Tips To Survive Cold Weather Running

Crazy is as crazy does…

My best crazy face. Roughly 3 degrees F and I am getting ready to do an easy 3 mile run.

On vacation in Indiana this past Christmas, I found myself with a little extra time and energy.  The kids were occupied with their grandparents.  The hubster was busy catching up with family.  Normal food dishes were replaced with meals that had a few more calories.  Not to mention the added indulgence in delicious, nerve calming beverages (a.k.a. beer).

What better way to stay in the right frame of mind than an invigorating run.  To me this seemed like the natural thing to do.  But to the rest of the clan I was insane.  The weather had taken a temperature dive into single digits.  Plus, the moisture in the air made it feel even colder.

After my first day out, it became very clear I was not prepared to run in this type of weather.  My every day running pants did not keep my legs warm.  My shirt hand covers did not replace the need for gloves.  Thankfully, I had my neck warmer to partially cover my face and a few layers to keep my core warm.  It was obvious I had to change a few things, if I wanted to continue with these endeavors.

Making the necessary changes…

I began with purchasing pants designed specifically for cold weather running.  The change they made was astounding.  Next I noted the direction of the wind, conditions of the roads, and possible traffic flow.  Then I planned my route accordingly.

The time of day was also an important factor in the equation.  As much as I wanted to run early, I had to wait until the sun had a chance to “warm” things up a bit.  An overcast day compared to full sunshine can make a world of difference.

After I had completed my cold weather running experience, I realized that there were a few more key points to learn.  I returned home to the long, harsh winters of Wyoming, ready to do some research.  My training acquired a new challenge that added motivation to prepare for the races ahead.

When Cold Weather Running



Weather Conditions:

  • Research proves it is okay to run when temperatures are above -18 degrees F.  Anything below and the risk of frostbite becomes a concern.
  • It is extremely important to know the conditions of the roads, sidewalks, or trails.  Snow covered is risky and ice can be dangerous.
  • If the day is windy, start out running into the wind and return running with it.  This will protect the sweaty skin from frostbite.
  • Use products such as Body-Glide or Vaseline on nose and cheeks as another means to protect skin from frostbite.
  • Hours of daylight are shorter in the winter months, which will effect both temperatures and visibility.  So, remember to dress accordingly.

Dress for Success:

  • Since wet clothes increase danger, dress in water wicking layers.  First layer should consist of silk or synthetic cloth.  Second layer choose fleece, synthetic, or wool.  Top dress with a wind break material.
  • Dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer than the thermometer says.  Body temperature will rise as activity increases.
  • Choose clothes with zippers at the neck and underarm area to help cool the body later in the run.
  • Dress to be seen, if running during early morning or evening, when visibility is poor.
  • Keep feet dry and choose shoes with as little mesh as possible.
  • Mittens are a better choice than gloves.
  • Due to the loss of heat through the head, be sure to keep it covered with a hat.
  • In extreme conditions cover the face as much as possible.
  • To reduce chills change as quickly as able after a run.  A hot beverage will also help maintain a good core body temperature.

Body Safety:

  • Health issues, such as asthma or exercise-induced asthma, can be triggered easier in colder temperatures.  If inhaled too quickly, the dry, cold air may cause bronchoconstriction.
  • Breath through the nose and out through the mouth.  This will better warm and humidify the air entering the lungs.
  • It is wiser to run for endurance over speed.  Doing so may also help reduce the onset of breathing issues.
  • Cold air is dryer than warm air and running induces sweating.  Make sure to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and reduce the risk of hypothermia.
  • Running in snow is harder, so never stray too far from home.  Instead, run a shorter back and forth route, in small loops, or for time.
  • Complete a small warm up inside to loosen muscles.  Then change into fresh, dry clothes and continue running outside.  Doing so may help prevent muscle soreness and cramping later in the day.


Ready to Get Your Run On?

Like running in any extreme condition, cold weather running may not be ideal.  However, sometimes it is the only option.  Where winters are longer, training for distance races may require a cold run or two.  Or in my case, having extra time and free babysitters during a winter break.

When dressed appropriately I actually enjoyed running in the cold.  It was a challenge that helped ease the guilt of savoring a holiday meal or two.  I also learned a few tips that will help in seasons to come as I up my running goals.

All in all, I cannot stress enough how important it is to plan ahead and dress correctly.  It could save some down time from a bad decision.

Until next time, Happy Running!!!

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