Hey runners! We are in November and for us living in the northern hemisphere, the weather is turning cooler, and we are entering the coldest time of the year.
So as the Starks in Game of Thrones say: “WINTER is coming”.
Therefore, this is a great opportunity to talk about winter running and cold weather running.
Benefits of Winter Running
I know I know, winter sucks—especially for us runners, but that’s no excuse to stop running altogether. In fact, running throughout the cold months has a lot to offer, including:
Boosts energy. Outdoor exercise is one of the best things you can do to boost up your energy while reducing tension, stress, and depression throughout the cold months, according to research published in the Environmental Science & Technology.
Prevents SAD. Standing for Seasonal Affective Disorder, this is a common condition brought on by the darker, shorter days during winter. But you can ward it off by running because outdoor exercise boost your levels of the feel-good chemicals endorphins, and fight off depression by exposure to natural light.
Burns more calories. Running burns mad calories but it can help you burn off even more calories during winter because cold weather forces you to run faster and push harder, and faster runs burn more calories, according to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise.
No weight gain. The average person tends to gain about one to five pounds during the winter season, according to study. And one of the main culprits is lack of physical exercise. Good news is running is one of the best and most convenient cardiovascular activities you can do to lose the pounds and keep them off for good.
Stay in shape. This is a no brainer. The best way to not get off the training wagon is to not get off out of it in the first place. Therefore, keeping your runs consistent can help you stay in a better shape so when the bathing suit season rolls down, you will have nothing to hide.
13 Rules for Running in Cold Weather
So instead of packing your running kit away for the upcoming few months, do the following and keep hitting the pavement over winter.
Important Note. I believe that almost everyone can run safely during the winter. But if you have some serious conditions, such as heart problems, asthma or other serious health ailment, I urge you to check with you physician before you lace up your shoes and run in cold weather.
1. Monitor the Weather
If you start keeping tabs on weather conditions, you will save yourself a lot of trouble from frozen toes and cold bites. Weather conditions, such as wind speed, temperatures and moisture, along with the duration of your run, are key factors in preparing for a safe and enjoyable cold-weather run.
So before you lace up your shoes, check the forecast for the time you will be outside.
If the temperatures or the wind chill (The mix of cold and wind, usually included in winter weather forecast) are too extreme, then you should consider taking your run indoor (hop on a treadmill for instance), or do any other type of indoor training.
If it’s raining heavily then consider putting off your run, unless you have tested-and-proven waterproof gear. Getting wet for a longer time makes you more susceptible to the cold, and it’s no fun.
2. Heed the Warning Signs
Running in the cold can expose you to two major cold-related troubles: frostbites and hypothermia.
Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing and strikes your body when the skin temperature dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This injury is most common on exposed skin, such as your nose, ears, and cheeks, but it can also hit your feet and hands.
Don’t fret yet. Frostbite comes with a host of warning signs that include tingling sensation, aching, burning, redness and numbness.
If you suspect a frostbite, then get out of the cold quickly, warm the affected area or seek medical attention if needed. Just don’t rub it because doing so can damage your skin
If it’s really cold, you can also cover exposed area, such as your face, with Vaseline or other moisturizing products, to reduce the risk of frostbite.
Hypothermia is an abnormal low body temperature and happens when your body loses more heat than it can produce, especially when your core temperature dips below 94 degrees F.
Some of the most common symptoms of hypothermia include slurred speech, numbness, severe shivering, confusion, fatigue and loss of coordination.
Therefore, at the earliest sign of the condition, get indoors ASAP, get rid of your wet clothes and get into a warm bath.
3. Dress in Layers (no Bulking Allowed)
This goes without saying but piling on a few extra layers is an ideal way to help keep your core warm and prevent loss of heat, especially when it’s freezing outside.
But, please do yourself a favor and leave your thick, bulky garments at home. In fact, one of the common mistakes I see runners make is dressing too warmly.
Even if it’s really cold outside, running generates a considerable amount of heat, and you are going to work up a sweat once you get warmed enough.
So instead of wearing multiple t-shirts and layers, opt for running specific clothing. The right running clothing is usually made with lightweight, moisture-wicking and synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, nylon and polypropylene, that will leave your body warm and dry.
And please steer clear of cotton because it soaks up rain and sweat, and holds in fluid, which is baaaad!
I usually stick with the same tried and true brands that I use during the summer. Brands like Asics, Nike’s Dri Fit, and Brooks are some of the best out there.
4. Dress Right
One of the best principles to keep in mind whenever you are dressing for a cold run is to dress for 20 degrees F warmer than the current temperature. You should feel slightly cool when you head out of the door.
This can help you stay warm without sweating so much—especially when you start picking up the pace—and avoid getting a chill.
Here are the three steps of safe winter running clothing:
First of all, put on a thin layer of synthetic material to soak up excess sweat and help you stay dry. I love the Nike Men’s Long Sleeve Legend DriFi, with is classic design and polyester fabric. ($28 – Get it Here)
Depending on the temperature and you own personal preference, you can add another layer of wool or fleece for insulation and extra warmth. Try the Salomon Men’s Trail (($45- Get it Here)
If it’s really cold, windy or raining, add a waterproof and breathable outer layer, such as the ASICS Lite-Show Winter Running Jacket ($90 – Get it Here), to protect you from rain, snow, and wind.
Nevertheless, feel free to experiment with different clothing until you find what works the best for you based on your exercise intensity, and personal preference.
Here is a full guide to Winter Dressing Code.
5. Don’t Forget your Extremities
Your extremities are the most important body part(s) you need to keep warm in the cold. Under freezing temperature, blood flow is shunted to the core of the body, leaving your extremities, like your feet, hands and head, defenseless against the cold and frostbites.
So make sure to be covered, literally, from head to toe.
Cover your face with a light breathable mask, especially if you are prone to frostbites and coughing. I usually use Balaclavas, which is a knit mask that covers the whole head, with holes for eyes and nose ($15- Get it Here).
Also make sure to wear gloves to protect your hands. I usually put a thin pair made from wicking material, such as polypropylene, under an outer pair of heavier gloves.
You can also protect yourself from frostbite, especially if the temperature drops below freezing, by rubbing protective moisturizing cream on your ears, cheeks, and other vulnerable areas.
In addition, make sure also to protect your feet by wearing socks that wick sweat wetness while keeping your feet warm. SmarWool socks are my favorite ($20- Get a pair Here).
6. Warm Up Indoor
When you start your workout with an indoor dynamic warm-up routine, you ensure that your muscles are warm and blood flowing before you hit the cold air, which can help you make running in the cold much easier and more enjoyable.
This also can help you run your best since a good warm-up is vital for athletic performance.
So before you step outside, do a dynamic warm-up routine to get the blood flowing and gradually raise your heart rate and body temperature.
Focus on dynamic moves like walking lunges, inchworms and leg swings. These will warm your muscles quickly and get your body ready to fire up.
Lucky for you, I have already share with my readers my favorite indoor dynamic warm-up routine, and you can find it here.
But word of caution here, please do your warm-up without breaking a sweat. If you built up a sweat inside, it will freeze when you go outside. So please pace yourself on the warm-up.
You should aim to get warmed while staying dry. Never break a sweat.
7. Adjust your Run (and Workout)
If you are an avid runner, especially if you are training for an important race or running goal, it’s key that a snow cold day stays a small nuisance, not a month long injury from slipping and falling.
So I urge to change your workout approach by either moving your run to a different day or working out indoor.
If you are used to running to in the early morning, I suggest that you may need to switch it to lunchtime, when the sun is out (hopefully), temperatures is the warmest, and paths are more likely to be plowed.
Or you can also move your run indoor by hoping on the treadmill. Here are some of the best treadmill workouts you can do.
You can also try a different thing. Join a spinning class, use the elliptical machine, join a kickboxing, a Crossfit class, or an indoor swimming class.
You can also invest in some home workout equipment and try out a few workout DVDs. I love the P90X program and other workout systems by the Beachbody company. These workout DVDs have helped stay fit and strong during so many a winter.
Here are few of my favorite DVD workout programs to try out:
The Insanity DVD workout program: I also love Shaun T workout DVDs and I think that insanity Volume 1 is ideal. I completed my first challenge three or four years ago, and still this program is one of my favorites (Get it Here).
The Insanity MAX:30: This another great workout program by Shaun T and it’s ideal if you don’t have a lot of time because most of the workouts will take you no more than a half an hour to complete. But be careful, MAX:30 is quite intense and will push you to the max (Get it Here).
Just do whatever you have to do to keep active and going strong.
8. Stay Hydrated
Just because it’s winter, it doesn’t mean that hydration needs should be ignored. Au contraire my friend, proper hydration throughout the cold months is as important as it is during the summer (and the rest of the year for that matter).
The cold season tends to be drier, so as a runner, you might be less conscious of the amount of sweating that’s actually occurring. So please, even if you feel less thirsty during the cold months, keep in mind that you body is still sweating so you need to diligently hydrate yourself, just as you would in the summer.
So approach hydration during a winter run just like you would for a summer run, especially if you running for longer than an hour.
Drink plenty of water before and after your runs, even if you are not really thirsty. Aim to drink half of your weight in ounces throughout the day. For example, if you weigh 180 pounds shot for at least 90 ounces of water per day.
For longer runs, anything more than 60 to 90 minutes, I urge you to drink on the run by either taking a water bottle with you or planning your routes around places where you can find water, such as convenience stores, etc.
Also, make sure to limit your intake of alcohol and caffeinated drinks three to four hours before a run because they can increase the risk of dehydration. Both caffeine and alcohol act as diuretics, which can cause your body to lose water and salt at a higher rate, which can dehydrate you much faster.
9. Stay Safe
I cannot emphasize safety enough when running. There is nothing worse than getting lost, or God forbid, injured and hurt in the middle of a snowy cold run.
So here are a few safety precautions measures you need to take:
- If you are running alone, pick familiar, fairly short, well lit loop
- Keep your runs close to home so that, if circumstances take a turn for the worst, home base isn’t too far away.
- Wear light-colored, reflective clothing so that you can easily be seen by oncoming drivers, bikers and other people.
- For more visibility, put on flashing light or wear a lightweight headlamp (I know it look dorky, but it can be a real life saver), especially if you run in the early morning or later in the evening.
- Have a cell phone and some cash, so in case of emergency you could make an important call or have enough cash to get a cab home.
- Carry your identification, and emergency contact list in case of an accident.
- Run against traffic because this will help you better see oncoming cars and stay safer on the road.
Image Credit – Elie Ruderman via Flickr
10. Avoid Falling
Not only slipping is super embarrassing, it can also lead to serious injury and possibly derail your running, for days, weeks, even months in some cases.
Obviously, the first thing you need to do to prevent slipping and falling is to steer clear of any areas where there is ice and puddles. So stay on the safe side and do the bulk of your running on paved, well-lit, and dry surfaces.
If you must run on snow, and ice roads, then you should consider a pair of YakTrax that you attach to your shoes to keep your traction on ice or snow.
Of course, these will slow you down a bit, but they will help you run securely and safely. Safety after all, should be your first concern here.
So get a pair of Yak Trax from Amazon or the nearest specialty running store.
11. Buddy Up
I usually prefer to run alone, but during winter I try to schedule at least one run with a buddy or with a local running group to ensure that I get out of the door, especially during the dark days of winter when I’d rather stay indoors, tucked in the warms of the sheets and the sofa.
Therefore, a running partner might be the exact thing you need to get out the door on those freezing days.
Why? First of all, there is no wimping out when your running buddy is trusting you to show up.
Not only that, there is also safety in numbers, which is key if you run under harsh weather conditions or in the early morning hours when the rest of the world is still asleep.
So I urge to start running with a buddy or a group to keep you honest and accountable to you actions during the darks days of winter.
12. Stay Warm in the Wind
The wind also has a cooling effect that you should put to your own advantage. And here is how.
I strongly urge you to run the first part of your run into the win, then turn around (if possible) and return with wind at your back.
When the wind is your back, your body temperature can actually increase, and that’s always a welcome help.
Plus, this little trick can also help you reduce wind chill during the second half of your run. For example, running at 8 mph into a 20 mph headwind can generate a wind chill force of 28 mph. Conversely, running 8 mph with 20 mph wind at your back cuts the wind chill to 12 mph, which is always a good thing.
13. Get Out of Wet Clothes
When you are wet in cold temperature, you increase the risk of hypothermia and the colds.
So immediately after your run, strip out of your sweaty and wet clothes and get into a hot bath or shower.
I highly recommend that you stretch following a run, but never do it in wet clothes. So following a run, make sure to remove the wet clothes, towel off, then start the stretching once you are dry and warm.
Remember “The Starks are always right in the end.”
Featured Image Credit – Rolfe Markham via Flickr