How to Make Running Outside in the Cold Less Miserable
By: Annie Daly
Published: January 29, 2019
Brrrrr-ing it on.
I think we can all agree that running outside in the cold during Peak Winter can be a pretty terrible experience. There’s that wind chill, for starters, which blasts your entire face and leaves you feeling like you’re bolting through Antarctica with every step you take. Then there’s the whole runny nose and frozen toes thing, which can leave you feeling like a sad, sniffly polar bear just trying to make it through in this cruel, cold world. And don’t even get me started on the layers. Oh, the layers! The thought of piling on eight thousand shirts and socks, only to step outside and basically waddle your way through your running route, is enough to make anyone take a hard pass on the whole miles situation and settle in on the couch instead. But while cold-weather running really can be legit awful, it can also be sort of okay, too. Great, even. As a devoted runner who’s been bracing the cold for years and years, I am here to tell you that there are actually ways to make it way less miserable than you think. Follow these tips below, and you just may end up on Team Winter Run after all.
1. First things first: Always make sure to do a warm-up inside before you leave the house.
One of the worst parts about running outside in the cold is that it can cause your entire body to feel so stiff, like it’s ten times harder than usual to just move. Fortunately, there’s a fairly easy solve for this problem: You’ve gotta spend a little more time warming up inside before you venture out into the great outdoors. Spend about ten minutes inside your cozy home walking in place, foam rolling, or doing some dynamic stretches. Getting your body moving before you hit the winter pavement will help your muscles adjust and work more efficiently in the end.
2. Next up: Layer, layer, layer…but layer smart.
You obviously know that the key to surviving those cold temps is to layer, and then layer again. But it’s just as crucial to be strategic about your layering, too. Otherwise, in an ironic twist of fate, you’ll end up sweating through all of your gear—and that sweating could cause you to break out in cold chills, which are even worse. Advice: Get dressed after your indoor warm-up, so that you’re already a little bit warmer and won’t be as tempted to dress for the Arctic. And when you do start layering up, consider following my basic rules of thumb:
- Always begin with a good base layer. I’m talking some sort of skintight, sweat-wicking situation that will help block the cold air from seeping in—Runner’s World did a good roundup of base layers last winter if you’re in the market for one. These things are so clutch because they absorb your sweat, which helps keep you chill-free.
- After your base layer, add a couple other layers on top, depending on the temperature situation outside. I usually go for a hoodie—like this one from Brooks Running—and then, if it’s under 30 degrees F, I throw a down vest into the mix, too. I’m partial to this one from Lululemon, but you do you.
- Next up: Invest in a solid pair of fleece-lined leggings. I am as much a fan of these from a psychological standpoint as I am from a physical standpoint. Sure, they keep you incredibly warm during your run, but also, they make getting dressed for a run mentally bearable—because putting on cozy pants is always an appealing idea. I’m obsessed with these from Athleta, but lots of brands make good ones.
- Double up on socks. My toes always get frigid during winter runs, which is why I’ve resorted to wearing two pairs of socks. I start with a regular pair of running socks, and then follow it up with a longer pair that goes up to my calves—because then my ankles aren’t exposed.
- Finally, don’t forget your accessories! iPhone-friendly gloves are key. I prefer them to mittens, because I listen to music when I run and I need to be able to use my phone to choose new songs. (But if you don’t need to use your hands, mittens are a good choice, too.) I’m also big on ear-warmer headbands, like this one from Athleta, as opposed to a full hat, because I find that full hats make me too hot. Bonus: The Athleta option is also reflective, which is great if you’re a night runner.
3. If there’s snow on the ground, adjust your route accordingly—or switch your shoes. Snow can make running super challenging, not to mention dangerously, so if the ground is covered in white, choose a route that’s on a well-paved, well-salted road. Alternatively, if you’re a trail runner or prefer running in nature, go for winter trail running shoes that have traction on them – or get those slip-on grippers from YakTrax that are designed to go over your shoes to provide traction.
4. Finally, don’t worry about tracking your runs so much. Just enjoy them!
When you’re a hardcore athlete, it’s tempting to track everything you do on your run, from the number of miles you run to your pace to your heart rate and more. But here’s the thing about doing that in the winter: You’ll probably be disappointed. After all, with the inevitable ice and/or snowy conditions you may encounter, you’ll likely have to run a bit slower, or stop completely a couple times to blow your runny, frigid nose, adjust your ear warmer, and more. So why risk it? I find that in winter, it’s best to just run for the sake of running. Sure, you won’t get that coveted sense of accomplishment from hitting a PR or going that extra mile. But you know what you will get? A sense of accomplishment from the sheer fact that you hauled yourself out there in the first place in the name of your personal fitness—and that’s a feat that’s definitely worth celebrating.