Every summer when I’m running in 90 degree heat, I always tell myself that I won’t complain about running in the cold in the winter. Yet every year during my first freezing cold run, I pity myself the entire time! If you’re serious about running, you can’t stop running for an entire season of the year, so how can you make the best of winter running months? After running through quite a few Minnesota winters, I’ve found a few hacks to make it not so bad!
- Dress in layers. You actually warm up really fast when you start running, so I usually dress as if the weather was about 20 degrees warmer than it is if I am running. I start with a sweat wicking, tight fitting, synthetic base layer, and then add zip ups, jackets, and vests on top of that depending how cold it is. Most brands make winter specific pants and tops that are thicker with fleece on the inside. You really don’t have to spend a fortune to have a set of winter running clothes.
- Hands get the coldest. I’ve found my fingers get really cold when I run since they don’t get the trapped body heat like your core does. I like mittens because they keep your fingers all together for warmth. I have a pair that the mitten top folds off, which is nice if I start to get too warm. I’m not big on portable hand warmers since you warm up enough when you start running. Don’t ever put them in your shoes because there is not room for them, and they can burn you if they are compressed without airflow.
- Protect from slips and falls. Even if it doesn’t look icy outside, you can find black ice anywhere. I’ve had a couple of nasty falls when I didn’t think it was icy outside but luckily, I haven’t ever done serious damage. When its super icy, I wear these due north spikes over my shoes. I really like the traction they give me and they don’t affect my running gait.
- Batteries hate the cold. If you run with a phone, its battery will drain really fast if it’s cold outside. I’ve also found my latest pair of beats headphones will die if it’s under 32 degrees out (which seems like a terrible design to me). If you rely on technology for music or for safety, be sure to watch the battery so you don’t end up in the middle of nowhere with a dead phone.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Cold air makes it a lot harder to breath, and slippery conditions mean you might not be able to get as much traction as you run. You can still have a decent workout, but you probably won’t be running quite as fast as you do during nicer weather. The point is, you are out there working on your fitness and you will be that much better when spring rolls around!
- Treadmills are okay. There are times during the winter when I know it’s just too cold to get any type of quality run in, so I turn to my treadmill. Running on a treadmill is not the same as running outside– the surface moves for you, there are no inclines, wind, or changes in terrain that you would experience outside. It’s also very difficult to clock your pace while running indoors. Phones and watches base your pace off of your average last outdoor run and how your arm shakes, and the treadmill clocks at how fast the belt is moving. Neither of these are accurate to how a GPS measures distance covered over time. I think of my indoor runs as “endurance sessions” and tend to focus on perceived effort and time ran, vs. my speed or distance covered. If I based “times” on treadmill runs, I would have ran all of my fastest speeds on a treadmill, which is not accurate! I often go back in and edit the speed slower so I’m not counting paces and miles that I didn’t run. It’s a great way to build cardio fitness and work on consistent pacing, but it doesn’t replace outdoor training.
- Change your mental game. It’s really easy to become negative about running when its cold. A lot of times, it isn’t comfortable, and it’s frustrating when you aren’t getting the long distances and fast paces that you have in warmer weather. Being negative isn’t going to help the conditions, so I’ve found it’s better just to embrace the challenge. There are a lot of sun filled, pretty winter days when it’s super nice to get out of the house and enjoy the outdoors.
- Running in fresh snow is a killer workout. Running on fresh snow takes a lot more stabilization and effort compared to dry land. One of my favorite winter workouts is to run up and down the cross country ski hills at a park here in Minneapolis. They might look at me like I’m crazy, but I usually beat them on the uphills! And just think of how much stronger you will be than all the other runners at home on a treadmill.