Running in the winter can seem intimidating if you haven’t done it before.
The weather is colder, it gets darker earlier, and you never know when someone behind the wheel of a car has had just a little too much holiday spirit.
What you need are some winter running tips!
With the right knowledge and preparation, running in the winter is a breeze. If you use the following tips for cold weather running, you will be prepared for whatever mother nature can throw at you.
As one of the greatest running coaches in the world, co-founder of Nike, Bill Bowerman said: “There is no such thing as bad weather, just soft people.”
With that said, let’s get started!
1. Safety First
There is less daylight during the winter, so that crack of dawn run before work in the summer may be completely dark in the winter. The same goes for evening runs.
Why is this important?
Remember that if drivers, cyclists, or others cannot see you, they cannot avoid you. This is especially relevant in fog or rain.
Consider investing in reflective gear or lights, such as a hip light or a headlamp, to increase your visibility and to make it easier to see you.
What if the worst happens?
In the same thought, it is wise to let someone know where you are going, where you plan on going, and when you expect to return when you head out for a run.
It is also helpful to carry some sort of identification, either a phone or a Road ID so emergency numbers can be on hand if anything should happen to you.
It is not fun to think this way, but it never hurts to plan for the worst.
2. Know the Weather
Depending on where you live, temperatures and weather conditions can change in a flash.
Especially in most parts of the United States, temperatures can drop very quickly once the sun sets.
Why does this matter?
With temperature, there is a big difference between a run in fifty-degree weather and a run in thirty-degree weather. Make sure you look ahead and bring extra layers if necessary.
Furthermore, a little rain during a summer run might be refreshing; rain in cold conditions can quickly turn very uncomfortable and even dangerous.
What should you do?
A 45-minute run can easily turn into 90 minutes or more, so check the weather from a long way out and plan accordingly.
3. Don’t Be Scared of a Little Rain
As we mentioned earlier, rain can very easily turn a slightly chilly run into an extremely painful day.
But with the right planning, you can easily solve the problem.
Most importantly, running in the rain, especially when it is cold, not only makes you look like a complete badass, it also provides you with some excellent benefits.
However, we do recommend you prepare for it, which we will get into with tip #4.
Why is running in cold rain a good idea?
Races are rarely canceled for bad weather. Take the 2018 Boston Marathon for example. The weather was very cold and raining.
If you are able to train in the rain, you are building a habit of resilience and mental toughness. That will pay off big time the next time you chase down a goal, especially if it rains on race day.
How does that work?
2018 Boston champions Des Linden and Yuki Kawauchi were nowhere near the favorites. But both athletes are well known for their toughness. They were willing to run in adverse conditions and practicing their mental toughness all year round.
Meanwhile, many of the favorites, especially the Kenyans, admitted to moving training runs inside, or skipping them, when the weather was poor.
Many of these competitors were either unable to finish or ran significantly slower than their abilities when the weather turned for the worse at the 2018 Boston.
Being tough when the weather was less than ideal allowed Des and Yuki to win one of the most prestigious marathons in the world.
This brings us to tip #4.
4. Invest in Good Winter Running Gear
The right clothing can make a huge difference if you want to start running in winter.
The first step to fun winter running is to stay dry. Waterproof jackets, gloves, and hats will make a huge difference towards keeping your core body temperature high in adverse conditions.
If it starts dropping below freezing or if it rains regularly in your area, consider waterproof running shoes as well.
The next step is to remember to wear lots of layers. It is easier to take off an unnecessary jacket than to turn around freezing and run a couple miles back home for another layer.
But don’t worry.
As you get more accustomed to running in the winter, you’ll start to get a good idea of what layers work for you in certain conditions.
Keep this part of your body warm first before you consider the rest.
5. Warm Up Properly
I’m sure by now you have heard that it is important to warm up properly before exercise. There are two important reasons for this.
A proper warm up is especially important in the winter when your muscles are colder.
Due to lower temperatures, your muscles will be stiffer and will have less blood flow than when it is warm.
Make sure you take the first ten or so minutes of activity a little easier to allow your body to get warmed up.
If you warm up inside, it helps get your body temperature up before you head out into colder conditions. This allows you to have a better idea of how many layers you need, and helps you avoid two mistakes.
The less dangerous mistake, but more common, is when people wear too many layers to start and quickly start sweating in the first few minutes of their run.
The more dangerous mistake, but less common, occurs when people don’t start with enough layers, assume they will warm up, but underestimate how cold it is. Being too cold for too long puts you at risk for hypothermia or frostbite.
To avoid both of these, we recommend starting with a quick warmup routine inside, like the Jay Johnson Lunge Matrix.
Followed this with a few dynamic drills to get the blood flowing and your muscles loose before heading outside.
Why is this important?
Not only will this make your run more comfortable, but it will also reduce your risk of injury and strengthen many different muscles.
6. Create/Maintain Your Running Habit
Staying motivated over the winter months can be tough, but it is important if you want to achieve your goals.
The best way to keep up your motivation is to make running a habit. Winter running tips are useless unless you go out there and do it!
Whatever time of the day you like to run, keep it the same every day. If the conditions outside are too poor, find a treadmill or come up with an alternate workout you can do inside.
Anything you can do to keep your body in the habit of exercising at the same time each day will do wonders for your motivation levels.
It takes 3 to 8 weeks to form a habit. If you already are in the habit of running, great!
Don’t let cold weather ruin your hard work. Make sure to stay consistent over the winter months to get a leg up over your competition.
If you still have to create the habit, try this!
Don’t forget to reward yourself too!
Whether it is a fun snack, a nap, or allowing yourself some time to yourself, rewarding yourself after you go out for a run is a great way to keep yourself accountable.
7. Remember Others Are Also Dealing With Poor Conditions
As your visibility decreases, remember that the visibility of drivers reduces too.
Why does this matter?
Even if you have proper safety equipment (lights, reflective gear, ID, etc.) be aware that you still might be hard to see.
Stay vigilant to ensure your safety.
The same goes for water on the roads.
You might have great waterproof shoes, but it may be harder for cyclists, drivers, and other people out and about to make adjustments quickly.
Give others plenty of time to see you and plenty of time to react. Also, make sure to indicate before taking unpredictable turns.
Slowing down, or even stopping for a few seconds on your run is absolutely worth it to ensure you don’t spend weeks in a hospital bed, or worse!
Remember that while you now have tips for cold weather running, not everyone else does. It is always a safe idea to assume that other people are not as smart as you.
8. Don’t Get Stuck on Results
Weather can have a significant impact on your running results.
All else the same, it is easier to run in colder conditions than hot conditions. But winter isn’t always just cold.
What do we mean?
Winter often includes increased precipitation, higher wind speeds, ice, snow, and darkness. All of these conditions can slow your runs or workouts down significantly.
This doesn’t mean you should give up and call it a day if the weather is poor.
Instead, focus more on the effort of your run. If you’re going for an easy 5-mile run, does it feel like an easy 5-mile run?
The same goes for a tempo or fartlek run. Focus on the effort and not the pace.
Remembering weather’s impact on your result is especially relevant when doing speed work.
Whenever possible, if you are doing speed at 90% or higher of your full sprinting speed, we recommend moving training sessions indoor wherever possible.
Not only will sprint times be significantly slower in cold weather, but it is also much more dangerous.
With less blood flow to your muscles and decreased mobility, injury risk is much higher even with a proper warm up.
To Sum it Up:
Easy Runs, tempos, and fartlek training may be a bit slower in colder conditions, however, they are still safe to do with both a proper warm up and proper attire.
Be extra careful with high-intensity speed sessions in cold weather.
9. Don’t Forget The Basics
Hydration and Nutrition are key.
It is harder to remember to hydrate when it is colder outside. You aren’t sweating as much or being reminded to drink water as often as you are in the summer months.
That doesn’t make hydration any less important.
Staying properly hydrated protects you from serious health concerns while improving your body’s efficiency and recovery time.
Drinking plenty of water makes running easier and makes you less sore the next day.
Nutrition has similar effects.
There is a lot of information out there on nutrition. Our philosophy is, unless you’re a nutritionist yourself, to keep it simple. Don’t worry about getting the perfect amount of macros or steaming that super food for a specific amount of time.
Keep. It. Simple.
You know what a healthy diet is. A vegetable salad with lots of colorful, locally sourced foods? Healthy. A McChicken? Not healthy.
We live in a world with a ton of information and a lot of it is hard to rely on and even harder to execute.
So, focus on these simple tasks.
- Eat lots of vegetables.
- Limit your sugar intake. (that means soda as well!)
- Avoid fried foods.
- Eat locally sourced foods when possible.
Even if you cannot do all four, start with just one of the nutrition tips above and you’ll find yourself recovering faster and feeling better.
Why does this matter in the winter?
With cold weather, as we mentioned earlier, muscles get less blood flow and it is harder to recover. It is also a time of year when people tend to go a little too heavy on festive sweets.
Keeping a well-balanced and nutritional diet will help keep you healthy and excited throughout the winter months.
10. Remember Why You Run
Most people don’t run. By the mere act of calling yourself a runner, you are above average.
Now that you’re armed with these tips for outdoor winter running, you’re exceptional.
Average people use any obstacle as an excuse not to achieve their goals.
Maybe it is hot, cold, wet, snowy, foggy, early, late, whatever it is, it is an excuse.
And unless you’re a politician, there isn’t a lot of money in the business of making excuses.
Don’t be average.
Get out there and chase down your goals. We can’t wait to celebrate with you!
Like what we said? Have your own winter running tips? Leave a comment below and subscribe to our newsletter for more information.