A lot of things change when you become a runner. For a start, the pounds may fall off as you rack up the miles, even if it’s at the expense of a few blisters. Headspace time on the trail or track spurs creativity and motivation, while aerobic exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones in the body.
For many newbies, though, the biggest surprise is the weather. When you’re immersed in the outdoors, puffing on air and pounding through climate, subtle changes in conditions can transform a run. For the most part, that’s something to savor throughout the year, but here’s how to keep on the safe side of the weather all the same.
Catching the Running Bug
Every day can be a running day, and the statistics support it. From the first reference to jogging as a form of physical exercise in 1963, running has become one of the most popular ways for us to blow off steam year round. Today, more than six million runners in 21 countries have participated in their local Saturday 9AM 5K Park Run, while 17.6 million runners registered for US road races in 2019. As running, jogging and racing have grown in popularity, so has the breadth and sophistication of gear and gadgetry to support the sport—in all seasons.
Warming up to Running in Winter
Bears hibernate, snowbirds head south, but runners just keep going during winter. A few miles on a crisp, fresh day can be particularly exhilarating. Any complacency, however, should be left at home.
Temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit can cause chilblains and hypothermia, with frostbite an additional risk at temperatures below freezing. Wind is an important factor. Here is a few things to keep
Watch Out for Windchill
Even a light breeze, or your own running speed, can quickly suck warmth away from exposed skin. Just 15mph winds will turn zero degrees into the equivalent of -19 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s enough to cause frostbite or hypothermia. Always check the windchill factor before heading out for a run and dress accordingly. Signs of cold stress include slurred speech, numbness, excessive shivering and burning skin — so if these become apparent, it’s best to curtail the run and get somewhere warm.
Staying Dry is Key
The secret to safe, comfortable running in winter is to draw sweat quickly away from the skin. Sweat that cools on your skin can cause hypothermia. Dress for 10 to 20 degrees warmer than standing conditions at the start of the run to provide enough core insulation without overheating. A basic running outfit might include:
- Light, fast-wicking underlayer
- Breathable insulating layer
- Waterproof windbreaker or outer shell
- Hat, gloves and face mask to protect extremities
Given that running in winter also means you have a shorter daylight window, consider wearing high visibility gear with reflective tabs and even some clip-on lights if you’re running near traffic.
Action in Spring and Fall
Running in spring and fall means more pleasant ambient temperatures, but be prepared for anything from an early shower to a downpour. Some runners embrace wet weather training, getting muddy and causing a splash. Wet clothes, however, accelerate heat loss (especially when it’s also windy) and can cause uncomfortable chafing. Damp air will also speed up heat loss in the fingers and toes.
Go for synthetic materials that wick moisture quickly from the skin and avoid cotton, which tends to soak up water like a sponge. Many runners switch to sturdier shoes for wet season. These have less mesh and a waterproof (e.g. Gore-Tex) upper. Wool socks are also effective in spring as a solution to soggy feet. Even if you’re warm at the end of a run, quickly change out of damp or wet gear into dry to maintain body temperature.
Watch Out for Lightning
Thunder and lightning become increasingly common from late spring through to summer and fall. A home weather station allows you to get the most accurate measurements of weather conditions in your location — something you should always check, particularly if you’re running in an exposed area. If you plan to run for an extended period of time or live in an area where sudden thunderstorms are common, you may also want to add a portable lightning detector to your running gear. If you do spot lightning, the "see it, flee it" approach is the most reliable gauge of safety. Call it off and come back another day.
Running in Summer
How hot is it too hot to run? You could ask competitors in July’s 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley. Few are better qualified to convey the dramatic effects of searing temperature on the body. Surprisingly, though, the risk of sun stroke and heat exhaustion is just as high on a summer’s day that is overcast, and that comes down to humidity. Whereas sweat will evaporate quickly in the dry heat of a desert, it has nowhere to go when the level of moisture in the air reaches saturation levels, making it impossible for the body to cool down. If the core body temperature reaches 105 Fahrenheit, heat stroke can kick in.
Even if temperatures feel pleasantly benign, the conditions can still be risky. Whatever the ambient temperature, it’s important to check the dew point before you run. This is the temperature at which the air becomes saturated with water, making it much harder for your body to get enough oxygen and for sweat to evaporate. Above 80 degrees dew point temperature it would be unwise to run.
Tips for Hot Weather Running
Slow down the pace in high humidity or temperatures and increase hydration — make sure to take in plenty of electrolytes to replace lost salts and carry water with you to avoid becoming overly dehydrated. Wear a cap or visor to minimize sunburn while still allowing heat to escape from your head.
Keeping the Running Habit
As with anything, the more often you run, the more likely you are to continue. Fair-weather runners will bide their time waiting for perfect conditions, but once you’ve really caught the running bug, any weather will do. A little rain or heat can’t keep you from chasing down those post-run endorphins!
Outdoor conditions can really bring a run alive — whether it’s rain, shine or snow. It’s a good idea to switch up or tone down your pace and intensity accordingly. Because humidity and heat can drain energy and stress the body, use the summer months for shorter conditioning runs. Likewise, in winter, snow and ice might lend themselves to a more delicate pace outdoors, with the high intensity sprints taken indoors to the treadmill.
Whatever the season, make sure you’re up to speed on safety with the right gear and gadgets to stay ahead of the weather conditions. Check out our range of weather stations and monitors for runners.
What’s your ideal running temperature? We’d love to hear your running stories in the comments below!