How to make the most of running outdoors in winter

It may seem hard for you to believe, but running outdoors in the cold winter can be enjoyable and worthwhile. But you have to be prepared for it.

You can find lots of good tips for running online, such as this article: Winter Running Tips from (which is where I also got the photo), this one from the Chicago Examiner, and has alot of good articles on winter running, including this one on how to dress for winter running.

As I went through these articles, I jotted down some other things you might want to consider, based on my many years of winter running:

  • If you are not running everyday of the week, check out the long range forecast and try to plan your runs for the days of better weather. There are going to be some days that are downright dangerous and should be avoided. But there will be other days when it will be milder and those are those are good ones to aim for. If Wednesday is -10C and Thursday is -2C, why not shift your Wednesday run over to Thursday?
  • When it comes to black ice, always expect it. Be especially careful on days when the temperature rises a few degrees above freezing and then drops below freezing: the warmer temperatures can cause runoff that then freezes up into black ice. And since it is new black ice, it is more likely that it won’t be salted yet.
  • Also on black ice, be careful of light dustings of snow. The snow can cover up the ice and make it that much more slippery.
  • Finally, try to stay low and keep your feet on the ground. If you do something like jump over a pile of snow, you may land on black ice. That will be a very unpleasant experience, based on what I have seen.
  • Dressing for 15-20 degrees (F) above the current temperature is very good advice. But it can be hard to get motivated for those 5-15 minutes when your body is producing enough heat to feel warm enough. To get around this, one option is to have a sweatshirt or jacket that you can either carry or toss somewhere and retrieve at the end of your run. For example, if you start your run at your house, run up and down the street (or around the block) until you start to feel too warm, then toss a layer indoors and keep running.
  • Try not to stop if you can: you will cool off very quickly.
  • If the weather is bad outside, drivers will have a hard time seeing you. Worse, they could be rushing to get somewhere as a result of the delay of the bad weather. And then people skid and slide in their cars during winter. Given all that, be extremely defensive around cars in the winter. Stop, make sure they can stop, then proceed. Don’t assume they will be able to stop for you.
  • Related to that, avoid running on the road in the winter. It can be very tempting when the roads are clear and the sidewalks are not. You might even think that the roads are safer than the sidewalks in terms of slipping. However, if you have to get off the road in a hurry, you might not be able to due to snowbanks and other obstacles. Or you might slip and fall while you do that. What I tend to do is run on the sidewalks of busy streets. Those sidewalks tend to be the best cleared and salted. I save the sidestreets for when the snow is all gone.
  • While it is important to hydrate on long runs, you should also consider where you will be able to go to the bathroom during these times. Lots of water plus cold weather equals many trips to the loo. Be prepared.
  • Dressing warmly is important. However, if you are new to winter running, you might think: I can’t afford to buy all that winter running gear! If you are a winter runner on a budget, you can run in cotton or lower cost material and acquire the better running gear over time (buy it at the end of the winter running season: you’ll get good deals then and the stuff lasts along time and doesn’t really go out of style).
    If you are new to winter running, try and at least get a good primary layer: you want to wick as much water as you can away from your body. If you have cotton as your primary layer, you will likely get cold quickly. Everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to winter running gear, so try to layer as best as you can with what you have, preferably on some shorter runs. Use these shorter runs to help you best determine what works for you in terms of clothes. Ideally, keep a log with weather conditions, clothes you wore, and how you felt and ran. (It doesn’t have to be a fancy log book either: a few sheets of paper is fine).
  • When considering temperature, make sure you factor in the wind chill. Also consider the humidity. Days with lots of humidity and wind will feel alot colder than dry winter days without wind.

Now after reading all these tips, you might think: why would anyone want to run outside in the winter? Well, there are lots of reasons, including:

  • It’s still a relatively low cost way to keep fit.
  • You can do it whenever you have time.
  • If you race, you will be able to maintain or even improve your running if you run right through the winter months. And lots of race start in as early as March: if you are going to put in a good showing for these, you need to be running in January and February.
  • Running in winter allows you to shake up your running routine. You have to run differently in the winter than at other times of the year. You may have to run slower. You may have to run in the dark. You may have to run through snow. All of these things and more can give you a new perspective on running and make it fresh for you.
  • It can be beautiful running outside in the winter. While everyone else is tucked away inside, you can have the outdoors all to yourself.
  • You can take pride in being able to run outside during these times.
  • Running in the winter helps combat the feeling of being cooped up inside. There are lots of great wintertime activities you can do to make the best of the season: why not add running to the list?

3 responses to “How to make the most of running outdoors in winter

  1. I enjoyed your post! I too find running in the winter enjoyable on most occasions, but the “black ice” is really an issue. We can run in Iowa through the winter if we’re light on precipitation, but we just got another dose of ice last night. So, you really have to watch that!

    However, running in colder weather is really not a big deal as you adjust to it.

  2. Hi Bernie! Good post. I love winter running. I’ve been off running for a couple years now, and am thinking of getting back into it. This was a good reminder of the stuff I used to know 🙂

    Happy new year!

  3. Great post! Really good tips for me as I’m only starting wintre running. Well I’ve been running in november and december but here where I live (Geneva, Switzerland) there wasn’t that much snow until now. So I found some really good tips! Thanks and have a nice running season:)

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