Winter Running: An Amateur Athlete's Survival Guide

So we talked about what #Streakcember is, and I pledged to run at least a mile every day for the last month of 2018. We’ve also discussed WHY working out outdoors in the winter is actually awesome and not terrible at all.

We’ve covered every angle of this cold weather workout and winter running issue except the big bad one—the abominable “how.” HOW do you prepare for ice, snow, and wind?

How do you fight off the temptation to stay snuggled up in bed while the sun refuses to shine and everything is frostier and flakier than your pre-long run breakfast cereal? I’ve got you!

Whether you’re looking to survive a whole winter running outdoors, or just curious about trying cold weather running for the first time, read on for some tips to help brave the elements and run happy until springtime!


Sleep In Until Sunrise

Waking up at 6 a.m. to run in the winter looks the exact same as waking up at the crack of midnight. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s not exactly a great motivator to get up and get moving. The sun doesn’t rise until later in the day during the winter months, which means the temperature doesn’t either. So if leaving the safety of your cozy bed for a chilling dash outside doesn’t seem likely, schedule your run for later in the day, when temperatures have (hopefully) risen.

You can try trading in your early morning run for a mid-day jaunt. I’ve started bringing my gym clothes to work and going during my lunch hour. Just don’t forget the sunscreen—skin safety is a good habit to get into all year!

Dress For Warm(er) Weather

Stay comfy by avoiding under AND over-dressing. The general rule of thumb is that running makes you feel it’s about 10 C (or 20 F) warmer than it actually is outside. So if you’re running in 0 C weather, you want to dress like you’re running in 10 C. If it’s -10 C, dress for zero. You get it. Dressing with adjusted temperature in mind will help keep you comfortable once you really get going! Speaking of dressing…

Layer Up, Layer Often

Running gear can be pricy as h*ck, so layering can help you use the gear you’ve already got to its full potential. Maybe you don’t have a Nike winterproof jacket, but you have a technical long-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt, and a windbreaker—you’re still good to go! Experiment around and find what works for you!


Don’t Let a Cool Head Prevail

Consider getting a cowl or a scarf to cover your nose and mouth to keep cold air from shocking your lungs. A hat or hood will help your ears stay warm and keep you from losing heat on the top of your head, while a headband will protect your ears, allowing some heat to escape on milder winter days.

Sunglasses will keep the wind out of your eyes, but if you breathe on them, they will fog like nobody’s business. I like to wear a Buff wrap over my ears and then a running baseball cap for eye protection if it’s sunny but not too windy. Countering these little pain points will make winter running a LOT less painful.

Say “Cleats!”

I don’t have a pair of winter-centric running shoes. I generally use whatever pair I’m wearing at the time for all seasons. A budget friendly solution to keep from sliding on packed snow and ice is pull-on traction aids! These rubber grips generally strap onto your shoes and help keep you safe from falls or slips outdoors. Find these in your local running store or online.

Pro tip: If you want your traction aids to last, rinse them of road salt and grit when you get in from every run.

Scale Back Distance, Increase Frequency

There are some guidelines for running cold weather conditions. I don’t have them on hand. I just know when it’s -20 C or below, being outside for more than 30-40 minutes not only sucks but is also not 100% safe. If you live in a place where the days are consistently frigid, consider cutting up your longer runs into shorter ones. Crush out three 5k runs over a week instead of one 15k. Take advantage of warmer days to fit in longer runs, or wait until spring thaw to get back to distance training again.

Learn When To Skip Out

A final note: many runners don’t like to say it, because skipping out on a run feels like admitting defeat, BUT there may be some days when it’s too cold or too icy to go running outside. (Booooo, I know.) The best thing to use them for rest, hit an indoor track, take to the treadmill (ugh), or cross train.

What are your best winter workout tips?