I started my running journey in the month of August when the average daily temperature was in the low 80’s. However, as November and December snuck up on me it was clear that running shorts and performance t-shirt was no longer going to cut it. I’ve ran in all winter conditions now, including as cold as a wind chill of -20 degrees, so I thought I would share my 10 tips for running in cold weather.
1. Dress Appropriate
In the middle of your run you want to be warm, but not sweat. The more you sweat the more likely you are to get a chill that can lead to you being really uncomfortable or even perhaps a cold. Wearing moisture wicking materials can help keep your body stay dry. A good rule of thumb for running in the cold I swear that you should dress as if it was 20 degrees warmer. So, if it is only 25 degrees outside, dress like you would normally on a 45 degree day, etc. The reason for this is because how much you’ll warm up once you get going.
Wearing layers can help you stay warm by locking in your oft heat. It also allows you to get incrementally warmer as you take a layer off, or roll up sleeves, unzip jacket, etc. If the conditions call for it, consider wearing a thin wind-breaker as a top layer as the wind is often the worst part about running in the cold.
Here’s a quick guide to what to wear for different temperatures:
60+ degrees: tank-top/t-shirt and shorts (feels like 80 degrees)
50-59 degrees: short sleeve moisture-wicking shirt and shorts (feels like 70-79 degrees)
40-49 degrees: long sleeve moisture-wicking shirt, shorts or tights, headband (optional), gloves (optional), (feels like 60-69 degrees)
30-39 degrees: long sleeve moisture-wicking shirt, shorts or tights (or both), gloves, and headband to cover ears (feels like 50 to 59 degrees)
20-29 degrees: two shirt layers; long sleeve base layer, moisture wicking t-shirt, tights and shorts, gloves, and headband or hat to cover ears (feels like 40-49 degrees)
10-19 degrees: two shirts layered + a warm vest or windbreaker, tights and shorts, or warm running pants, gloves or mittens, headband or hat (feels like 30-39 degrees)
0-9 degrees: two shirts layered + a windbreaker, warm running pants, mittens, winter hat, ski mask to cover face (feels like 10-29 degrees)
Below Zero: better of to stay in doors and find a treadmill.
Here are a few of my favorite cold running items:
Base Layer for Legs: Under Armour Cold-Gear Compression Leggings
Base Layer for Upper-Body: Under Armour Cold-Gear Compression Long-Sleeve
Gloves: Head light-weight running gloves
Hat: Headsweats fleece running hat (beanie)
2. Wear the Right Shoes
Most experienced runners have multiple different shoes for running in different conditions. Everyone has their dry pavement, favorite shoes. However, they may not be the best for running in the rain/snow/sleet or cold. Consider investing in a pair that has less mesh on the top and sides. The mesh can let water and cold in, and make you miserable. Also, your winter running shoes should have a considerably more aggressive tread than your every-day running shoes. This extra tread can come in handy if there is any ice or snow on the streets. I use the Adidas Incision Trail shoes seen pictured above. They are a life saver in the snow/ice, and for mud runs!
3. Warm Up and Stretch Pre-Run
Many runners, even the most experienced runners, have suffered unnecessary injuries from running in the cold. Beyond the obvious slipping or falling, your muscles will tense up when you first get into the cold, and they take longer to get warmed up when the temps are low. Start off by giving your leg muscles a good stretch while you’re still in your warm house. Also, do some quick arm circles to keep all your muscles and tendons loose. Then, once you do get outside, walk at a brisk pace for few minutes. Then do a slow jog for a couple more, before you really start your run. The goal here is to warm up just enough to prevent injury, so don’t expend too much energy!
4. Run With a Friend
Getting out for a run when it’s wicked cold outside can be really tough. You know you are going to be miserable, and it takes quite a bit of prep work to make sure you have the right clothes, accessories, shoes, and have properly stretched and warmed up. Mustering that kind of motivation can be difficult. A good way to get that extra push is to run with a friend. You can hold each other accountable, and keep each other motivated. Also, it is much safer. If one of you were to fall or get injured, a fellow runner is there and can assist you or call for help.
5. Personal Bests are Tough (stay safe)
If you are anything like me you are always pushing yourself to do your best. This often results in PRs (Personal Records); and when you hit those, good for you! But, it’s important to keep in mind that conditions aren’t always favorable when running in cold weather. The first thing on you mind should be safety, not setting PRs. It’s always good to make sure you are running with your cell phone, and that it is fully charged. If you were to fall or get injured, you’re going to want to be able to call for help. Also, always be on the lookout for little patches of ice. Often times hiding under bits of snow. One misstep and you can find yourself in a bad situation. In most cases winter running should be used to stay in shape, and not lose the pace you have worked hard to earn. When the weather gets warmer personal records will come much easier!
6. Stay Close to Home
This tip is similar to tip #5. By running near by your home, if you were to get injured from falling or a pulled muscle, you can get home a little faster and easier. Also, if weather conditions change or you didn’t dress appropriately, you could be in for a painful or dangerous dash home once you realize it; the shorter the dash the better.
7. Don’t Forget to Stay Hydrated
Your body does a great job of telling you when you are thirsty in the summer or warmer months. You are sweating a lot, you have dry mouth, and hot temperatures are relieved by a nice cold drink. However, when its really cold outside, your body does not give you these not so subtle hints. But that doesn’t mean that your body and muscles don’t need the hydration. So you may have to force yourself, and get into the habit of drinking plenty of fluids before and after your runs in the winter. If you don’t, you run a higher risk of pulled muscles, getting sick, and increasing your recovery time. Nuun products are a great way to make sure you are staying hydrated and replacing electrolytes.
8. Post-Run: Change Clothes, Get Warm
Most people put a lot of emphasis on what to wear and what to do before their cold weather runs. But just as important is what you should do after your run. The very first thing you should do is change your clothes. You may be warm from your run, but your clothes, primarily your base layer, may be wet from sweat and you not even realize it. Get some dry, warm clothes on so you don’t risk getting sick, and your blood flow can start flowing through your fingers, toes, nose, etc. like normal. If it fits into your nutrition plans, drink something warm. Coffee, tea, hot-cocoa, etc.
Now, the only thing you have left to do is hit the pavement! Frozen or otherwise. Also, be proud of your winter running. It takes a lot of motivation to get out there and brave the elements!
Good luck and be safe.
~ Jay Cunningham