A few years ago I determined it was necessary, mentally and physically, for me to run all year, not just in the mild temperatures of spring, summer, and fall. Until this point, I would basically just take the winter off. I don’t like being out in the cold nor do I like the way snow and ice make your footing unsteady. And the treadmill? I would use it once in a while but every mile on the treadmill can sometimes feel like ten so I wouldn’t use it regularly.
Forcing myself to get out there, I grew to be okay with running in the cold a few times a week. I’d be sure to wear layers, hat and gloves, and double up my socks. I also kept my runs short. Last year, however, I decided to train for a spring marathon, my first in 10 years. This training, then, required not just running but running long. Since my longest run ever on a treadmill is 8 miles (I really don’t think I can go further than that), I knew I’d have to learn to run for hours outside in the cold. I am proud to say I made it through my training runs and ran that marathon on a windy below 20-degree day in April, freezing but smiling.
So, how did I learn to enjoy running in the cold? I made sure to focus on what I like about winter running.
Things to enjoy about running outside in the winter:
- It’s Quiet. There are definitely less noises in the winter, especially with snow on the ground to muffle most sounds. The winter birds are still out there, however, and if you’re not listening to music or a podcast, you can listen to them sing. There are also less people outside. This morning I was the only one on the path and I loved it. I ran multiple loops around a small lake, out of the wind and in the zone.
- Sunshine. Sunny days can be few and far between in the winter so if the sun is out, it’s important to get out there. Being in the sunshine, if it feels warm or not, can lift your spirits. Since I am not into any other outdoor winter activities, making myself run in the cold is my only chance to be outside for any length of time. Walking is also an option, but walking does not warm up my body as well as running. No matter what activity, if you are out in the sun, don’t forget to wear your sunglasses!
- Pride. I don’t typically look for things to brag about but it feels so good to just know that I can do hard things. Running outside when it’s under 10 degrees, or even under 30 degrees, is not easy. It can be hard to motivate yourself to get out for a run on a warm day, just think of the number of excuses and procrastination techniques your mind can come up with on a freezing day! Once I start running, I’m always glad I made the effort. And if you have to cut your run short because your fingers and toes are cold, you still got out there. I like feeling proud of not letting the weather keep me from doing what I want. (Full disclosure: I have not yet run when it’s below zero.)
- Layers. Running gear is expensive and as a result I often run in older gear that I may not really like the looks of anymore. This may seem superficial, but I think one benefit about winter running is that you really only have to like the style/color/design of your jacket and your tights/pants. You don’t have to match, you don’t have to have shirts that look good (your jacket will cover that up!), your running clothes just have to keep you warm. This is something I enjoy because it makes getting ready for a run much easier for me, and for that I am grateful.
- Finishing and returning to a warm home. Walking into your heated home after being out in the cold feels heavenly. And that hot shower? Can’t beat it. Add to that a post-run treat of hot chocolate or warm oatmeal and it’s just worth it. There is a quote about writing, “I loathe writing, but I love having written.” One can also say the same about running in the winter. You’ll love it when you’re done and you can enjoy the rest of the day simply because you have gone running.
So, layer up and get out there!
The Key to Running in Cold Weather is Layers
- Wear thin layers. I usually wear two moisture wicking running shirts (at least one being long-sleeved), and a wind resistant soft-shell running jacket. I have seen people run in heavier jackets but I don’t like to be dressed too bulky when I run. I also wear running tights that are thicker than my summer running capris. You can also double up on your tights/pants. It’s important to be able to move freely yet be protected from the cold and wind.
- Socks. Cold weather is not a time to wear your thin no-show running socks (though I have, and survived). It’s best to double up on your socks and consider knee-high compression socks if you don’t already wear them. I don’t wear compression socks on a regular basis but I like the mid-calf and knee-high lengths for cold weather. There are also several options out there running or trail socks in a mid-calf length. Your toes will be one of the first things to freeze if you’re not prepared.
- Hats and Buffs. I love the Buff, sometimes called Infinity Scarf or Gaiter. When it’s below 20 degrees, I usually wear two Buffs around my neck and a thin fleece hat. When it’s a little warmer, I’ll use one gaiter as a headband to cover my ears, and one Buff around my neck. Hats and scarves are really personal preference, but I think a Buff is nicer than a scarf because it’s not as thick. I can pull it up over my nose and still breath without all of the condensation that forms when wearing a knit scarf over my mouth.
- Gloves. I wear a simple pair of running gloves which is usually okay, but I tend to have warmer-than-average hands. I also wear shirt sleeves that are long enough to pull over my hands/gloves for an added layer. You could wear mittens over your gloves, or wear two layers of mittens. This way you can remove the outer pair if necessary. Again, I think a moisture wicking material, is best.