Tips for Embracing Chilly Weather Running

By Kristin Hickey

Running outside when the temps are low and the wind is howling doesn’t seem like it’d be an ideal activity, but it doesn’t have to be downright dreadful. With the right gear and mindset, you can not only continue training as usual, but you can conquer your workouts and enjoy a bit of a natural mood lift thanks to those exercised-induced endorphins (always welcome during the cold, gray months). Read on for some tips and tricks about how to make running in chilly conditions not only tolerable, but perhaps even—dare we say—quite enjoyable!

Don’t skip the warm-up

Before pounding the pavement, Tara Welling, running coach at RunDoyen, says it’s important to warm-up your body first. The ideal warm-up routine to prepare your body for physical exercise will raise your core temperature, increase blood flow to muscles, and engage the central nervous system. Dynamic stretching is a great way to warm-up—this type of stretching involves active movements in which a muscle (i.e. quadriceps, hamstrings, calves) is brought into a stretch position, held for a few seconds, released and repeated. Other movements like jumping jacks, running in place, and gentle lunges are also worthwhile options to perform before heading out for a few miles. Welling adds that depending on the workout for the day, and what the temperature looks like outside, it can sometimes be a good idea to complete your warm-up indoors.

Wear the right gear

Sporting the appropriate running gear when the temps are low is key for protection and comfort. “Depending on the conditions, for example,  if the weather is rainy and cold, I would recommend a waterproof jacket (not water-repellent, as the water needs to bead off to prevent getting wet and cold), and if you’re dealing with freezing temperatures and snow (without rain), I would suggest a good insulation jacket,” says Welling. A quality pair of running leggings or tights are also critical to protect you from blustery conditions. “Additionally, I’d recommend a waterproof running shoe for when it’s wet and sloppy out there, otherwise normal running shoes work great.” For a few other gear suggestions, she notes that ski or snowboard gloves will keep hands warmer compared to running gloves; ear warmers or a beanie is always a good idea; and to wear a toasty, long-sleeved base layer under your jacket. Oh, and chilly winds can leave exposed skin chapped, so you might want to apply a layer of Vaseline to areas on your face that aren’t covered up.

Another handy tip—Devin McDowell, who serves on the board of directors for Running Club North in Alaska, notes that once you’ve completed your run, change into dry clothes and shoes as quickly as possible to avoid a lingering case of the chills.

Grab a buddy

To make those miles go by a bit faster, Welling suggests inviting a buddy to come along as running in cold temperatures can be mind-numbing (quite literally). Not only that, but studies like this one have revealed that having a workout buddy can serve as a motivator and perhaps even increase the amount of exercise you do. Another idea is to think about something fun you can do together as a reward after logging all those miles like a hot cup of coffee or brunch—having an activity to look forward to can lure you out the door and keep you going.

Know where you’re running

Running Club North highlights that running during extreme cold is inherently more risky than fair-weather running. To that point, you might want to avoid certain trails and very remote areas when temps are freezing because something like a simple ankle-twisting fall can have serious repercussions (you also might want to let someone know beforehand where you’ll be running.) The running club additionally suggests keeping your chilly weather runs shorter than you normally would. “Turn around and head home or back to the car well before you feel like you want to, because the cold saps your body of energy—if your training plan calls for a longer run than you can comfortably and safely do all at once, you might break it up into two runs that day.”

Respect your limits

Be sure to listen to your body and know your limits. Dr. Stuart Weiss, medical director for New York Road Runners (NYRR), writes that cold temperatures restrict blow flow, which can cause muscles to contract and even cramp. “You may feel stiff and tight, especially as you begin a run, and if you try to force the pace, you may damage a muscle—adjust your pace to allow your body extra time to warm-up,” he notes.

Dr. Weiss also points out that you should familiarize yourself with the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. He explains that hypothermia occurs when your body temperature falls below 95 degrees, resulting in symptoms like confusion and shivering, whereas frostbite happens when circulation is restricted in the extremities (fingers, toes, ears, and nose), and symptoms might include feeling numb or turning white or blue.

Enjoy yourself

Exercise can often be a case of mind over matter, and yes, while it might seem much more enticing to relax indoors on the couch, you may find that you actually enjoy hitting the pavement in cold weather. The solitude and beautiful sights can be peaceful and energizing, so fire up your favorite playlist, lace-up those running shoes, and don’t forget to hydrate!