Winter Running: Survival Tips For Your Feet

Many dedicated runners will brave the cold, damp air and dark, slick streets as winter sets in. Running is actually a part of surviving the winter for some. For those of you who don’t let a little rain, snow or sleet deter a run, it is important to know how to protect your feet so they too, can survive the winter months.

1. Choose a synthetic sock. Avoid cotton socks! Synthetic socks (wool blend, polypropylene) wick away moisture and help prevent blister formation and cold feet.

2. Run in a trail shoe. Winter running involves slick surfaces on both the trails and the streets. It’s important to have more support and stability on slippery surfaces. Trail shoes have more traction for these surfaces. Trail running shoes also tend to protect your feet more than lighter nylon running shoes.

3. Don’t use your old worn-out shoes for winter running. It is common to pull out those old, dirty running shoes with 400-500 miles on them. Who wants to cover their new running shoes with mud? But, wearing shoes that are worn-out can lead to foot problems such as plantar fasciitis and tendonitis. Buy a shoe specific for winter running or run in your summer running shoes and plan on getting them a little dirty.

4. Pair your socks and shoes. Don’t assume your heavier socks will work with your summer running shoes. Some individuals wear heavier socks during the winter and this may lead to the toes being cramped in the front of the shoe causing discomfort, numbness and sometimes jamming of the toes, leading to blood under the toenails. Blood under the toenails can lead to discomfort, to loss of the toenail and even to the dreaded toenail fungus.

5. Don’t assume numb toes are due to cold weather. Avoid tight footwear in cold weather, and avoid heavy socks with smaller shoes. Tight shoe and sock combinations may decrease circulation to the toes and can increase the chance for nerve impingement on the top of the foot.

6. Avoid uneven terrain. In cold weather it is more difficult to adjust to uneven terrain because your muscles do not react as quickly. Choose level streets and sidewalks and choose trails with fewer rocks, roots and dips. This will help minimize your chances of developing muscle strains and sprains.

7. Warm up slowly. Although this may seem obvious, it is a common mistake in the winter. It is cold out and you will want to start running as soon as you close your front door. But, your muscles take longer to warm-up in colder weather. Your chances of injury increase when you do not take the time to warm-up properly.

8. Avoid speedwork in very cold weather. Speedwork in cold weather will increase your chances of injury. Consider saving speedwork for the warmer days, and use the colder days for maintenance runs.

9. Try skiing or snowshoeing. Running with cross country skis or snowshoes can be a fun way to train in the winter. This may help break the monotony of the standard running routine.

10. Take a break from running. If you are feeling stiff and sore or if you are experiencing foot, ankle or leg discomfort, consider cross training. Overuse injuries occur more frequently in the winter as runners unconsciously alter their gait to adapt to slippery, hard to see surfaces. Swimming and bike riding are excellent for maintaining aerobic conditioning.

Christine Dobrowolski, DPM is a podiatrist and owner of Northcoast Footcare, Inc an online resource for foot care products and foot health information. For information about foot problems in runners, visit NorthcoastFootcare/runners