The frost is on the pumpkin, and you’re starting to get cold on those crisp autumn mornings. You, runner, know what I’m going to say next: Winter is coming. While this brings thoughts of gingerbread cookies, holiday festivities, and lots of hot chocolate, it also means it’s a lot tougher to get out the door and log those miles. Whether you’re a veteran runner who has recently moved back to a place with four seasons or you’re a new runner who has yet to tackle chilly temps, these hacks will help you acclimate, accommodate, and adapt to winter running!
Get the Gear
The one word that can’t be emphasized enough is layers. Donning your favorite winter parka will keep you warm, but it will be a beast to run in! You want light-weight layers that will warm you up without weighing you down. But what layers should you pick?
Stay away from cotton fabric. It absorbs moisture which will make you much colder much faster. Look for materials that wick away moisture — meaning they pull the sweat away from your skin to keep you dry(er). Especially great go-to fabrics are technical fabrics, bamboo, and wool. (We know, you’re thinking itchy, scratchy sweaters, but wool has updated its feel for the 21st century! It’s not cheap, but it’s worth the investment for a regular winter runner!)
Once you’ve got the right materials, you need the right pieces. The rule of thumb for dressing is to imagine it’s 15-20 degrees warmer than it is. As you run, you warm up, and while you may have felt comfortable when you walked out the door, a mile down the road you’ll be a sweaty pot roast of a runner! This is easier said than done when you’re trying to force yourself out of a warm, cozy house into a whistling winter wind, but it really does help. Depending on just how cold it is, gauge your gear accordingly:
- Temps in the 50s (ahem…Florida winter) — Quit whining and get out there (only kidding)! A long-sleeved shirt might be enough, or you can pair it with some capri tights for a little extra warmth.
- Temps dropping into the 40s — Add a second top layer and capri- or full-length tights.
- Temps down to the 30s — A thermal shirt plus a second top layer will usually do the trick, or three lighter layers stacked if you don’t have a thermal layer. Don’t forget to keep your head and hands covered — you lose a ton of your body heat through the extremities.
- Temps in the teens or single digits — Look for thermal tights that add an extra layer of warmth or wind protection.
For really frigid runs, a neck gaiter or balaclava will help keep the icy chill off your neck. Extended winter freezes might make it worth looking into a high-quality pair of running gloves or mittens to keep your fingers — and your whole body — toasty. A wind-blocking running jacket will also help, too, since winter winds can make it feel much colder than it really is. All this is a wee bit subjective since some people handle cold better than others, but if you invest in a few basic winter layers you’ll be able to add or subtract comfortably all winter long.
Weather You Do or Don’t…
When winter sets in, one of the biggest obstacles for runners is the shortened daylight. Your morning miles are suddenly much darker, and your evening escape feels like bedtime. Be sure you run where you feel safe! Even if you’re running where it’s well-lit, keep yourself safe — and seen — by wearing visibility gear. We all know the joy of the PT reflective belt! It works! Or, snag the vest version that covers more of your upper body. Light-up devices, like those from Noxgear, are pricey, but extremely effective — a good investment for a regular dark-hours runner. You can also find blinking safety lights or other hand-held lights all over the internet. Another consideration is a headlamp, which comes in handy for dark runs in-between the street lights.
Obviously, running in the darker hours of the day also means you’re running in the colder hours of the day. Opposite of summer running — when you try to take advantage of waning sunlight — in winter, you try to run midday when it’s the warmest. If you’re able to snag a lunch-time run, go for it! Even the simple thought of seeing the sun (or just plain daylight) will give you a mental boost over a cold, dark, evening run.
But winter weather isn’t just about temperatures. Snow and ice are huge considerations for runners. Snow can be slippery, but it can also soak your shoes and send you into a chilly state quickly. Try to run where snow has been shoveled so you don’t face frozen toes. Ice is far more dangerous, but not always obvious. Tread lightly anytime you see “wet” pavement. All it takes is one misstep, and you could be done running until spring! You can buy winter spikes that either screw into or pull over your shoes. These will give extra traction if you’re concerned about slippery surfaces.
Make the Most of Your Mental Fortitude
Winter running isn’t much different from running in the heat of summer. It boils down to a simple concept: mind over matter. Unlike summer running, you can actually gear up enough to stay warm on the coldest of runs. But it can still take a Herculean effort to open the front door and hit the road. If your mental game isn’t strong, try some bargaining games instead! Bribe yourself with rewards (hot chocolate recovery drink), guilt yourself by remembering all the Christmas cookies you ate, hold yourself accountable by making a running date with a friend, or sign up for a fun winter race that makes the whole effort worthwhile!
There are a surprising number of winter races even in super-cold locations. Winter race season often kicks off with a Thanksgiving turkey trot — earn that extra slice of pumpkin pie! Looking for something more decadent? Check online to find your nearest city for a hot chocolate race. It really is as delicious as it sounds! Many towns host a Santa dash or jingle bell run near the holidays. Yes, it’s more fun to put the bells on your shoes! Or, look for a resolution run to get your new year off to a healthy, fun start. Finding something to train for or write on your calendar gives you the inspiration and motivation to get out and complete your miles.
You’ve Got This
Winter running is far from impossible, as long as you know how to make safe, warm choices when it comes to your miles. If all else fails, you know there’s always a treadmill option and some Netflix, but where are the bragging rights in that? You’ve got this, runner!
Photo Credits: Marisa McDonald Photography