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Tips for running in winter weather

As the coldness and darkness of December settles in for much of the United States, runners face challenges. Sometimes icy and snowy conditions also wreak havoc with the best-laid plans for training.

But there are easy ways to overcome the obstacles and maintain consistency with wintertime workouts. While runners should exercise caution, especially when facing darkness and challenging weather conditions, there are some good practices to follow.

Here are 10 guidelines for runners who favor getting outside even when conditions are tough:

  1. Warm up. Runners generally don’t like to do warmups before a run. It’s important to get the blood flowing before a run in the cold and it will help you acclimate to the outside temperatures. A series of dynamic warmups, not stretches, for about 10 minutes will help you get on your way safely.

  2. And stay warm. It’s especially important to keep your head and hands warm. When colder temperatures hit, the body will naturally work to warm the core, leaving hands, head and feet to battle for themselves. Be sure to wear warm, moisture-wicking gloves as well as a good head cover. Knit caps, beanies, skull caps and balaclavas are all good options for keeping your head warm.

  3. Sock it to me. When running in winter, especially when ice, snow or freezing rain are present, your feet will be more susceptible to blisters. Wear socks that will not only keep your feet warm but will wick away wetness. My Drymax socks work wonders for keeping my feet dry and blister free. Also, slather on some Squirrel’s Nut Butter anti-chafe salve as an extra layer of protection.

  4. Be cool. While making sure they are warm, runners also need to dress like the weather is about 20 degrees warmer outside. You don’t want to feel comfortable as you start out. As you start running, your body heat will warm you up and a mile or two into the run, you should feel comfortable.

  5. Layer it on. Start with a good base layer and add from there. Leave the sweatshirts and sweatpants at home for after the workout. There are lots of good options from various companies that create amazing products to keep warmth in, allowing you to chase your running goals.

  6. Get traction. When icy conditions meet darkness, bad things can happen to good runners. In these cases, be sure that your shoes have good traction. That can mean adding screws to the bottoms or other adjustments like Yaktrax or Kahtoola spikes. These cleats grip the snow and ice, keeping the runner upright. Even so, be sure to adjust your stride. In these conditions, shorter strides are beneficial because a longer or even normal running stride makes it harder to rebalance yourself and avoid a fall.

  7. Get lit. Whether you run in the morning or at night, you will likely be doing so in the dark during the winter months. Headlamps, flashlights and reflective vests are all good ways to illuminate yourself and the path ahead. I use the UltrAspire Lumen 650 Oculus, a comfortable headlamp that helps light up the trail, roads and sidewalks.

  8. Stay hydrated. Just because it is cold outside does not mean that your body does not need hydration. And it is harder to find drinking fountains and other outdoor source during these times. Carry water with you on runs lasting an hour or longer. Some tips to keep the water in a bottle from freezing: add an electrolyte to the mix, hold the bottle upside down (the valve freezes first so keeping the water on it will delay it from freezing) and start with warm water.

  9. Adjust your expectations. It’s tougher to run fast when facing cold temperatures, unrelenting darkness and/or snowy or icy conditions. What matters most is that you got out there and ran without an injury. If your average pace was below your norm, that’s OK. It takes a lot more energy to run in these conditions. Many of us are in a base-building phase, or just maintaining our fitness levels. These slower runs are a good approach to both of those scenarios. Don’t worry soon enough there will be opportunities to push the pace.

  10. Stash backup gear. For those driving to a trail or other running destination, keep an extra outfit in your car. Items should include: socks, sneakers, sweatshirt, sweatpants, hat and a towel. After a run, you will likely want to change into something warmer and dryer. I usually bring extra clothes but having a backup set is a useful practice.

I hope these tips are helpful and can guide you through an offseason, likely filled with challenges. But at the same time, it leads to spring and all the possibilities with a new season, including PRs, BQs and podiums.

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