Winter Running 101: Braving The Elements

Winter running isn’t just for fanatics. With our guide offering a few tips and tricks, you may find yourself happily (and safely) gallivanting through blustery snowfalls.

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As winter rolls in, many of us flock to comfortably heated studios and gyms for our daily exercise. For runners, though, the options for training aren’t limited to the monotonous and often overcrowded treadmills. Brisk weather doesn’t have to deter you from doing what you love most.

If you’re jumping at the chance to continue your outdoor running routine, there are a few things to keep in mind. To help you plan for these next few months of colder temperatures, let’s dive into some necessary safety measures, gear suggestions, and training modifications.

So throw on a few extra layers and lace up your shoes. The frosty streets are waiting.

Safety first.

Take note of the weather patterns as you plan your outdoor endeavor. Knowing the approximate temperature will help you piece together a suitable outfit with enough layers to keep the miles tolerable. If there’s rain or snow forecasted, you’ll also know to throw on a water-resistant top layer. There are few things worse—or more dangerous—than wearing moisture-absorbing fabric in freezing temperatures. Staying dry will dramatically reduce your chances of developing hypothermia.

While we applaud your persistence, running outside when it’s –22° F or colder may not be the best idea; Opt for an indoor cross-training session instead. Both swimming and spinning are effective options for this. You can continue to work toward next spring’s 10K without jeopardizing your health.

Despite careful weather preparation, the effects of icy conditions can still be quite unpredictable. Recruit a friend or two for your sweat sesh. Running in pairs or small groups has the same benefits as any buddy system. Having an extra body provides support should someone injure themselves or begin experiencing symptoms of hypothermia.

In addition to safety, a running partner can provide a motivation boost. When it’s freezing outside, we welcome any potential inspiration to get our butts in gear. A celebratory post-run date with a steaming mug of chai, whole wheat bagel, and lively fireplace? Yes please.

If you need to schedule a solo run, be sure to tell someone you trust where you’re headed and how long you expect to be gone. If you know your route down to the nitty gritty details, have your faction of runners download the MapMyRun app. You can log your runs and share your routes with other users. Should something happen, your friends will know your exact location.

Although unplugging may enhance the meditative aspect of your run, don’t ditch your phone altogether. To supplement the benefits of mapping your run for friends, there are a few additional safety measures to follow during your wintry trek.

Skip the music and silence your notifications but always keep your phone accessible for emergencies. If you find yourself in any dangerous situations, your phone is your lifeline. Although contacting a 911 operator takes nothing more than a quick call, there are several apps to consider if you favor more security and a fairly streamlined procedure.

ROAD iD and Kitestring work by immediately notifying your registered emergency contacts of any inactivity lasting longer than one minute—without you having to touch a button. You may also find bSafe and React Mobile helpful, as they swiftly connect users with emergency responders and share their precise GPS location.

To many, this final tip may seem counterintuitive. Nevertheless, always run against traffic. Running alongside traffic may be generally harmless during daylight hours, but the possibility of danger increases during the darker, wetter winter periods. This is especially true if you prefer to enjoy evening runs under nothing more than a moonlit glow.

Facing the opposite direction of oncoming vehicles gives you the advantage of spotting each one as it approaches, possibly even before the drivers spot you. This gives you enough time to react to any hazardous driving patterns and move out of the line of danger.

Suit up for your freezing date with Mother Nature.

When you’re piling on the layers, Runner’s World suggests dressing as if it’s about 20 degrees warmer. You’ll naturally produce enough body heat during your run to make up for the difference.

When choosing fabrics, the key is technicality! Your clothes should have moisture-wicking properties, which will help ensure sweat doesn’t sit on your skin in the freezing temps. Zippers at your neck and vents around the most heat-producing areas of your body will also be helpful as you start to warm up. They’ll offer you a bit more breathability without sacrificing core body temperature.

Runner’s World also offers a layering guide for outdoor enthusiasts:

  • “30 degrees: 2 tops, 1 bottom. Long-sleeve base layers and a vest to keep your core warm. Tights.”
  • “10 to 20 degrees: 2 tops, 2 bottoms. A jacket over your base layer, and wind pants over tights.”
  • “0 to 10 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms. Two tops (fleece for the cold-prone) and a jacket.” Throw on the same combination of bottoms as the previous benchmark.
  • “Minus 10 to 0 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms, extra pair of mittens, 1 scarf wrapped around mouth or a balaclava.”
  • “Minus 20 degrees: 3 tops, 3 bottoms, 2 extra pairs of mittens, 1 balaclava, sunglasses.” Or better yet, keep it indoors!

Light it up! Fluorescent colors and reflective features are two critical details that can’t be overlooked when choosing your outer layers. With the combination of fewer daylight hours and impossible snow banks, visibility declines considerably during the winter months. If you don’t like drawing attention to yourself, now is the time to kick that fear to the curb. For the next few months, your new objective will be to draw all attention to yourself when you’re out hitting the icy streets.

Taking safety into account, you want your gear to be easily visible. If you’re heading out for a night run—or if it’s noticeably more overcast than usual—strapping on a headlamp can be exceedingly worthwhile. It lights up your path, allows others to spot you with greater ease, and keeps your hands free should there be any minor slips. We love this one.

A significant amount of body heat escapes through the extremities (not to mention that exposed skin poses a greater risk to frostbite), so keep your head, hands, and feet warm. Wear a beanie and mittens on every winter adventure.

For shoes, it’s essential to find a pair that has minimal meshing. Shoes with studded soles, Gore-Tex uppers, and additional liners will be your best bet. Keep in mind that winter conditions make even the most typical terrain feel like the roughest trail. Well-equipped shoes are paramount.

Lace up your techy sneakers!

Always warm up, friends. With the chilly temperatures, this is of utmost importance. Start to get the blood pumping by moving through any stiff joints and cold muscles. Practice a few dynamic stretches, run several flights of stairs, grab your mat for a mini yoga flow, or put those old high school P.E. drills to good use (think high knees, butt kicks, and inchworms). Your body will be more capable of meeting the demands of your run without potential injury.

Is it windy out? Slather a layer of Vaseline on your nose and cheeks to protect from windburn and get moving! Begin your workout by running into the wind and finish with it against your back. The benefits are multiplied, as this not only gives you a greater sense of ease during the final push but also minimizes the chances of the wind chilling you after you’ve worked up a sweat.

When choosing your route, familiarity is your friend. With the higher likelihood of hazards this season, winter isn’t the best time to hit a novel trail. Commit to running the paths you know best. It may not be as thrilling as you’d like; but just think, you’ll be a pro by the time spring rolls around. No one will know that route better than you!

We’ve discussed how lighting can be issue this time of year, and your routes should take this into account. In addition to wearing a headlamp, settle on running paths that are well lit and provide plenty of room to maneuver.

One final tip: ditch the speedwork and respect your temporary limitations. We understand you may be itching to run through a few sprints or nail down that nagging PR, but save that for your indoor cross-training.

Start your runs at an easy pace and gradually increase the speed, but keep it slower than your usual training pace. The new focus for these outdoor runs should be maintenance. Acceleration and icy surfaces do not bode well.

If you need a dose of high-intensity training in your life, there are still plenty of ways to keep your heart pounding, lungs screaming, and legs strong. Instead of taking it to the streets, throw in a few rounds of intervals on the treadmill, on the spin bike, or in the pool. You’ll be glad you did.

Okay. winter-loving friends. Let’s get to it!

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