Running in winter – 17 tips how to enjoy winter runs

Running in winter

Running in winter can be fun but also challenging at the same time.

Some people love it, some hate it!

I love it!!
The fresh crisp air, the silence, the sunrises, the colors…

The best running gear for winter is very important, like the right gear for hiking in winter.
It is also good to know a few other hacks and tricks how to safely run in winter, in the dark or in the snow.

The Indoor Generation

Staying fit during winter is important. Most of us are actually spending 90% of their time indoors: working inside, staying inside at home when not working, driving to work in a car, exercising indoors in a gym….

“Previous research has found that around 90 percent of people spend close to 22 hours inside every day.”

Fresh air and daylight is not only important for the immune system, but for our mind too. It can reduce stress and improve sleep.

A few simple tips how to get some more fresh air and daylight:
-Driving to work by bike or walking to work.
-Maybe just getting of the bus/tram a stop or two before home and walk the rest 
-If possible, walk to the grocery store or take a bike.
-Bring your own healthy lunch to work and have lunch outside.
-Finding an outdoor exercise you enjoy (like running) could be a good solution too, to catch at least 30 minutes of fresh air a day.
-Meeting friends for a walk in the park instead.
-Planning at least one longer outdoor activity at the weekend.

I love early winter morning runs - look at this winter sky in Tallinn
The right apparel will get you through winter runs safely

Tips for running in winter​​

I think I am kind of addicted to my morning runs in winter and fall…

Even though if it is colder and darker, if I miss out on a run in the morning I feel tired and lacking energy.
Yes it can be challenging getting out of bed when it is dark and cold in winter, but if you keep going, your body and mind will make you keep going. Everything becomes a habit if you do it long enough. Good and also bad habits are getting established this way…

Depending on where you live winter running can be more or less challenging.

In those areas where it is getting really freezing cold, or a lot of snow and ice is on the street, other “running-tips” appear than in those regions where winter means: wet and not colder than 0 degrees Celsius 😉

So not all of these tips will possibly be important for your situations but a lot of them are actually important for all of us outdoor runners.

1. Most important: Be visible in the dark!!!!​​

While some runners feel safer on a treadmill in the dark winter months, some still like to run outside.
But the days are so short in winter, during your work days it can sometimes be hard to find time to run during daylight hours. So you won’t get around running in the dark.

Please make it a priority to be visible when running in the dark!! 

Wear light colored and reflective materials so everybody else can see you along the roads. Just because you can see the cars (because they have lights), doesn’t mean they can see you!
I have witnessed a few very dangerous situations and almost hit a runner in the dark myself, because of dark clothing and no reflecting lights.

If you run in the snow, wear something that is a little darker, and no white, to contrast with the snow.

Sadly a lot of active gear for winter is dark colored. I honestly don’t know why. t s so important to wear bright colored apparel in the dark.

Run against the traffic flow

This is what I learned from my parents as a kid: always walk against the traffic flow so you can see if a car is coming and quickly can make way! If cars are coming from behind, you might not hear or see them. You are always safer if you see what is coming from the front.

2. Warm up​

Warm up your ankles and muscles before starting on a cold weather run. This is way more important in winter than in summer.

Muscles tense up when they are cold, so to avoid injuries like strains and pulled muscles, give it a 5 to 10 minute warm up routine (e.g. walk in the beginning, stretch and move your ankles in circles) before you start your winter run.

3. Dress like an onion​

Layering is important if you run in cold weather. If you only wear one big jumper because you feel cold in the beginning, you might just feel too hot in the mid or late run. If you wear layers you can simply get rid of one layer to feel comfy again.

Cover your ears, head, hands. A significant portion of heat always escapes from your head, so a hat that also covers your ears is essential during cold winter runs.

Dress like it is a little warmer outside than it actually is. It is ok to feel a little chilly in the beginning, after a few minutes you will start to warm up and actually sweat. Try a few outfits and after a while you know how to dress the best way for you. Some people freeze quicker than others, so find your own perfect layering.

4. Avoid cotton​

Avoid cotton as it holds onto water/sweat and when wet it will make you cool out quickly.

Choose materials that are moisture wicking (wool-blends, synthetics) for socks, upper body layers, and leggings. 

I still run in cotton shirts in summer, but never in winter.

Check my post about hiking winter apparel, or what to wear hiking in fall. A lot of these clothing are great for running in winter too.

5. Get a windproof, breathable jacket or vest​

My lightweight windproof jacket is my best friend during my winter runs.

6. On windy days​

If it is very windy you should try and run against the wind first and on your way back with the wind.
This will help against cooling out from the wind on your way back.

7. Shoes​

If you live somewhere where it get´s very cold, mesh running shoes could be a little bit too cold in winter.
You could try some trail running shoes, they are mostly even a little bit rain proof.

DIY: you could use some ducktape on the toes of older shoes to keep out the wet and keep the wind out.

8. Bring your phone or tell somebody where your running​

Even if you normally don’t carry your phone when running, maybe remember to bring it in winter. Just in case, so you can call anybody in case of an emergency (slipping on an icy bit, etc.).

In case you don’t like to carry your phone, tell your partner or family exactly which round you are running and for how long, so they will know when to worry and look for you…

9. Cold air tips​

Very cold air can cause pain in the lungs and a so called runners cough. Try to breathe in through your nose. If that is hard for you to do, use something to cover your nose or mouth. I always use a running scarf/neck gaiter to cover my mouth to breathe. I wear glasses so covering the nose is not working because then my glasses easily fog up.

I do go for runs if the temperature is below 32F/0C but not colder than 14F/-10C. But I know people who run in colder temperatures so as always it is up to your individual feeling. But if it hurts while breathing you should definitely think about an outside-running break. Choose a treadmill or do some other exercise like some home-workouts.

You should also expose less skin the colder it gets. So a running scarf that you can wear half way up your ears is excellent to cover your neck and part of your face (mouth, nose). Your ankles and wrist should be covered too. It can become awfully painful when ankles and wrists get cold.

10. Cover your vulnerable areas​

Men and women should cover their “soft-parts” when running in the cold. Wear a long Shirt or jacket that goes all the way to cover your bladder, etc. Or wear a pair of windproof shorts over your leggings.

11. Rain​ runs

Rain should not stop you from running. Wet feet are not a problem if it is not freezing cold.

Wear a light, breathable wind/rain jacket or vest. Choose trail runners that are a little more rainproof if you are afraid to get wet feet.

You could also wear a hat with a brim to protect eyes or glasses. I read on a few blogs that they recommend glasses against the rain, but since I run with glasses all the time, I think glasses are a bad protection against rain because you can not see properly anymore.

glasses are not helpful in the rain
the right shoes cant prevent wet feet when you jump into the water accidentially 😀

12. Snow and ice​

When it is cold snow and ice will have the better traction. When its just around the freezing mark it can be most dangerous to run as it can be more slippery. You could try to wear trail runners for a snowy run.
In case you are doing a snow run, be more careful and remember that a snow run will be slower (this is normal and safer), so you might need an extra layer to stay warm.

It is a great time though to train slower and longer runs…

It can be challenging running in the snow, so be more careful. Legs and ankles could feel a little bit more sore after a snow run because it is unstable so you’ll use more stabilizing muscles to balance than normal.

If it is very icy, you could even consider wearing spikes.

13. Plogging in winter?​

If you are doing some plogging regularly be careful in winter when it is cold, as the short stops can cool you out and will make the run uncomfortable. Plogging is better done in spring, summer and early autumn, or just do a short part of ploggin on your last bit of your run, if you are almost home.

You haven’t heard about plogging yet? The name comes from Sweden: plocka (pick up) and jogging (running). So plogging is a mix between running and picking up trash. You will carry a reusable bag with you and pick up the trash you find during your run.

14. Stretching​

Stretching is also important in winter. But don’t do it outside when it’s freezing or windy. Better do this indoors.

15. Drink enough​

Staying hydrated is important all year round.
You might not need as much water as on a summer heat run. But remember to drink enough water during the day also in winter when it is cold and you don’t sweat as much.

16. Hypothermia​

Hyopthermia occurs when your body is unable to create enough heat to compensate the cold. This can happen easily when you are sweating, your shirt is wet and then you cool down quickly. It is a real threat for hikers on mountain hikes, winter hikes and can also become dangerous for winter runners. (read more here)

1) Avoid cotton!
2) wear layers!
3) don`t stop and take breaks (this will cool you out quickly)!
4) carry a phone so help can come quickly in case of a twisted ankle, etc…

17. Sign up for running events in spring to stay motivated!​

If you have a race to look forward it might be easier to stay motivated and get out running or train on a treadmill.

You could also try and find a running group to meet up in the darker season. This is great if you feel unsafe running in the dark or if you have problems to stay motivated.

Have Fun

You will see, the feeling after a run, or hike, in the cold is so much better than the feeling if you stay at home on the couch. 😉 

If you are unsure how much to wear this guide from runners world is very helpful:

60+F(15C+): tank top/Tshirt and shorts

50-59F(10-15C): short sleeve tech shirt and shorts/tights

40-49F(5-10C): long sleeve shirt, shorts or tights, gloves (optional), headband to cover your ears (optional)

30-39F(-1C-5C): long sleeve active shirt, shorts or active tights, gloves and headband

20-29F(-6C – -1C): two shirts layered (a longsleeve active wear shirt, a short sleeve tech shirt or long sleeve shirt and jacket- tights, gloves/mittens, headband or hat) a scarf to breathe through and cover your skin.

10-19F (-12C – -6C): two shirts layered (long and short, or two long, depending on your personal feeling) and a wind jacket, tights, gloves and mittens, headband or hat, a scarf to breathe through and to cover your skin.

0-9F (-17C- -12C): two active wear longsleeve shirts, winter running tights, maybe even windbreaker pants, gloves and mittens, hat, windbreaker jacket, a scarf to breathe through and to cover your skin.

With these 17 winter running tips you can enjoy your winter runs safe and happy.

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