Running in winter can be hard. When the weather’s less than ideal, layering-up and heading out of the warmth can be the last thing anyone wants to do. But the next time you are thinking about whether to run because it’s too cold, remind yourself of this:
Every run you do in winter is worth two summer runs.
That’s because not only are you getting the benefit of heading out on a training session, but likely somewhere someone you may be up against in a race decided the weather today wasn’t right for them, putting you one step ahead.
Training through the winter in snow-covered Colorado Springs, we caught up with elite athletes from the On Athletics Club and Head Coach Dathan Ritzenhein to find out how the pros tackle running in the cold.
1. Layer up
Most commonly, running in winter needs some degree (pun intended) of layering. Depending on the temperature and how hot you become when you run, a common layering system comprises of thermal or compression base layer, mid-layer of lighter materials (standard long-shirt running tees and pants) and thicker, adjustable outer covering (such as zip-up running jacket with a hood).
The key is adaptability, as often the temperature can change up and down when winter running, so being able to change with it is what layering is all about. For a detailed guide on what to wear when running in the cold, read here.
*OAC tip: Choose an outer layer on top that protects you from the wind, but is easy to take off and tie around your waste. That one outer protective layer can make all the difference in windy and wet conditions.
2. Warm up (properly)
If you face the cold with the attitude of “let’s get this over with” you’re bound to end up disappointed with your run. But if you take a few minutes to visualize your intentions for the session, your focus will shift from the weather to your goals.
Complete an easy warm-up inside with all your layers on, then do a few heart-rate spiking exercises outdoors to make sure your body adjusts to the temperature before you set out on your run.
3. Plan your route wisely
With weather apps and google maps, it’s easy to plan your run ahead of time. So check beforehand when the best weather conditions can be expected, and run routes that provide more protection, or (depending on proximity) head to the trails for some natural shelter from the elements.
4. Run on effort not pace
It can be tempting to increase your pace right from the start on a crisp run. But if your aim is to run a longer distance, you might tire yourself out in the first few miles. So go at your usual pace – especially if you’re wearing temperature-regulating gear. This can help with injury prevention and give your body time to adjust to the cold conditions.
*OAC tip: If it’s windy, choose a route that starts into the wind first. There’s nothing worse than getting sweaty and turning into a cold headwind.
5. Be flexible with your training schedule
There’s nothing better than finding a workout routine that suits your lifestyle. But when it comes to the unpredictable seasons, incorporating a certain amount of flexibility is a great approach.
Runners often don’t like deviating from their schedule but when it comes to having one really good workout, a few hours or even shifting a day can allow you to really tackle the hardest training session. - Coach Ritz
6. Mix it up: Run outside and indoors
If cold weather is just too much for you, but you want to maintain your levels of running fitness, treadmill running in winter is something you can do to stay and maintain your training. If you have access to a heated pool, aqua running (running against the resistance of the water) is another way to add in a varied training routine that can be valuable for you if the “hamster-wheel” of treadmill running daily in winter becomes too much for you and you’re looking to mix things up.
*OAC tip: Don’t fight the ice and snow. Winter weather can cause some bad footing, but it’s important to not change your form so much that you end up with tightness and injury. Slow down if necessary, or alternate between snow, paved surfaces and the treadmill.
7. Run in the right gear
Now that we’ve established the ideal amount of layering (above), it’s all about finding a shoe that works for you. Just like with the gear, your running shoes need to be resilient to the weather and adhere to all the same conditions. The most important feature in winter running shoes being their waterproofness, as running through rain and snow can quickly weigh down a shoe and chill you from your feet up. Grip is the other main thing to look for in winter running shoes, to keep you in control when the weather loses it.
8. Cool down only after changing out of your running clothes
Once you return from your run, it’s best not to sit around in wet clothing. Shower straight away, then do some recovery stretches inside. Another trick? refuel with a warm drink. After a long run in the cold you might not be craving that post-run smoothie, so we recommend finding a good recipe for a protein hot chocolate instead.
*OAC tip: After runs and workouts, put on an epsom salt bath and take some supplements to recover. It’s good for the body to recover and soak in the work you’ve just done. Especially during the winter cold.
9. Safety first
A common reason people don’t run in winter is because they think being cold on the run will make them fall sick. Research shows the opposite is true. Keeping active through the winter months helps stave off illness.
What can lead to you falling ill is not dressing right for the weather, which is where having the right gear is so important for properly running in winter.
To end, we’ve gathered a few of the most common questions people have about running in winter to further give you the right incentives and facts when facing winter running.
Q&A: 5 COMMON WINTER RUNNING QUESTIONS
Is it better/worse to run in cold weather?
With the right gear, running in cold weather is the same as running in any other weather. The only complication is that breathing can be affected by the cold, dry air so is the temperature outside is below 4 degrees Celsius, best to cover your mouth with a mask or scarf to create a barrier for warm air.
Do you burn more calories in the cold?
You burn slightly more calories in the cold, however not much. This is through shivering, which occurs when parts of you may not be sufficiently protected from the cold, but again, it is only a tiny difference to how many calories you would burn on the run usually.
What to do if it turns too cold while running?
If you are trapped out in the cold, the most important things to do is find somewhere away from the wind and not to get wet. From there, if you run in dangerous climates, always take your phone with you so you can call for help, or at least, let someone else know where you’re headed before you head out into extreme weather.
How cold is too cold to run in?
This depends on the person, but with the right gear, any temperature can be right for a run!
Do I need as much water when I’m running in the cold?
A little-known fact is that when you’re running in the cold, the air is dry around you (despite all the liquid in snow). To prevent breathing problems, you should drink more water in the cold than you think to keep your airways and mouth moist.