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Tips For Running Outside During Winter

Jan 2, 2013

Everyone loves a run on a crisp fall morning. The brightly colored leaves provide the backdrop for your run, while the clean, dry air fuels a great workout. The temperature is perfect for maximizing your performance.

But what happens when, inevitably, fall turns to winter? Let's break winter running down to help you deal with the major setbacks runners experience during the colder months. Navigating sub-freezing temperatures, snow and ice is difficult for even the most winter-ready runner.

Temperature: How to Run in the Cold

Growing up just north of Boston, I ran in some of the worst winter conditions imaginable: temperatures in the teens (and lower with the wind chill), sleet and feet of snow. But I almost always ran outside. Here's how to conquer that frigid cold air yourself.

First, layering is essential. It traps air and helps keep you warmer than just one thick piece of clothing. Choose a synthetic base layer to help wick sweat away from your skin. and a waterproof outer layer in case it snows (more on that later).

A significant portion of heat escapes from your head, so a hat that also covers your ears is essential to running comfortably in winter. If the temperature is below 10 degrees and it's windy, you may want to wear two hats for extra protection from the elements.

The colder it gets, the less skin you should expose. Cover your neck and some of your face with a scarf or balaclava. Your legs should be fully covered (no shorts!) with running pants or tights. Gloves are a must if you want to keep your fingers.

And attention men: if it's very cold and windy, a pair of wind-proof briefs can prevent uncomfortable irritation in your most vulnerable area. Compression garments like arm or calf sleeves can be layered for extra warmth.

Running in Snow

Some runners actually enjoy running in a few inches of snow. If it's not too slippery, it can provide you with a little bit of cushion on the road, and give a satisfying crackling sound with every footstep. It's not ideal for faster running, but easy runs in light snow are fun.

Running on snow usually requires you to slow down slightly—that's completely normal and recommended. You'll be using significantly more stabilizing muscles to balance yourself on the snow, so you may experience more soreness after these runs. Remember to keep your effort easy, and reduce your overall mileage if needed.

Once the snowfall is more than a few inches, or if it's particularly wet and slippery, running becomes impossible. If there's ice, that's another warning sign you should stay off the roads.

Instead, you have two options: run inside on a treadmill, or hope that your local government plows enough of the road for you to safely get in your run outside. Be careful of narrower roads and traffic, which may pose some safety risks. Wear a reflector vest or very bright clothing if you're running in the early morning or dusk hours.

Winter running necessitates a “make the best of it” attitude. Freezing temperatures, snow and ice don't provide an ideal training environment, especially if you need to run fast 5K workouts or intervals for other short races. But by modifying your runs slightly, you can still run the majority of your workouts outside or on the treadmill.

Remember, safety is your first priority when running outside in the snow and cold. Winter conditions sometimes make injuries more common—by straining a muscle on snow or falling—and sidewalks sometimes aren't cleared for running, forcing you onto the roads. Prioritize safety by carrying ID, leaving the MP3 player at home, and staying vigilant for cars.


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