Running in the winter is a lot like running anywhere else, except colder, slower, and sometimes less fun (hey! I'm just being honest). This is because running outside in cold weather can not only be dangerous, but oftentimes uncomfortable and difficult. However, if you are smart about it and prepare well, you can safely and enjoyably run through any season, including the winter, without relegating yourself to the treadmill. Here are my top tips for enjoying the great outdoors:
Layer up, so you can layer down.
The first lesson to running in the winter is to dress for it. Dressing for the winter months requires you to dress warmly by strategically layering enough clothes to stay warm, that can be shed if you end up heating up mid-run.
If you are running in below-freezing temps, we recommend starting with thick tights, a long sleeve shirt, a vest, and a jacket. You can always layer two pairs of tights and increase the thickness of the jacket depending on how cold or windy it is outside. Then, make sure to wear a pair of gloves, thick socks, a gaiter to keep your neck warm, and a hat to keep heat from escaping.
I also recommend re-examining what type of shoes you should wear in the winter. If the ground is clear of ice and snow, your regular shoes should work just fine. However, if you are running in packed snow or icy conditions, I recommend changing over to trail shoes or spikes. These shoes have more traction on the soles, which will help keep you firm-footed and less likely to slip on ice.
Also be mindful of the socks you wear when you run, especially if you are running in snow or around cold puddles that can sneak into your shoes. There are certainly toe warmers and other small products you can stick into your socks to keep your feet warm, but you can also look at wearing a thicker pair of socks to combat the cold. This will likely mean wearing a half size up in shoes, so your toes do not get too scrunched with the extra material.
To sum up the above, you need:
While you will likely go the entire winter season without getting stuck, injured, or lost, it is still good practice to bring a phone and some identification due to the conditions being more dangerous than normal.
It's easy these days to stash a phone and ID in your pocket, in case something happens and you need help. There’s great gear that allows you to carry these in a jacket pocket, or stash in your tights. Make sure the phone is fully charged and easily accessible. It's always better to carry personal identification with you when you are running solo; if something serious does happen, this will make it easier for people to contact family or emergency services and get help for you quickly. Road tags and IDs worn on the wrist are great options if you don't want to carry a driver's license.
This is a sobering thing to talk about, since none of us go outside to run expecting to get hurt or need help in any way. But the truth is, it happens more often than we expect, and accidents can get worse if you are not able to ask for help or be easily identified. I always bring my phone with me, whether running alone on trails or running in well-populated neighborhoods. This happens year round, but especially in the winter months when it is more likely that I might slip, or get turned around, or run into some weather conditions I need to quickly escape from.
To add insult to injury, winter running is not only colder, but also darker than running any other time of year. Add to that decreased visibility due to rain, sleet, or snow, and you are less likely to be seen while out on your run. Because of this, if you are running outside, it is important to make sure to stay visible for cars, cyclists, and other runners to see you. An easy way to do so is to wear bright colors and reflective gear. Brightly-colored clothing is the easiest way to be seen by other runners, cars, and pedestrians in the winter months. Reflective gear will keep you visible from all directions as well—there are some great clothes that have reflective features built right into them, and there are also cheap reflective vests and belts that you can easily add on for increased visibility.
Another great tool is the headlamp: you can use a headlamp or light on your hat when running at night or early in the morning. This not only makes you more visible, but increases your ability to see where you are running on dark nights or early mornings. We recommend finding a lightweight, easy to use headlamp for any run that will start or end in the dark.
Lastly, run with a buddy or group whenever possible—especially if you’ll be running during the dark hours when visibility is low. While this is oftentimes the most enjoyable option for running, it also helps keep you safe. If anything were to happen, like slipping on ice, or otherwise getting hurt, you would have someone right there with you to help you get the assistance you need.
Pro tip: don’t run fast in icy conditions. Take it from experience - mine.
It is easy to think that with spikes or other proper footwear, you can run in any conditions without fear of falling, but the truth is that the ice usually ends up winning, and you usually end up on the ground. Luckily, in many areas, if snow and ice are present, the city will work to clear the roads and/or sidewalks for car and foot traffic. It may require you to drive somewhere safe to run, but I strongly recommend finding somewhere that has dry, cleared ground to run on. It may mean you are running loops around a smaller space, or finding a local track that has been shoveled to complete your speedwork, but I promise you it is well worth knowing that you will complete the run safe and sound.
As alluded to above, I am not a fan of treadmill running. For me, the miles click by very slowly, I overheat easily, and truthfully, it is just all too easy to hit the STOP button and end the workout early.
That being said, sometimes it comes down to running on the treadmill or not running at all. It might be blizzarding, or sleeting, too icy or simply too cold to comfortably and safely run outside.
Treadmill running can be done (I tell myself as much as I tell you), and is made easier with a few simple tips. Here are a few ways to stay sane while on the treadmill:
While this article makes it seem like I don't enjoy winter running, I truly do, although I do like to tease about it a bit (I am from Florida, where we don't really have winter and instead wear shorts year round). There is something magical about running in the cold and dark, and especially running in the snow. That said, winter running brings with it unique complexities and challenges due to the cold, dark, and icy/snowy conditions. The key is to dress right, layer up, wear bright clothes that make you visible from a distance, and stay warm enough to avoid hypothermia. Bring a phone, run with a friend, and stick to cleared paths if you are running anything over an easy run. And if all else fails, jump on the treadmill!