Conquering the outdoors…safely

Blacksburg, Va, April 2-Huckleberry Trail: Taking on the great outdoors can create lasting memories. Follow these tips to ensure those memories are good ones! Photo: Becky Shumar


by Becky Shumar–

Warm weather is rolling in! Many outdoorsy people are strapping on their hiking boots and running shoes to take on the trails. But staying safe while exploring nature is just as important as finding the perfect shoes that will not give blisters.

“We always recommend anything that you do in the cold months you do in the warmers months,” said Daniel Guilliams, Community Services Officer at Virginia Tech. “Of course it’s lighter outside, everyone is going to be out more, but pay attention to your surroundings, always pay attention to your surroundings, things change in a heartbeat.”

The New River Valley is full of opportunities to safely take in the great outdoors. Making it back home in one piece is as easy as taking a few simple precautions.

If at all possible, always walk in groups, especially at night. Carrying emergency items like pepper spray and a small first aid kit may be a nuisance, but they could save a life.

“If you have to have medicine, take your medicine,” said Guilliams. “Because you don’t know, you may get stuck, something may cause you to need that medicine right away and you can’t get back to it.”

It is important to have a fully charged cell phone when starting out on an adventure so help can be reached quickly in emergency situations. But don’t get too engrossed in music or social media. This can lead to losing track of the trail or a twisted ankle.

But for an adventurer who prefers to walk alone, there is a free app that can be used on a smartphone that will let a friend or family member virtually walk with you. The LiveSafe app allows someone to track a person’s location.

“We always recommend people get this app when they come to Virginia Tech,” said Guilliams. “It’s a great way for roommates to check in with each other when they go out downtown or on the trails.”

Officer Guilliams says most injuries he has encountered from hikers and bikers are as a result of people going where they should not. Avoid trespassing, leaving the trail and construction sites.

But if worst comes to worst, Virginia’ Tech’s campus and surrounding areas, such as the Huckleberry Trail, have blue light phones. If assistance is needed, simply press the button on the front of the phone and the call will be directly connected to a 911 operator. The phones are strategically placed so if a victim feels unsafe staying in one place, they can run from phone to phone while an operator is watching.

Exploring the great outdoors can be a great way to blow off steam after a long week. Use common sense, be aware of your surroundings and follow these safety tips so you can soak in the sun day after day.

Running in the winter… on purpose

by Becky Shumar–

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 5- Running despite the cold: Erin Newman runs in her neighborhood on chilly afternoon. It is about 45 degrees so she opted for running tights and a jacket.
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 5- Running despite the cold: Erin Newman runs in her neighborhood on a chilly afternoon. She is wearing running tights and a jacket in the windy 45 degree weather. Photo: Becky Shumar

January and February seem to be the coldest months in the New River Valley, and for many people this means it is time to hunker down until the warmth returns. But experts say the change in temperature is no excuse to put on winter weight.

Triathlon runner Sam Forsyth claims the cold weather improves his race performance.

“You don’t sweat as easy and you feel more energized,” said Forsyth. “I always have my fastest times in the 50s and the slight rain.”

For many runners the first sign of frost means it is time to start running inside. But Forsyth says he will do all he can to avoid running on the treadmill. Not only does it hurt his knees, but he says it takes away from the experience.

“Part of the enjoyment of running is exploring, finding new places and seeing what’s around the corner,” said Forsyth. “There’s no scenery inside.”

The graphic above gives runners a guide on what to wear based off the temperature outside.
The graphic above gives runners a guide on what to wear based off the temperature outside.

But running in the cold is not the same as running in warmer temperatures. Runners have to dress properly to avoid frostbite, hypothermia and joint injuries. Athletes also should not anticipate the same run times as they have had during the fall season.

“Expect to go slow the first mile or so,” said Forsyth.

How athletes dress could significantly improve or worsen their running experience. A decent pair of wind resistant gloves improves comfort tremendously.

“My hands are the first things to get cold. Hands are a part of your extremities hard for them to heat up.”

Forsyth says dry-fit gloves are not necessary because if his hands get sweaty, he will want to take them off anyways. As for feet, it is important to have a warm pair of socks that can wick away sweat. Running shoes should have decent traction to prevent falling on slippery ice.

The graphic above shows the benefits of running.
The graphic above shows the benefits of running.

Forsyth says layers are the best way to stay comfortable throughout the whole workout. It gives runners the ability to manage their temperature while warming up during the run. According to, you should dress as though it is 10 to 20 degrees warmer outside. Wearing too much clothing can cause overheating and discomfort.

But it is not just about how you dress. Experts say those who run in the winter are at a greater risk for dehydration. According to, runners do not sweat as much and feel less thirsty when they are cold. This leads to a decrease in water consumption during the winter months. It is imperative that athletes drink half their body weight in fluid ounces to avoid dehydration.

Running outside during the winter months may seem very unappealing, but it has proven to significantly improve both physical and mental health. This is especially important during the winter months, a time when season depression is at its peak. Properly dressed, athletes can comfortably run all year round.