12 Tips for Running in the Colder Months
Is “run more”—or perhaps “attempt to run”—one of your goals for 2018? If so, good on you. The sport has loads of health benefits—from improved joint and bone health to decreased risk of depression, heart disease and even cancer—and it’s one of the best and most efficient ways to maintain a healthy weight.
But forging a new running habit can be challenging in and of itself, and it’s especially tough (read: excruciating) during the cold, dark months we’re enduring right now.
Here to help are four running experts with surefire tips to get you off the couch and onto the roads, chilly weather (and excuses) be darned.
Begin with baby steps.
“Rather than attempting to run three miles right out the gate, try walking with occasional 30-second bouts of running,” says Melis Edwards, a Montana-based running coach and trainer. As the weeks pass and you feel your fitness increasing (while the days get longer!), make the bouts of running longer and the walking shorter. “Our bodies need to take time to strengthen and handle the volume of training,” she adds, so increase your mileage gradually to prevent injury and burnout.
Remember to hydrate.
“It’s easy to get dehydrated in the winter because we don’t feel like we are losing as much water,” says Katie Barrett, a Boston-based running coach and six-time marathoner. But remember: even if you aren’t sweating buckets, you are still working out, and you need to hydrate accordingly—both before and after your run. Aim for at least 8 glasses a day, recommends Barrett.
When dressing for a cold weather run, it’s tempting to just throw on the comfiest, coziest attire you own and call it good. But do yourself a favor and check the label before finalizing your outfit. If any garments are 100 percent cotton, leave them at home. The reason: “Cotton gets cold and wet as soon as you start sweating and stays that way,” says Justin Craig, co-founder of Detroit-based running store RUNdetroit.
Instead, he recommends wearing a wool or synthetic base layer that will keep you warm without making you clammy. “Depending on thickness, you may want two base layers,” says Craig, “and you should always tuck you bottom layer into your pants to prevent chilly airflow against the skin.” As for your outer layer: it should be wind-resistant, advises Shawn Radcliffe, an Ontario-based runner and yoga teacher. “A wind-resistant fleece jacket and running pants that are loose enough to wear over your base layer work well,” he says.
Safeguard your shoes.
If you’re running on consistently icy roads, consider adding a lightweight spike, like Yaktrax, to the bottom of your shoes for extra stability, recommends Barrett. “Think snow tires for your sneaks,” she says.
Cover your head.
Most of our body heat escapes through the head, explains Barrett, so wearing a hat or headband that covers your ears and forehead will keep you feeling toasty. “I suggest a light neck warmer, like a Buff, that you can pull up over your chin and nose to protect your face from icy winds,” she says.
And possibly your nose and mouth.
You know that awful burning lung sensation that can happen when you exercise in the cold? Wearing a scarf or mask over your nose and mouth can help, explains Radcliffe, because it makes it easier to breathe. But beware that the sensation is sometimes, well, inevitable. “It might take some time to get used to this,” he says, “so work up to running outside in the winter.”
Protect your paws.
Wear warm, wind-resistant gloves or mittens, recommends Radcliffe. “You can also wear mittens over glove liners when the temperature drops,” he says. Your hands will warm up by the end of the run, he explains, but avoid the urge to peel them off and run with bare hands—you could put yourself at risk for frostbite if temps are cold enough.
Log your runs.
Everyone operates at different temperatures so it'll take some experimenting to figure out which outfit combos work for you, explains Craig. To help the process, consider snapping a photo of your outfit after your run and making a quick note on how you felt. Were you teeth chattering the entire time? Did you overheat in the final minutes? Edit one layer the next time you run in similar temperatures—and once you have outfits, trust your historical data. “Six degrees is always six degrees,” says Craig.
“Don't be afraid to come home sooner than you wanted if you are feeling cold, wet, or uncomfortable, says Shawn Radcliffe, an Ontario-based runner and yoga teacher. “You are better off bailing on your run than getting hypothermia or frostbite.” If your fingers or toes start to go numb or it's hard to move them, go back inside right away. Ditto if you are drenched in sweat—“Being wet increases your risk of hypothermia,” says Radcliffe.
Plan your route strategically.
Rather than heading out for one big loop, consider making it two shorter loops, recommends Craig. “This gives you the opportunity to drop a layer if you overdressed, or swap out a layer if you need more warmth,” he says. You can also easily cut your run short if you’re experiencing any of the hypothermia or frostbite symptoms listed above—or simply having an off day.
A running partner “truly can make or break your running experience,” says Edwards. Your friend can keep you accountable on the extra cold (or lazy) days that you don't feel like running, and “you can encourage each other to take your running to the next step together,” she says. Don't have a running buddy? Don't sweat it. Through some simple online searching you can get connected with runners in your local area as well as others across the country (and even the world) who can virtually support you. Simply Google your location plus “running groups” “or search “running groups” on Facebook. “Declare your running goals and others will help you on your journey!” says Edwards.
Focus on the fun.
Running during the wintry months can be enjoyable—if you have the right attitude. “I love how the streets and trees look magical after a fresh snowfall,” says Radcliffe. “And usually there are fewer people out, so the world is quiet.” Take stock of your surroundings as you run and remind yourself why you’re out there in the first place.