Top 10 Tips for Winter Running

Dakota Jones | Photo by Kevin Winzeler

By Dakota Jones
The problem with winter running is that you have to make certain sacrifices. Are you willing to be frozen and miserable at first so that the majority of the run will be comfortable, or would you rather take a nice jacket at the beginning and roast? Consider snow and ice – they’re very slippery and made out of water, and thus have the potential to leave you both broken and wet in very little time. Even the days are shorter, meaning time management around running is that much more difficult. With all these problems, the prospect of winter running can seem daunting and unpleasant. But the outdoors are beautiful in winter, and they offer a perspective on the running and the natural environment that we often miss in trying to avoid the cold. If done right, running can be fun and comfortable even on the coldest days. Here are eight tips to get you outdoors when the snow starts flying.

  1. Wear warm clothes, but not too warm. The unfortunate truth is that you’ll be most comfortable if you start a little cold. Yes, going outside in a light jacket when the temperature is below freezing seems appalling at best, but within fifteen minutes you’ll be warm and comfortable. Taking too much clothing at the beginning will leave you sweaty and uncomfortable, so sacrifice comfort at the beginning for performance later.
  2. Shoes are also crucial to winter running success. Do away with little racing flats and embrace something larger, with bigger lugs. Lightweight shoes are often thin and transparent, meaning snow and ice can melt into your feet and make you miserable. Larger shoes are more resilient to outside conditions and grip much better on slick surfaces. For those real icy days, try YakTrax or Micro-Spikes.
  3. Wear gloves. No matter how well-suited your outfit may be for winter running, you’ll be powerless without gloves. In cold weather the body sucks all of its heat into the core, and in doing so leaves the extremities without adequate circulation, meaning your hands just won’t work right. Also, cold hands hurt a lot, and then even more when they warm up (this also refers to other extremities – see rule #6). Make sure to wear adequately warm gloves that also provide a level of waterproofing so that snow or rain won’t render them useless.
  4. Dress appropriately. | Photo Kevin Winzeler
  5. Hats. Conventional wisdom says that we lose up to 80% of our body heat through our head, which is why you should know that conventional wisdom is oftentimes completely false. You don’t lose any more heat through your head than through anywhere else on your body, but you’re usually (hopefully?) wearing clothes in most other places. Wearing a hat keeps your ears and head warm and saves energy by preventing body heat from radiating off into the atmosphere. Try out a buff, which can serve as a hat, ear-warmer, neck-warmer, bandit-hat or any combination of these.
  6. Don’t forget water! In cold temperatures people often forget to drink enough water. I can attest to this – last winter I ran thirty-three miles in five hours and drank less than one bottle. This left me dehydrated for days. While you don’t need as much water on a cold day as on a hot day, forgetting about water on a run is detrimental to success. Continue to use your top two racing principles: eat before you’re hungry and drink before you’re thirsty.
  7. Dudes: pad that crotch! I cannot stress the importance of this rule. Sometimes you’ll go out for a run in the winter wearing just shorts, saying your legs can handle the cold. And you’d probably be right – your legs can handle the cold. But you might incur other casualties by wearing shorts that you may not have expected, if you know what I mean. Fortunately, most winter running tights come with this technology built in. But always make sure. Remember – it won’t hurt during the run. It’s the thaw that will have you reconsidering any future reproduction.
  8. Run with other people. The fact is that sometimes running sucks. Maybe you’re tired from a long day at work or from the previous day’s workout. Maybe your screaming, sick children kept you up all night. No matter what the reason, cold weather has a way of sucking even that last remnant of running motivation out of you. So plan runs with partners. That way you’ll have someone to keep you honest in your training, as well as someone to complain to incessantly about the damn weather.
  9. Run less. Everyone needs a break from running now and then. You have to maintain your psyche for running in order to continue training hard. My advice is to avoid spending all that psyche just to get out the door for mediocre runs in the winter, and save most of it for when the nice weather rolls back around. As in all things in life, your fitness needs its ups and downs – you cannot continue to gain fitness forever. Stop running, eat some cookies and most of all don’t worry about it. You’ll gain that fitness back in the spring and you’ll feel so much better than if you had used up all of your willpower grinding through the cold.
  10. OutDry. If you don’t what this is yet – check it out.
  11. Tip #10 comes from you. What have I missed? Leave a comment and share your wisdom.
Eliminate the discomfort of the cold. | Photo Kevin Winzeler

These tips won’t make you enjoy running in the winter, but they will provide the tools that will allow you to do so. The enjoyment you’ll find in winter running will be from the running itself, just as you enjoy running in the summertime. By eliminating the discomfort of the cold you can focus on the act we all love so much: just moving efficiently from point A to point B. Running is still running, even in the winter.

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8 Responses to Top 10 Tips for Winter Running

  1. Brad says:

    #10 — Illumination, especially if starting late in the afternoon. It gets dark early in the winter, and you’ll want to see where you are going and be seen by oncoming traffic if running on the roads.

  2. Chris says:

    #10 If you’re forced to run on city streets be extra cautious of drivers during icey and snowy conditions

  3. Johan Gomez says:

    Don’t forget to use lubricants and/or toe separating socks. Sometimes, medical tape works wonders for separating your toes to prevent chafing on longer runs I.E. ultra-marathon training runs. As with gloves for your hands it’s also importants to keep your feet dry and as warm as possible especially if some or all of your running includes trails, region dependant.

  4. If it’s really snowy/icy, I’d take my fave poles–Black Diamond Z Poles — in addition to Katoolah MicoSpikes. And sunscreen — don’t forget the sun is strong even in the cold, especially at altitude. Oh yeah, and tissue! My nose runs as much as my legs :-)

  5. John Cremers says:

    Super disappointed that the build-up was to make number 9 an advertisement. I guess free content on the web has to pay back somewhere.

  6. I live in good ol’ Iowa, where it can get pretty chilly. This last winter it got to -32 below.

    Better to have the gear while running, and take it off, than to have no gear at all.

    I always wear something to protect the face, bandanna or something. You can pull it down if face gets to warm.

    Definitely make sure to wear enough stuff around the groin area, I have experienced not wearing enough, and the cold winds can be very unpleasant.

    Always wear gloves. Heck, two pairs. “you mean, you’ve had an extra pair of gloves this whole time? Yeah, we’re in the rockies” _dumb and dumber_

    Running in the winter is pure exhilaration. I was looking up old blog post I had written about winter running, and here is a post i wrote about running in winter in iowa at midnight. Enjoy!

    Running with purpose in every step,


    Twitter @AwakeMySole

  7. Thea says:

    Back to running in town: sidewalks heave in the cold, watch for that tell-tale corner sticking up through the snow. But then, only run in town if a) you don’t have a buddy for the trails, b) you haven’t bought your headlamp yet, or c) the snow on the trails is over your knees. ;)

  8. Paul says:

    For running on the sidewalks and pavement, I use 1/4″ sheet metal screws that I screw into the bottom of my shoes so that the hex head is exposed, great traction on ice that can come up very quickly on sidewalks. Just screw several rows, 3 or 4 screws in a row, across the main areas of the shoes that could slip, toe and ball of foot. Carefull where you walk on the house throw they can mess up a floor.

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