How to Run in Cold Weather (Because Treadmills Make You Want to Cry)

Between the temperature change, the ice, the snow, and the option to just stay inside, keeping up a running routine through the winter months can be a challenge.

Some might say the sane alternative is to hit the treadmill, but unless it’s -30 C and polar bears have risen in revenge for climate change to rule the earth, I would rather an outdoor run with precaution over a mind-numbing, long indoor one.

Whether you’re looking to survive a whole winter running outdoors, or just curious about trying cold weather running for the first time, here are some of the best tips I’ve gathered through experience to brave the elements and run happy all season long!

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Sleep In
Because the sun doesn’t come up until later during the winter months, the temperature doesn’t either. If you’re dealing with some serious cold, or even just temps beyond your comfort level, try trading in your early morning run for a mid-day jaunt when it’s warmed up, even slightly. You might have to get creative and go running on your lunch hour, but it will be worth it! Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Dress For Warm(er) Weather
Stay comfy by avoiding under AND over-dressing. The general rule of thumb is that running makes you feel it’s about 10 C (or 20 F) warmer than it actually is outside. So if you’re running in 0 C weather, you want to dress like you’re running in 10 C. This will help keep you comfortable once you really get going!

Warm Up Inside
Get your muscles warm before you head outside with some dynamic stretches to get your heart rate up and your blood flowing. Warming up indoors means you’re ready to go as soon as you get outdoors. That means less time in the cold between you, a Netflix marathon, and your unicorn onesie.
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Layer Up, Layer Often
Running gear can be pricy as heck, so layering can use the gear you’ve already got to full advantage. My personal tactic for layering is 2-2-3, working from the bottom up, with the layer closest to the body always being technical fabric.

• Two pairs of socks: sports socks underneath, thicker wool pair on top.
• Two pairs of leggings: thermal (if you have them) underneath, and a second cotton pair on top.
• Three (or four) shirts: technical fabric long-sleeve, cotton long sleeve, and sweater or jacket. When it’s REALLY cold, I’ll add another shirt because I like to imagine I’m a really fancy cake, and stay warm. I’d rather be over-baked than under, if you catch my drift.

Mind Your Headspace
Cold air can be a shock to your lungs, making running harder. Consider getting a cowl or a scarf you don’t mind getting sweaty to cover your nose and mouth. A hat or hood will help your ears stay warm and keep you from losing heat on the top of your head, while a headband will protect your ears, allowing some heat to escape on milder winter days. Choose your headgear wisely! Sunglasses will keep the wind from making your eyes tear up, but if you breathe on them, they will fog like nobody’s business, so be ready for that!

Say “Cleats!”
I’ve got one pair of running shoes, and I generally use them all seasons. In the winter, with snow and ice, I use pull-on traction aids to help keep myself safe from falls or slips that could cause injury.  Find these in your local running store or online! (There are also shoes made just for running in winter, but I this is a more budget-friendly option.)

Be Smart
There might genuinely be some days when it’s too cold or too icy to go running. The best thing to do is recognize these days, and use them for rest, treadmill runs (ugh), or cross training.

So there you have it, a way to stay warm, keep moving, and prepare for the coming of our polar bear overlords. (Wait, what?)

Obvious S#@! You Already Know, Backed Up by Winter Running

#1. Take Baby Steps
Okay yes, duh: it’s logic. Start small and work towards bigger challenges. You don’t want to sign up for a 10K this coming weekend if you don’t feel confident about running around the block.  Winter running, also incorporates this literally, take small steps, actual baby ones.

The Cult of Running(tm) is filled with sleek, gazelle-like individuals who glide along pavement like it’s a conveyer belt and have calves of granite. I am not a member, but I know that even THEY have to slow down in the winter because it’s dangerous. On the snowiest, iciest days, I’m afraid a wider stride will send me crashing down to the ice, even in cleats.

So from the terror began the habit trotting along, and shortening my stride has helped me un-hunch my shoulders, improved my running posture, and helped me power through hills… which is a pretty dope tie in to the metaphor. Baby steps will get you up the mountain (and keep you from breaking any bones).

#2. Overprepare
Duh: it’s better to have too much ready to go than too little. Slightly less obvious? Trying to dress appropriately for a winter run is a complex math problem:

If it is -14 C outside but it is -22 with the windchill, blowing snow, and a sunny glare, but the body heats up 10 degrees on average during a run, how many layers of clothing should you put on for a 6 kilometre jaunt in order to keep your fingers and toes?

If I had taken up running earlier in high school I might have been less afraid of math after grappling with all of that BS. The answer is, layer up. Just be prepared for it to be COLD and if you’re too warm you can yank stuff off and carry it as you go. Overprepare!

#3. Hard Work Pays Off
Triple duh: running in snow can suck,  it’s like running in cold sand with the potential for an icy surprise at the center to send you sprawling across the pavement. It’s hard work, because it’s hard to get anywhere fast when you’re basically running on the bitterness of Canada’s natural treadmill.

But there’s an upside—what doesn’t shatter your bones or give you frostbite makes you stronger! There will come a day when the snow will melt. I know, it seems unending, and every time the sun dares to peek out, another foot of the white stuff feels likely to drop from on high…But it end. For the first time in weeks, the sidewalks here have been clear and moving from running in winter sand hell to straight pavement felt….almost….easy. The big e!

Now it’s not gonna feel like pixie dust forever, but there will be a few honeymoon runs where the sole hits nothing but the pavement and it’s such a confidence boost because of all the strength you got while slugging it out in the slush has come back to let you power on at full strength.