Every year as winter approaches in the US, we hear more questions from parkrunners about parkrunning in cold winter temperatures. parkrun events continue year round, but what about in extreme weather?
The short answer is that safety is paramount, for parkrunners and volunteers alike. And the local Run Director for each parkrun event makes the call on whether to go ahead each Saturday. If in doubt, check your event’s website before leaving home.
We go ahead if it’s raining, but it’s still important to safeguard against hypothermia, which can set in when any combination of cooler temperatures, wetness, wind, physical exertion, dehydration and poor food intake brings a person’s body temperature down to below 98.6 degrees. If a course is partly flooded then we may have to cancel or adjust the course. Leakin Park volunteers are well-versed in flooded courses and alternate routes!
In some parts of the country snow is a routine part of life through the winter months, but they may have to cancel if the snow creates a safety hazard. Icy trails is a common reason for cancellations, because of the high risk of falling. Running in below freezing temperatures is entirely normal at many events, but extreme cold may make it hazardous to proceed, especially on an exposed route with elevated wind chills.
We’d like to give a quick shout out to the event team for Aspen parkrun, which as you probably know, has cold winters and is at a much higher elevation than most of our other parkrun US events (and those around the world). They recently worked with parkrun USA Ambassadors to change their course to a flatter route that will be cleared of snow through the winter, making their parkrun more accessible and attractive to the community.
All parkrun events have a commitment to safety. But we leave the decision on whether to cancel to the local Run Director because local knowledge is key. One course may be icy while another just a few miles away is clear since it receives more sunlight. Some events use trails that are routinely cleared in the winter. Sometimes the course is fine, but transportation is unsafe. And local preparedness varies: temperatures that everybody in Minnesota is used to living with would be extreme outliers in North Carolina.
Individuals differ too. Some parkrunners with asthma or Reynaud’s syndrome may be more affected by the cold, while parkrunners with cystic fibrosis are more affected by heat. So the fact that your local parkrun is going ahead does not mean that it’s the right choice for you.
But for most people it is possible to run year round, with suitable preparation. Layer up, protect extremities, and avoid standing around while wet. If there’s a layer of snow underfoot, it can be fun to get in a run, but perhaps not the time to go for a PB.
For those of you who bring their little ones, make sure they’re well bundled so they stay warm and toasty, too! We want them to enjoy coming to parkrun and keeping them guarded from headwinds as you push them in their stroller will go a long way in keeping them safe and reducing whining!
And we also need to think of our wonderful parkrun volunteers, most of whom are typically stationary for over an hour. Gloves are essential and do not interfere in the least with high-fives. Handwarmers can help. If there is parking next to the start/finish area then volunteers may be able to get warm in a car while waiting for the first finishers to return.
Our furry barkrunner friends are susceptible to cold, too, and different breeds tolerate the cold differently. Those with short hair may become colder more quickly than breeds with thick undercoats and long hair. Short legs means bodies closer to the ground that may come into contact with more snow and ice. Elderly or arthritic dogs may have more trouble with footing on icy paths and prone to slipping and falling. Some dogs with health issues may have a harder time regulating body temperature (much like humans) and a vet should be consulted about appropriate cold weather activity levels.
In cold temperatures we have even more reason than usual to be on the look out for the safety of younger, older, or other at-risk parkrunners. If a participant falls or is unable to finish due to a medical condition, then they are at greater risk due to the cold. This makes the volunteer tail walker role even more important in cold weather. And it is an area where all parkrunners can help by being attentive.
Happy winter parkrunning!
Dan Owen is Event Director at Fletcher’s Cove parkrun in Washington DC and a parkrun USA Ambassador. Dan explains how his parkrun family have been using the parkrun “pause” to connect with parkrunners all around the world. Another Saturday rolls around, and once more it’s time to face the surging nostalgia and gaping hole of those…
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