Although many of us don’t like running in the winter and prefer to stay cozy inside in the colder months, going for a run in the cold has its benefits, including burning more calories, building mental toughness, and even boosting the immune system.
In this article, I share my best tips to make running in cold weather more enjoyable, whether you’re just trying to get outside for short runs to maintain fitness and get some fresh air in winter weather, or are working through marathon training for a Spring marathon and have to get those miles in, whatever the weather!
At what temperature is it too cold to run outside?
At some point it can simply get too cold outside to exercise safely, especially when the colder weather brings with it snow and ice.
As a general rule of thumb, if the temperature falls below 0°C (around 30 degrees Fahrenheit), it’s best to take precautions when these cold temperatures hit, and consider running indoors on a treadmill or rescheduling your run for a milder day.
Check the weather forecast before you start running to be safe.
That being said, if you are determined to brave the adverse weather, there are a few things you can do to make running in cold conditions more enjoyable.
1. Wear (or carry) appropriate winter running gear
Having the right gear to keep you comfortable when you’re running in the cold can make a huge difference to your comfort levels and enjoyment.
To be appropriately geared up for running through the winter, you’ll benefit from having a winter running hat, warm running gloves, a winter running jacket, reflective gear and a good headlamp if you plan on running in the dark due to the shorter winter days.
2. Wear the right clothing for running in colder weather
Dress in layers, with a moisture-wicking base layer (such as a Merino base layer), a warm middle layer, and a wind-resistant outer layer, that will help keep you warm and dry.
Avoid cotton clothing as it can trap moisture and make you feel colder.
It’s also important to have a plan to quickly get warm afterward, including a dry change of clothes, socks and shoes, as well as getting that stinky wet running gear clean and dry, and drying your shoes quickly.
3. Be sure to fully warm up before running in cold weather
It’s also important to warm up properly before you start your run, as really cold weather conditions can increase the risk of injury.
Consider doing some dynamic stretches or light exercises (such as jumping jacks and high-knees) indoors to get your blood flow going before you head out to get your muscles warmed up.
4. Hydrate before, during and after your run
While you may not feel as thirsty as you do in warmer weather, it’s important to drink enough water before, during, and after your cold-weather run to avoid dehydration because you still sweat, even when it’s cold.
5. Stay safe and visible when running in the dark and poor light conditions
With the sun setting earlier in the winter months, it’s important to make sure you’re visible to drivers and other runners when running in dark, foggy or low-light conditions.
Avoid wearing dark clothing and stick to well-lit paths and roads. Here are some more tips for running in the dark to help you stay safe.
6. Plan your route
Plan your route ahead of time to make sure you’re running in a safe and enjoyable environment.
Look for well-lit paths or roads and avoid areas that are prone to ice or snow. If possible, choose a route that’s sheltered from the wind to help keep you warm.
7. Be mindful of the wind chill
That last point brings me on to the subject of ‘wind chill’, which can make the temperature feel much chillier than it actually is, especially if you’re sweating or running in wet weather conditions.
Check the wind chill index in your favorite weather app before you head out and adjust your clothing accordingly.
Remember, it’s better to overdress and remove layers as you warm up than to underdress and risk hypothermia or frostbite from exposure to the cold air.
8. Relish the opportunity to build mental toughness
Lastly, here’s my favorite out of all these cold weather running tips – and it’s all about your mental game!
Running in colder temperatures can be uncomfortable and challenging, but pushing through the discomforts of those cold weather runs can help build resilience and mental toughness – key qualities in any serious endurance runner, and one of the great benefits of running in less-than-ideal weather conditions.
This can be a great benefit for anyone who is looking to improve their performance or mental resilience – especially great if you’re trying to commit to running in winter because you’re in training for a long endurance race such as a marathon or ultramarathon.
So, next time you are having second thoughts about running outside in the cold, remind yourself of your running goals and how much tougher you’ll feel having made the decision to step out the door (dressed, warmed up and hydrated appropriately, of course!).