“Yeah, it’s cold. Suck it up and run anyway.”
Up here in my neck of the woods, we’ve been enjoying a really nice fall, including some late, warm weather – 97 degrees 8 days ago, even. However, winter is going to happen. Sorry to burst any bubbles out there. If last Saturday’s half marathon was any indication (a brisk 28 degrees and frost) it’s coming soon. It’s time to start thinking about winter running.
Many people assume that winter means you’re temporarily chained to the treadmill, only indoor running until the first sign of spring. Not so much! There’s no reason not to run outside in the chilly winter months. In fact, it can be quite enjoyable with some planning and best practices.
Find Your Limit
In order to run outside, I have a personal rule that it must be at least zero degrees with minimal wind. To some people, this is absurd. To others, it’s a little too conservative. Throughout the years and incidents of eyelashes freezing together, my hair freezing to my scarf and my breath causing ice build-up on my facemask, this is the line I’ve drawn.
Now, there is some leeway. For example, if the wind is whipping at 20+ MPH, the temp needs to be higher than zero. Conversely, if there’s no wind, I can handle temps a little below zero. Figure out what works for you to have the best experience.
Layering is key to enjoyable winter running. In addition to the descriptions below, I’ve included some photos of my own layering faves. Once you find your limit, you’ll have a good idea of the clothing you’re going to need for the coldest scenarios and what you can get by with on the milder days. Keep in mind, you can overdress in the winter. It’ll likely take some experimentation and you may find yourself shedding layers midway through a run – which is totally okay and normal! Just leave them in a place that you feel comfortable no one will steal them, then be sure to pick them up later that day. Word of warning, I did have one of my nice, long-sleeve, Fargo Marathon finisher shirts stolen from behind a tree at a local park. A shirt, I might add, that was full of my sweat (who would think someone would steal another runner’s sweaty shirt?!). BTW, to the person who stole it – enjoy the shirt you didn’t earn, asshole.
Sorry, back to layering. Here’s some advice for how to layer up on those cold winter days.
First, you’ll want a base layer – heat-gear tights and top, and some good, quality moisture-wicking socks (SmartWool is my favrote). You’ll likely want a mid-layer on top too, like a fleece zip. Or, if it’s not too cold, a simple long sleeve zip or shirt should be plenty. Then, depending on the wind factor, wind-resistant pants and a jacket may be a must. Again if it’s really cold, top it off with some quality gloves, a hat and fleece neck gator/full mask. If it’s not too cold, some basic thin gloves and a headband should be plenty.
When it’s not so cold, simplify the layers a bit to ensure you’re still comfortable and warm enough, yet not too warm that you overheat. And always make sure you’re wearing moisture-wicking fabrics so your sweat doesn’t chill your body.
Leave the iPod at Home
Most people love running with music, especially longer runs. But in the winter, it’s a good idea to forgo the headphones so you can be extra aware of your surroundings. Whether you have to run on the street because someone doesn’t shovel his/her sidewalk or you’re out early before the sun fully rises, don’t assume drivers are going to see you and give the right-of-way. Be proactive and be aware.
Watch Your Step – And Maybe Even Slow Down
Unfortunately, speed often has to come secondary during winter runs. Be prepared to dodge snowpiles and, in some cases, climb snowbanks (it’s cool tho, kinda makes you feel like a badass hiker in the winter wildnerness!). Even with shoveled sidewalks and bike paths, there’s still always a chance of slipping on a small patch of ice or chunk of packed snow. Just be extra conscious of what’s below and take care so you don’t slip and fall. Side note for those of you who run with dogs, be extra extra conscious – especially if you have an excitable dog…maybe that’s just me.
Don’t Forget to Hydrate
Even though it’s cold outside, don’t underestimate your sweat potential, and hydrate as appropriate. For longer runs, be sure to bring water or Gatorade, whatever you prefer, or a few dollars for a pit stop at a gas station.
When winter officially rolls in this year, you’ll be ready – and have no excuses for skipping your run. Happy winter running, all!
What are your best tips to survive – or even enjoy – winter running? Post a comment or tweet them to me @runlikeagirl311 on Twitter.
I love your advice and blog! My biggest problem is my feet and toes go numb…any advice for that??
Thank you so much!! One of my girlfriends had a similar issue last winter, there’s a couple things I’d suggest. First, make sure your shoes aren’t too small, give your toes enough wiggle room so they can move a little. Second, good wool socks like SmartWool are a must. Regular athletic socks are good normally but for cold weather, spring for the nicer wool ones. I’ve even worn my snowboarding socks on really cold days ha ha. Let me know if that helps, and thanks again for reading and the kind words!