warm just after finishing, those wet clothes will chill quickly, and so will you.
— Information from the New York Road Runners