Marathon Training in Winter Weather


For many Cincinnatians, training for the Flying Pig Marathon has one major roadblock: winter weather.

Between snow-packed sidewalks, below-freezing temperatures and strong winter winds, frostbite is a significant risk to outdoor marathon training. But the race must go on – and with these helpful tips and tricks, you’ll be able to safely train in even the chilliest winter weather.

Frostbite – what is it?

Frostbite occurs when cold temperatures damage the skin – and many people don’t realize how quickly it can happen during the winter months. Frostbite can occur in below-freezing (32° F) temperatures, and once the temperature dips below zero degrees, frostbite can occur in as little as 15-30 minutes to exposed skin.

Knowing the symptoms of frostbite can help you stay aware of what to look for – and how to prevent it. In the early stages of frostbite, your skin will become very cold. You might notice the skin beginning to tingle, and gradually, complete numbness will take over. As the frostbite proceeds, your skin will turn red and white as it freezes over, damaging the nerves within the skin.

“We recommend testing the firmness of your skin,” says Dr. James Morrow, Foot and Ankle Surgical Podiatrist at St. Elizabeth Physicians. “If the skin becomes hard or the color changes from red to white or red to black, you should call 911 and seek immediate medical attention.”

If you are experiencing symptoms of mild frostbite, you should get indoors immediately. If frostbite is in early stages, focus on warming your skin gradually to body temperature until skin sensation returns. Warm compresses or taking a shower under warm water that is 100° F are good ways to slowly and safely warm the skin back up. Make sure not to rub the skin and avoid direct heat such as fires and stoves – this can cause further skin damage by surpassing your normal body temperature too quickly.

Tips to avoid frostbite while running

At St. Elizabeth, we know that you can’t wait for warm weather and clear sidewalks to get in your training runs. But our team also cautions you to proceed carefully during training – one of Dr. Morrow’s patients needed frostbite treatment after excess exposure and lack of protective foot layers.

Frostbite can happen quickly, especially when you are focused during your long run. To help you prepare, our experts weigh in on the most effective ways to safely train in the winter weather:

  • Wear layers to trap the heat better, keeping you warmer.
  • Dress in moisture-wicking materials – especially socks.
  • Avoid exposed skin and make sure most vulnerable areas are covered: fingers, toes, nose and ears.
  • Take off wet clothing as soon as you return home – and don’t forget to take off your wet socks, which can quickly chill your body.
  • Mittens are better than gloves – they have less surface area and lose less heat.
  • Use disposable hand and foot warmers during your run to keep your fingers and toes toasty.
  • Keep socks dry by wearing Gore-Tex shoes or waterproof shoe gaiters.

“If you know you’ll be outside for long periods, don’t forget to tell someone where you’ll be,” says Dr. Morrow. “If you’re traveling remotely, make sure to bring extra supplies and extra clothing.”

For more information or to make an appointment with one of the experts at St. Elizabeth Physicians Podiatry, please call (800) 737-7900.