One of the great things about running is that it’s a sport you can indulge in all year round. Whether the temperature is chilly or hot and humid, with some reasonable precautions, you can still get out there and enjoy your daily runs.
Running in winter, however, does require a certain amount of planning to ensure that you don’t end up stuck out in the cold. There’s nothing more unpleasant than being miles from home in foul weather with no way to get back other than on foot.
Unless you are lucky enough to live in an environment where the weather is always sunny and warm, the winter cold imposes de-motivating energy into pretty much every area of our everyday lives. As much as we may not want to go to work, go to the store, go anywhere, the winter cold makes it even worse.
For runners, it makes keeping up with our running routines feel more difficult and intolerable than ever. But cheer up! Running in winter can be just as fulfilling as any other season, and researchers say that running in cold weather actually has more health benefits by increasing calorie burn, immunity, and cardiovascular endurance.
Running in Cold Weather – Stay Motivated
All of the rest of these tips are meaningless if you lose motivation to run in the first place. Don’t let the cold get you down, stay motivated to run by meeting friends for a “running date,” or signing up for a race that’s in the spring. If you know someone is waiting for you, or that you have to compete as soon as warm weather arrives, you are much less likely to skip workouts while it’s cold out.
Another great way to stay motivated is to invest in some new gear. We detail some great gear to stay warm. You’ll probably need to anyway in order to stay warm out there, and nothing makes me more excited to run than a new pair of shoes, a pair of fresh new compression bottoms (we like the ColdPruf brand – very well respected within the running circle), or some new socks like these from Drymax.
Running in Cold Weather – Dress the Part
What to wear while running in cold weather? Great question – Knowing how to accurately dress for a run in cold weather is a science. We’ve all been on a run where something we decided to do with our wardrobe didn’t go how we wanted. For running in the cold, you want to be warm without sweating so much you get a chill.
The rule of thumb is to always dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer. At the beginning of your run, you should be slightly cool – if you are already warm when you start, then you are likely going to overheat and end up shedding layers.
Dress in layers – Wearing several thin layers of clothing helps trap warm air between each layer keeping you considerably warmer than if you were to wear one heavy layer. This includes socks; wearing two pairs of polypropylene socks keeps your feet warmer and drier than one heavy pair.
Wear the right fabrics – One area where modern runners have a huge advantage on those who started out in the running boom of the late 1970s and 80s is in the types of fabric available for running gear. Materials such as polypropylene, capilene, and some wool/synthetic blends wick moisture away from your body and keep you as warm and dry as possible.
Wear a protective shell – It’s critical that you wear some sort of waterproof windbreaker or shell to protect you from the wind and precipitation. Gore-Tex is the best material to wear as it does a great job of releasing moisture from the body while also keeping out moisture from the outside elements. Nylon also does a reasonable job for a lesser price.
Cover exposed skin as much as possible – A hat and gloves are absolutely necessary once the temperature dips below freezing. Your body will lose the majority of its heat through any exposed skin, so cover up as much as possible. If it’s really cold, you can cover exposed areas such as your face with Vaseline to reduce the potential of frostbite.
Tips for Running in Cold Weather
Running in Cold Weather – Get Naked
Your core body temperature drops as soon as you stop running, and it’s important to get out of damp clothes as quickly as possible, especially those layers closest to your skin that soak up sweat. After you’ve changed, drink something hot. If you are driving to run, keep a thermos of an extra hot beverage in the car that will be just the right temperature when you’re done, or head straight to a coffee shop for a hot drink and change in the bathroom.
Running in Cold Weather – Warm up Inside
As with any run, a good warm-up is important – but it’s essential when preparing for an outdoor winter run. Try warming up indoors, to help you get physically warm and look forward to a cool breeze. Before you get dressed for your run and leave the house, do whatever you can to work up a quick sweat (don’t get sweaty in your workout clothes, though or you’ll just get chilly when you leave).
Do some quick house cleaning, run up and down the stairs, or do so some jumping jacks/lunges/squats. If you can get really warm inside the house, a cool run outdoors won’t sound so bad, and your muscles will be loose and ready to work hard.
Running in Cold Weather – Adjust Your Intensity
Many runners head indoors and utilize the gym when the weather drops. This is a good, easy solution to avoiding cold temperatures, but the treadmill can get pretty boring if you’re running up to six days a week. A good way to mix it up is to use the outdoor runs for speed workouts, and the indoors for the longer, slower runs.
Speed workouts will keep you warmer, and outside for a shorter period of time, than those long runs will, so it’s a good idea to run outdoors when you are doing a more intense workout like speed work, tempo runs, and intervals. However, you will also sweat more when you are doing hard workouts, which could invite a chill when doing them outdoors. Stay close to home, so that if it becomes intolerable or you start getting the chills you can go inside to warm up.
Running in Cold Weather – Warm Your Hands & Feet
If you work outdoors, I’m sure that you already know about those little heat packets that heat up instantly and last for a few hours. These, or a thermal hear pad, can be great tools for runners to use for cold weather running. Just unwrap a pack and slip them under the tongue of your running shoes before you lace up or rubber-band them to your hands underneath your mittens.
They may not be the most comfortable thing in the world, but after a half mile or so you’ll get used to them, and they are way more comfortable than losing the feeling in your fingers and toes. The Hot Hand Warmers are the most recognizable in the running world as well as the most recommended by hikers .
Running in Cold Weather – Wind chill
Pay attention to wind chill. Wind increases the rate at which a body loses heat, so the air on a windy day feels cooler than the temperature indicated by a thermometer. Make sure that you check the wind chill temperature and prepare accordingly. Even if it’s 45℉, if the windchill is really high, you’ll want to add a windbreaker or some running gloves.
Running in Cold Weather – Work With the Wind
On really windy days, start your run going against the wind. Halfway through, switch directions and run with the wind at your back. This will help you avoid getting chilled after you have started sweating under your layers.
Running in Cold Weather – Moisturize
Remember to apply chapstick before you leave the house, and if you have a secure pocket it’s a good idea to bring it with you. You can also apply vaseline to your lips, nose, cheeks and ears to protect them from the drying effects of wind and cold.
Running in Cold Weather – Stay Close to Home
Run close to home or bring your phone or cab fare. Uber or a cab can pick you. Always be prepared to get indoors if necessary. Running in cold weather poses more threats to runners than warm days, so make sure to bring a cell phone, some cab fare, or run in short loops that are close to home. That way, if you find that the cold becomes intolerant, or you slip on an icy patch and injure yourself, you have a good exit strategy.