How I Survive Winter Running

I used to dread running outside in the winter, but learning how to deal with the cold and dress properly for the conditions has made it much more enjoyable. Here’s how I get myself out the door and running!

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Dress In Layers

When getting dressed for a winter run, I like to keep the “25 Degree Rule” in mind. I start with a thin layer of ”˜wicking’ clothing (usually a short sleeve shirt), which absorbs my sweat. I avoid wearing clothing made out of cotton because it holds in moisture, which leaves me wet and freezing. The next layer is a breathable jacket or longsleeve shirt that protects me against the cold and wind, but still releases heat so I don’t overheat. 

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Dressing in layers is important because it allows me to remove pieces of clothing as my body begins to heat up, so I make sure they are easy to take off. I like jackets and shirts with long sleeves, which make them quick and easy to tie around my waist during a run. I also wear a jacket or vest with pockets, so I can store my gloves and hat if they start to make me too warm.

Here’s a good guide from Runnersworld.com for dressing for cold weather running:

  • 30 degrees: 2 tops, 1 bottom. Long-sleeve base layer and a vest keep your core warm. Tights (or shorts, for polar bears).
  • 10 to 20 degrees: 2 tops, 2 bottoms. A jacket over your base layer, and wind pants over the tights.
  • 0 to 10 degrees:3 tops, 2 bottoms. Two tops (fleece for the cold-prone) and a jacket. Windbrief for the fellas.
  • Minus 10 to 0 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms, extra pair of mittens, 1 scarf wrapped around mouth or a balaclava.
  • Minus 20 degrees:3 tops, 3 bottoms, 2 extra pairs of mittens, 1 balaclava, sunglasses. Or, says Arribas, “Stay inside.”

Runner’s World also has this great tool to help you determine what to wear for just about any outdoor run. If you haven’t run in the winter before, you can always go out for a quick test run around the block and add or take away layers if needed.

Cover My Hands and Head

My hands get cold quickly (even in more mild weather), so I always wear gloves once the temperature outside gets below 45 degrees or so. Similarly, when the temperature drops below 30 degrees F, I wear a hat on my runs, which prevents heat loss through my head.

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Heat Up My Clothes

On really cold days, I throw my outer layer and gloves in the dryer for a few minutes before going outside. The warmth only lasts for a few minutes, but it’s enough to get me out the door.

Remember Past Runs

No one knows how your body responds to cold weather better than you do! Every time I run outside, I take note of the weather and what I wore for the run. Having a cold-weather running log (aka my blog) helps me plan my attire for future runs in similar conditions.

Wear Throwaway Gear

For cold weather races, I wear ‘throwaway’ gear. I’m usually freezing cold standing around prior to the start, so I wear a long sleeve shirt (or old sweatshirt) over my race attire. Once I get warm, I take off my throwaway shirt and toss it on the side of the course. A lot of races plan ahead for runners leaving their layers behind and donate the extra clothing to charity.

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Just Do It

The thought of running outside in the winter always used to make me miserable, but training for a marathon in November and December in Boston quickly changed my thinking. Instead of obsessing about the cold, I focus my attention on how great I will feel once I’ve accomplished my run. Usually, it takes me five minutes or less to warm up and forget about the cold.

Be Smart

Before I head out for a run in the winter, I always check the weather report. If the wind chill is in the single digits or there’s snow and ice on the ground, I take my workout inside to the treadmill. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

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82 Comments

  1. Love these ideas! I dread winter running outdoors, that’s for sure! But I might be inspired to try some of your tips and get out there and go… maybe! 🙂

  2. Just do it indeed, that’s what I did today in a very windy run! Great tips….I am usually not that “scientific” in my dressing for winter runs…I just have my winter standard, and then adjust as needed.

  3. My biggest issue is my feet/toes. They go numb when it’s cold and take a good couple of miles before they get their feeling back again. It could just be me because I have other issues, too, but wasn’t sure if it was common for others.

  4. I have really come to enjoy running outside, as long as it is in the double digits. I’ve found it to be very rejuvenating, especially since I don’t get as much fresh air in the winter as I do during the other seasons.

  5. I think if I had “throwaway clothes” I would want to go back and pick them up! Workout clothes are expensive! 🙂 but the idea of donating them to charity is good.

  6. this is a GREAT post…im doing the Boston marathon in april and just moved to colorado so ill be training in the dead of winter…yikes. thanks for the advice!!

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