Gearing Up for Winter Running

Winter running

Author:  Ramona Moore | Macros Inc Coach

Running has seen a boom this year as we have dealt with gym closures and fitness class cancellations, which has led to people turning to outdoor running as a way to get exercise and relieve stress.  So for many, this is the first winter season they will experience as a runner.  Or maybe you run seasonally and are not quite sure how to tackle running year-round.  It may seem intimidating at first, but it is possible to continue your training through the winter and fly into spring a fitter runner!   

Here is what you need to know to continue running through the winter season.  

The rule of thumb is to dress like it is 10-20° Fahrenheit (5-10°Celcius) warmer than the actual temperature you will be running in, meaning if it is 20° F, dress like it is 30-40° F. However, like a lot of things in running, there are some “it depends” in finding what works best for you.  Here are some factors that can influence your clothing needs.

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Your pace: You will generate more body heat running at faster paces so you will not need quite as much clothing if you are racing a 5k or doing a fast workout compared to an easy, slower paced run. (1)

Sunlight:  If the sun is shining, it can feel warmer than if it is cloudy or dark outside.

Wind:  The windchill effect applies to running too!  When the wind is at your back, it will feel warmer than when you are running into the wind.  If you can choose your route, it is best to avoid running into the wind when you are already sweaty. 

Your temperature tolerance and preference: If you are normally cold or like to feel warmer while you are running, you can opt for the 20 degrees warmer rule of thumb and vice versa if you like to feel cooler.  

Wearing layers helps you stay warmer without bulky clothing that could get in the way of your natural running gait.  Here some clothing basics you can use to stay warm on your winter run: 

  • Long sleeve tech shirt as a base layer
  • Leggings or Meggings 
  • A fleece or windproof running jacket
  • Running gloves or mittens
  • Headband or Hat
  • Warm socks 

Other items you may need depending on the conditions:

  • A neck gaiter or ski mask to protect your face on those really cold days
  • Sunglasses to protect your eyes from the wind or glare off the snow 
  • A reflective or lighted vest and a headlamp if you do not have full daylight 
  • Hand warmers in your gloves

You will feel cold when you first step outside, but as you warm up, you should feel comfortable in what you are wearing.  There are charts online that will help you mix and match your winter gear for your conditions but nothing beats trial and error to find what works best for YOU!  

The other major consideration for winter weather running is road or trail conditions. You will want to pay a little more attention to your footing and running surfaces.  What looks like wet pavement could be ice, or ice could be hiding under leaves, snow or other debris.  Most likely you will be able to continue running with the same shoes you wear in the summer, provided they have enough traction to grip the road or trail if it is a little slick.  Some runners will add traction cleats like Yaktrax to their shoes if they know they will be facing more slippery conditions.  

Can it be too cold for winter running?  There are situations where it can be too cold to run outside. For example, if you have a health condition that is affected by cold or dry air or there is a risk of frostbite, be sure to watch your local weather warnings and reschedule your run or stick to the treadmill if it will not be safe for you to be outdoors.  

Some of my favorite runs have been during the winter, especially after a fresh snowfall and it really can be an enjoyable time of year to run.  So whether you are a new or veteran runner, give your gear a check and make sure you are ready to get out there this winter!  Future you will be glad you did.