Tips to run in the WINTER

I know many of you are total badasses that don’t need help with this, but some of us DO did. In my first year as a runner, I skipped running from November to March. On my second year,, I went to the treadmill for those months. Eventually, on my third year, I dared going outside and I haven’t looked back (IN?) but it helps if you know how to do it.

running in the winter tips to run in the winter.png


The easiest way to get used to running outside? Go out on the first REALLY COLD day out, if it’s windy and raining, even better, if you’re not prepared and don’t have the perfect gear, PERFECT. The sooner you bite the bullet (November?) the easier it’ll be to get used (mentally) to run outside. After that, ANY run will seem a piece of cake.  Then you just need to figure out the little details like what to wear and all that so you don’t freeze.

One question: why not run in the treadmill? Well, because… simply put, treadmills suck. If you really really have no choice, do it, but treadmill running is not running: avoid it when possible. Treadmills will keep you indoors and warm, so you’ll never get used to running outside. They are also pushing you forward, so it’s really NOT like running: your biomechanics will be all off, so when you get back outside again, you’ll have to retrain your gait and your body. Indoors, there is no wind, no turns, no people to race, no climate to adjust to, no landscape, nothing. The surface of treadmill is also a lot bouncier than the real world so you have a ton more return energy, which will be like half the effort you do outside! If you DO the dreadmill, then make sure you ALWAYS have the incline at least at 2.0, and to have some fun speed workout to do, so you won’t be running too easy or get bored.

One caviat: DO NOT RUN OUTSIDE when it’s DANGEROUS. Don’t be stupid. We all like to feel like we are stronger than the weather, and tougher than nails (like we are insecure/stoopid people?), BUT, stoooopidity can cost you. A LOT. For example, don’t run outside if the roads are icy, if you are risking frostbite, if the cold air is hurting your lungs, if you don’t get to warm up over a few miles (if your limbs are too cold and you don’t feel relaxed: injury alert!), if you are too cold to think straight, it there is black ice, if you’re running on ice, if it’s dark and you can’t see the road that could be icy… Seriously. Use your best judgment. DON’T BE STOOOPID. I beg you.

Now, onto better stuff.

Keep a log on the temperature and what you wore. Write down what you can’t go out without. For example, for me, that’s chapstick, gloves, and something for my ears. I could never run without those things, whether it’s 30 degrees or minus 20. The rest is just details. And make sure you write it down as YOU WILL forget next winter and go through the same thing. I know my tights can handle more cold than my calves, so with 30 degrees I could handle shorts but I need knee-high socks or leg warmers.

I keep mental notes like this: for a race, if it’s over 40 degrees I can run with just a singlet, maybe add arm warmers if the wind is high (for throwaway arm warmers, use old knee-high socks, cut the tips off, and voila!). Big note: don’t bother looking at the temperature, always look at the “feels like”, wind is a HUGE factor.

Decide on something like this, always FEELS LIKE (– this is just an example! We all have different needs!!)

40 degrees – shorts, short tights – long sleeve – gloves

30 degrees – long tights – long sleeves – jacket – gloves – fleece headband

20 degrees – two pairs of long tights – leg warmers – long sleeve – fleece lined pullover – jacket – gloves – fleece headband – wool beanie

10 degrees – two pairs of long tights – pants over the tights – 2 long sleeves – fleece lined pullover – jacket – gloves – fleece headband – balaclava – hand warmers

Something like that… just adjust to what works for you. Like, I never need to cover my neck but my fingers are frozen in seconds!

You really can pile on the layers, but there is such a thing as too much. I tried wearing one cotton layer in once, as I thought it’d keep me warmer, don’t do it. It soaks up all the sweat and it will make you SO much colder if you stop for 1 second or are not going too fast. So put on as many layers as you can, without going into I am too hot and I am sweating too much mode.

If there is snow falling, you want to add a hat, or a visor to keep the snow from going into your eyes, and clear sunglasses. And some sort of waterproof jacket.

Think always that if you’re racing, you’ll be warmer and sweating more than on any regular run, so leave one layer at home. And if you’re running socially, or with a group, or slow, with a lot of traffic light stops, put a few extra layers on: you’ll be colder with all the stopping and might not even get to fully warm up at any point.

The rule of thumb is that running adds 15 to 20 degrees. In the summer, you can get 15 degrees warmer within a few blocks… in the winter, it usually takes a few miles. So make a point to stop as little possible. And try to warm up as much as you can before you head out. Pile on the layers and stay in a few minutes, or jump in place indoors, that way the cold air won’t hit you as fast, and your warmth will last a bit more until you finally warm up.

Before you head out, while you are warming up, decide what warm stuff you’ll drink as soon as you get back in an leave it already in the microwave or in the stove. Drink something warm as soon as you walk, and then straight to the arm shower: NO IDLING trying to warm up!

Oh, it’ll probably be dark, so always have some lights or something reflective. Adding the stress of having to look out for cars or bikes to the cold is no fun.

One key training thing. You can do lots of drills to warm up in the winter! Here is  a lot of them! They’ll get your heart rate up in no time! Also, most people go for easy runs, because it’s just so cumbersome. I like to do hill repeats when it’s really cold! The extra effort will keep you warm and the downhill running won’t be so boring because it’s still part of you warming up!

If all this fails, put your down coat over all that or move to a warmer town. I am thinking about the Caribbean right about now… Questions? More ideas?

11 thoughts on “Tips to run in the WINTER

  1. I’m such a wimp when it comes to the cold. I don’t even like to go outside with the dog when he needs to potty. I put on like 38.5 layers and don’t go more than 10 feet from the house. I just let him run around and do his thing. Sometimes I don’t even go outside with him, I just open the door and say “go potty.”

    So I really can’t imagine trying to run in this cold, even though I loath treadmills and ellipticals. I used to love them, until I tried to run outside one day and could barely make it 100 feet without having to slow down and walk. That was the worst 1 mile run of my life.

    I keep using the ice as an excuse, even though the roads really aren’t iced over… hmm. I should quit being such a wimp.


    • Don’t feel bad, we all felt that way in the beginning (I skipped the whole winter for years!) but it’s just about biting the bullet, just go out and do it, and next time it won’t be so hard… you’ll learn what to wear (hopefully this post helps a bit!) and how to do it, and the first time you manage to do a few miles outside, you’ll feel like you conquered the Everest.. then you get used to it!


    • socks!!! I like smartwool, they’re thicker and warmer, but I am not sure there is much more you can do besides putting a toe warmer in there… you won’t fit two socks so… Oh, wear running shoes that are not the racing flats or the ones with wholes, wear something thicker and sturdier so less air will get in..?


  2. Everyone is different. At 40 I’m good in shorts and short sleeve, but I will wear a headband and gloves if it’s cloudy or a shady run. Socks are definitely a must. I do the smartwool toe socks, or the Feetures bamboo and wool blend. They keep my toes pretty toasty. And I just got the new Newton BoCo shoes and their upper is so solid that I haven’t had cold toes yet. They are meant for trails and terrain so I wear them on the dirt river trails around here but they also great for running in snow because the tread keeps me from slipping.


    • Trail shoes are a good point! they’re usually sturdier and will keep your feet toasty! 40 is perfect weather, this was geared towards when it’s 20 and under… yuk


  3. As much as I agree with part of this post, I have to disagree on this one: treadmill running IS running. I can’t comment on bio mechanics because I don’t have any educated knowledge on the subject, but I run half my mileage outside and half my mileage on a treadmill, and treadmill running is not easier, not is it harder for me when I go back out. I’m used to both forms of running and in terms of effort, they are even.
    There was a period of time when I run mostly on a treadmill, improved my speed doing speed work twice a week, and when I went back to running outside I saw my treadmill speed improvement 100% reflected running outdoors as well.
    Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion and I respect yours and the fact that you don’t like running on treadmills, however I know it is a valid option for many of us.


    • Thanks, I appreciate your comment! I do think that if you get do half indoors and half outside it could work. But if you trained only indoors it would have been hard to do well in a race. There are those treadmills that are pushed by your own movement that I think do a better job, but it’s still a lot bouncier than even the softest dirt. It can be called running, yes, but it’s completely different than road running (in biomechanics, energy return, wind resistance, etc, etc) so if you’re training for a road race, I’d say it’s not a good plan, unless, like you said, it’s just a complement for running outside.


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  5. Great tips! I love cold weather running for the most part, with the exception of the bad inversions we get here. I think my number one problem are my fingers… they nearly freeze off each time. Have yet to find a good glove that isn’t bulky. I am admittedly an idiot when it comes to not running when it’s dangerous. I have found myself several times this winter slipping, nearly falling and ice skating with my feet finding the black ice patches, so I resort to trail running on crunchy frozen snow, which is challenging but I feel more surefooted on trails than the frozen roads sometimes.


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