11 Cold Weather Running Tips and Tricks

Why Cold-Weather Running?

If done properly, cold-weather running can be very rewarding and helps you build endurance like no other. If you’re an experienced runner, you probably know the drill and have learned from experience what it is like running in cold weather. You know what works best for you, and you look forward to the time of year where you’re getting better personal times and records because the sun isn’t oppressively beaming down at you in the sweltering heat. 

For those of you who aren’t so experienced, and might even be a bit intimidated by the idea, here is a teaser of the positives you should expect when cold-weather running:

  • More calories burnt, as your body is using additional energy and resources to keep your body warm, though it is mitigated in part by your consistent movement.
  • Enhancing your endurance, by slogging through environments and conditions you’re unaccustomed to.
  • Improved mental fortitude, since not only is your body becoming acclimated to tougher weather, but your mind has to stay strong through it.

With that said, there are also some things you have to keep in mind when going out, that aren’t so pleasant:

  • Be aware of your surroundings, watch out for icy patches and get out of the way so you don’t fall or injure yourself
  • Frostbite, depending on the temperature, if you’re improperly prepared, you can get seriously cold.

In this article, we’re going to give you a list of 11 tips you can take with you when venturing out into the cold weather and running about while avoiding some missteps

1. Keep your extremities covered and warm

It might seem quite obvious that you should have your arms, hands, legs, and feet covered up in the cold, but it is easily the most important advice one can give when preparing to go out on a cold-weather run. Blood flow to your extremities is extremely important but not nearly as abundant as the core of your body, so they will often be feeling quite a bit colder than the rest of your body without any form of clothing or protection. Ideally, you’ll need gloves to keep your hands well-heated and warm. You’d also need comfortable socks that are made of moisture-wicking fabric to make sure moisture doesn’t stick around and end up making your feet colder, and the right pair of shoes to keep the environment and foreign bodies away from the insole and your feet.

2. Dress practically 

Remember that there can always be too much of a good thing, and just wearing way too much and overdoing it will be a detriment to your cold-weather running experience. Your body will gradually heat up as more energy is being generated and expended, so much so you’ll find yourself wanting to shed off any excess materials making you feel like you’re being cooked alive. Just as you get out the door you may feel incredibly cold and need that thick winter coat, but remember 10 minutes down the line you’ll be sweating like a pig if you keep it on.  

3. Layer properly

Make sure your inside layer is moisture-wicking – making sure that sweat evaporates as quickly as possible instead of sticking around and making you excessively warm and uncomfortable. The second layer should be insulating, as to help the first, tighter layer do its job. The final layer is the outer layer that should be comprised of a material that is durable and protective against cold weather conditions, consider it to be like an armor.

4. Do a warm-up beforehand

Vital to just about any workout routine is doing a warm-up beforehand to get your body moving. This is doubly true for outdoor cold-weather running. Even rudimentary motions or motor functions will help get your body warmed up, literally, as well as lubricating your joints in preparation for the real workout to come. It is easy to strain a muscle in the cold when your body is still tight, compounded by the frigid cold, so rather than risk injury, take a couple of minutes before you go out to stretch your body. 

5. Invest in reflective clothing

This one might not seem quite as obvious but winter times also mean less daylight to spare, as a result, you’ll often find yourself either starting a cold-weather run with the sun waning, or be in the middle or end of one with the sundown. Because of this, it is best that you wear outer layer gear that is reflective and bright, and even maybe a light device that helps you see where you’re going, such as a headlamp or knuckle lights. Alternatively, if you’re completely content with the gear you own and it suits your needs so well you’d rather not risk changing up the winning formula, you can add reflective tape to your outfit to make sure you’re seen in the dark.

6. Use Vaseline

As we said earlier, frostbite is a real threat when running during seriously cold weather. One way to easily and effectively combat that threat is by using vaseline. In such occasions where you’re faced with extremely cold temperatures but refuse to back down, applying vaseline to exposed skin areas (nose, ears, lips, cheeks, etc) will create a barrier between these areas and the cold, making it much less likely you’ll suffer from anything other than fatigue after the long run.

7. Stay hydrated

It goes without saying that you need more water in the warmer months when you’re sweating out buckets, but don’t trick yourself into believing you won’t need to stay hydrated. Being parched in the middle of your run is a surefire way to ruin a perfectly great session. Keep some water with you incase the urge strikes, because you will still be sweating in the cold. 

8. Be prepared for cold air 

Perhaps one of the biggest fears people have is the sharp pain upon inhaling harsh and cold air, and would rather just run indoors instead. This isn’t an easy thing to get used to, but not only is it temporary, but it gets easier the more often you run in cold weather. Don’t give up in the first five minutes of a hard run because of this, because the sharp cold air will become unnoticeable by the end of the run, and just as easily dealt with weeks into a consistent routine.

It takes a fair bit of mental fortitude to keep yourself motivated and willing, and it is equally rewarding as it is tough. Try wearing a scarf, high collared shirts, or practice different methods of breathing. The most popular technique is to breathe through your nose and out through your mouth. The reason this technique is more effective and comfortable than mouth-breathing is that there is a greater distance for the inhaled air to travel before reaching your lungs, and it warms the air up a bit before reaching your lungs.

9. Keep the wind in mind

A consistent gust of wind can turn your moderately cold weather into a real chilly condition that seeps into your bones. These are referred to as “feel-like” temperatures because even though it isn’t technically that cold outside, winds picking up will often make the weather feel a lot colder than it actually is. Ideally, you will either alter your route to one that has significantly reduced wind gusts by traversing through buildings, or break the run down in a way where you’re running against the wind at the start of your run but running with the wind at the end of your run. The reason for this is because after breaking a sweat during the first half, running directly into the wind is not only uncomfortable, but it increases how cold you feel and the effort required to keep you warm (tiring your body out sooner).

10. Don’t overstrain yourself

Remember that the cold weather is more than just a sensation, but has a real impact on your body. Harsh colds tend to make your muscles tighter, hence the importance of a good pre-workout warmup, but also the importance of starting slowly and not pushing your body too hard – never prioritize speed over safety and risk pulling a muscle or taking a risky route.

11. Know when to stay indoors

While cold-weather running can be incredibly exhilarating and a serious test of your mental and physical endurance, it shouldn’t be taken too far. Respect your personal boundaries and understand that sometimes it really just is too cold outside to spend a lot of time out. If the temperature or the conditions are more than you’re ready for, switch up your workout to be a more indoor-focussed one that day. One’s safety comes before all else, and that cannot be stressed enough as the most important tip when considering cold-weather running.

With all that in mind, just get out there and start cold-weather running! You’re going to be faster than in the summer, you’re going to be tested unlike ever before, and if you make it through, you’ll feel a sense of pride and accomplishment like any other. Not only will you be proving it to yourself that you can tough it out, but many people including other runners will respect and envy your willpower to overcome harsh conditions and stick to your passion. Anyone can run in the spring, summer or fall, but it takes a person of character and fortitude to face winter head-on in the dead of cold.