Conquer The Cold

8 tips for powering through cold, winter runs.

When I started my running career I was living in Upstate NY where the cold and snow could be brutal and winter seemed to last for half the year. So now that I’m living in Virginia, I’ll take training in the mild winter “cold” here over the steamy summer heat any day.

But if you live in a colder area, or otherwise dread lacing up the shoes for a cold, winter run – I’ve put together a list of tips to help you keep logging miles through the winter months to prepare for those spring races.

1) Gear Up

One of the great things about running is how cheap and accessible it is – just buy a decent pair of shoes and hit the road. But when it comes to winter running, investing in some quality cold weather gear will really pay off in the long run. Pay a little extra for lightweight, moisture-wicking materials designed for exercise over heavier, cotton apparel. I personally feel that comfort in the cold starts with warm ears and hands, so a headband or ear muffs and a quality pair of gloves should be high on the priority list. From there, invest in a base layer of compression tights and shirt. See the gear section below for more suggestions.

2) Layer Up

Your body warms up quickly as you get moving, so wear layers that can be easily shed as you get further into your run. Plan a short warmup loop (1-2 miles) that brings you back to where you started where you can ditch some gear for the rest of the run.

3) Dress Like It’s Warmer Than It Is

A good rule of thumb is to dress for a temperature that is 10-20 degrees warmer than the “feels like” temperature with wind chill. It’s preferable to feel a little bit cold at the beginning of the run rather than overheating later on. Note that you can still put on an extra layer to start that you plan on ditching as you warm up as mentioned in tip #2 above.

4) Warm Up Inside (Pre-Run)

The hardest part of a winter run is often the moment you step outside and feel the brisk cold for the first time. So opt for an indoor warmup beforehand in an effort to make that cold air feel a little more refreshing and a little less frigid.

Get the blood flowing before you go outside with some dynamic stretching, drills, yoga flows, jumping jacks, etc. One of my past go-to’s was climbing several flights of steps in the stairwell of the apartment building prior to my runs. Do just enough to start feeling warm without sweating too much.

5) Warm Up Inside (Post-Run)

Your body temperature will drop quickly after you’ve finished working out, so make it a priority to get indoors and out of the cold shortly after your run is complete. Don’t completely skip your cooldown jog/walk, but keep it relatively short. Take a hot shower, put on warm, dry clothes, and enjoy a hot beverage or soup (bonus electrolytes!) to warm up. If you’re not finishing your run at your own doorstep, pack some dry clothes and a jacket to put on afterwards.

6) Game Plan for Winds

If you can help it, start your run heading into the wind and finish with the wind at your back. This way you don’t have to get blasted by a brisk headwind after you’ve broken a sweat.

7) Keep Your Lungs Warm

A common complaint of winter running is difficulty with breathing and throat/lung discomfort from the cold air. Focusing on breathing through the nose can help filter and warm the air before it gets to your lungs. You can also try running with a face mask or buff to achieve the same effect with either nose or mouth breathing (in case you have a runny/stuffy nose).

An alternative (and possibly more reliable) approach to alleviate lung discomfort is to simply lower the intensity of your runs to avoid huffing and puffing the brisk air. Stick to conversational paces and lower heart rate zones versus speed work and tempo runs on days that are especially cold. Besides, the winter months are generally a good time to focus on building endurance and aerobic capacity before honing your speed for spring races.

8) Stay Hydrated!

It’s easy to forget about hydration when it’s not hot and steamy outside, but you will still sweat considerably if you’ve bundled up for your winter runs. Follow your regular hydration routine even for cold weather running.

My Gear Suggestions Based on Temperature

Break out the face mask for really cold runs!

Here I’m providing my personal preferences for gear based on the temperature outside. Obviously tolerance for the cold varies a lot from person to person and also changes significantly over the course of winter as we get better acclimated, but hopefully this is a helpful starting point if you’re new to winter running. It’s super helpful to be able to check the weather forecast before bed and know exactly what gear needs to be laid out for your morning run.

TemperatureLower BodyUpper BodyAccessories
40 – 49 degreesShorts, long compression socksT-shirt and long sleeve tech shirt or T-shirt with arm warmersGloves
30 – 39 degrees Compression leggings base layer, shortsCompression shirt base layer, T-shirt or long sleeve tech shirtGloves, headband/ear muffs
20 – 29 degreesCompression leggings base layer, shortsCompression shirt base layer, T-shirt or long sleeve tech shirt, windbreaker jacketGloves, headband, buff neck/face warmer
10 – 19 degreesCompression leggings base layer, shortsCompression shirt base layer, T-shirt or long sleeve tech shirt, windbreaker jacketGloves (with hand warmers), face mask
0 – 9 degreesShortsTank top(I’m on a treadmill 😜 )
My personal preferences for cold weather gear based on the temperature. I’ve bolded gear that has been added from the row above it to highlight how new layers/accessories are added to deal with increasing cold. Note that I’m treating the temperature here as the “feels like” temperature that factors in wind chill.

I really like gear that can be easily adjusted or taken off as I get warmer or colder over the course of a run – like convertible gloves (switch between mitten/glove), headbands (cover/uncover ears), buff (cover/uncover nose & mouth), arm warmers (peel off and put in waist band), etc. Check out this article that gives a good overview of different gear options.

Hopefully this helps you power through your winter training – keep building up that base mileage and keep your eyes set of those warm, spring races!

Published by

Jim Warner Fitness & Endurance Training

*USA Triathlon Certified Coach *ACE Certified Personal Trainer *NPTI Kettlebell Certification *NPTI TRX Suspension Training Certification *Conditioning Coach at Jungle Gym Strength & Conditioning, Newport News, VA *Amateur Endurance Athlete -Boston Marathon Qualifier -Ironman Triathlete -Cross-country Cyclist

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