Running in the cold

Running is truly an all-season sport. As long as you have the right gear and mindset, you should be able to run in relative comfort whether you are facing a sweltering summer day or a frigidly cold winter morning  –with minor adjustments in extreme weather. Here are a few random thoughts.

My snowy running path

The first truly cold run will suck. The first run in the cold – say, when the “real-feel” temperature dips below 20 degrees Fahrenheit– is a cruel shock to the system. It takes time for your body to adapt to colder temperatures. Give it a few days.

Randy in a Christmas Story
“I can’t put my arms down.”

Dress the part. I tend to overdress during my first uber-cold run, and I end up feeling like Randy in “A Christmas Story” who is so overbundled in layers that can’t put his arms down or move. For ideas on what to wear when running in the cold, see my list of what to wear for every cold temperature.

Extra layers = weight vest = advantage over competition. In high school, I ran middle distance track for a year or two. During some practices, we had to wear weight vests, so that come race day, running 400 or 800 meters without one would feel like a breeze. Think of all those extra winter layers as a weight vest. (Truth is, all those clothes are heavy.) Come Spring, you will feel light, airy and faster!

Running in the snow is playful. I will be the first person to say I don’t enjoy the cold and I am not a fan of winter at all. But I do enjoy running in the snow – whether the snow is falling or I am galloping with abandon across a wintry landscape. Why? As we morph into adults, the concept of “play” falls by the wayside as we concentrate on more serious matters. It’s a shame because stress is a great stress reliever, not to mention fun! When the path is covered with snow, running is a joyful experience – like a sanctioned play. When I’m running in the snow, I remember what it felt like to be a kid and why I once loved blizzards. It’s also the one time in the winter when I don’t feel cold; It’s difficult to feel chilly while running. Putting YakTrax on your shoes makes it easier to run in the snow. Keep in mind they work best if there’s at least 2 inches of snow on the ground. Any less, and I think it’s easier to just run carefully wearing trail running shoes, which have more traction than regular running shoes.)

Soggy sneakers? Stuff your sneakers with newspapers as soon as you get home. The newspaper will absorb some of the moisture, and this will help them dry out more quickly.

Icicles encountered during a chilly run

What you resist persists. (Simply put, “Get your ass up and run.”) When you are laying under the covers, spooned by your hunky boyfriend, not to mention covered with 3 blankets and a smattering of purring, snoozing cats, getting out of bed to run in the chill can be difficult. Sleep in a while and run later. But do run! Think of all the people who are skipping or shortening their workouts because of the cold. Don’t be that runner.

Winter wind running is extra challenging, particularly headwinds. Think of it as strength work for your mind and your body. It not only toughens you mentally, but running against the wind also strengthens your muscles.

Your running stride and cadence may change. When running in the snow or slush, chances are your stride will shorten to help balance on the slippery terrain. It’s all good. A little change once in awhile does a body good. It tests different muscles and adds some variety to your regimen. Embrace the change. Do whatever is natural to help yourself keep moving. You can always do hill sprints in the spring to improve your form!

Get your vitamin D fix. I don’t relish the thought of spending my entire winter indoors, so I try to do most of my winter runs outside where I can enjoy an hour or two of sunshine and light. Exceptions are when it is too icy to safely run or if I am doing speedwork and there’s even a slight chance of slipping. (I will, however, run on the track when it’s not terribly snow-covered.) Winter is a dark season. In the northern Hemisphere, just about everyone who lives north of Norfolk, VA will experience a Vitamin D deficiency. (I was tested a few years back and had one, and I eat pretty healthfully.) This is another good reason to run outside. I don’t wear sunscreen during the winter for this reason. Only my hands and face are usually exposed (sometimes my calves, if I am wearing capris), and I want them to soak in all the rays they can get.

Put your running clothes out the night before. Or better yet, wear your running clothes to bed. This is a classic motivational tip that is especially helpful in winter.

Lip balm, lip balm, lip balm! I hate having dry lips, especially in the cold, so I carry lip balm with me on just about all of my winter runs over 3 miles.

Buff-amazingly versatile. You can form it into a hat, face mask, scarf, headband, etc


You need a Buff. Or 3. If you only buy one piece of winter gear, get a Buff. Ask Santa for one. These suckers are amazingly versatile. You can form a Buff into a scarf, hat, face mask, head band, etc. I have several. Buffs come in all sorts of patterns and colors, from basic black to to tie-dye. Some winter races even give them away instead of the ubiquitous T-shirts –  wise.  (They are on sale now at Eastern Mountain Sports for only $14.)

Pace is not as important during the winter. If you are training for a race, you need to put in quality workouts. But when the weather is frigid or snowy, you may not be able to hit your usual paces. Don’t fret. Just get in your run. Consistency is what really counts. If you have to do speed work when the weather is bad, then hit the tready or an indoor track.

Hydrate! Drinking enough water during winter is just as important as during warmer weather. Wearing all those layers during your runs causes you to sweat –sometimes more than you do in the summer. Also, winter heating is super dehydrating. I am like a camel. I never seem to get thirsty and I need to force myself to drink water, especially in the winter. I get around this lack of thirst by sipping on  hot herbal tea – peppermint, lemon and Red Zinger are my favorites. The gentle flavor makes it easier to take in more liquids.


What is your favorite tip for winter running?