Winter Running Tips

Lately, I’ve been thinking about winter running. Within my running group, there are runners who never cancel, running in the worst possible conditions, others who are strictly fair weather runners, and runners at every point in between. There’s lots of useful advice on the internet for those hardy runners who want to run in the unpredictable New England winter weather. Though we have been lucky and snow-free so far, I’m sure it’s not far off. I’m not quite a hard core winter runner, but I have accepted the reality of outdoor running in New England winters. In this post, I’ll condense some of the best advice that has helped get me through winter runs. Please share your own tips in the comments – great gear advice, cold weather ideas, and suggestions welcome!

1. Keep Running

The winter is a great time to mix up your running routine. Many of my favorite trails are icy or (every year but this year) snow-covered. Roads can be slushy and space is limited due to snow and ice build up. Sidewalks and tracks are rarely shoveled and can be plagued with ice. For most of us, our usual running surfaces just aren’t available or safe for winter running. The winter can be the perfect time to make a change. Consider joining a running group. Knowing someone else is standing outside in the freezing cold is not only highly motivating, but can help you pass the time during long, dark winter runs. Running groups can be found online on, through the RRCA, or community websites. Check with your local running store or gym for groups of runners who might regularly offer group runs. Finding a new running partner can be just the motivation you need to get out of bed on cold days.

2. Train for a Spring Race

Winter is just 8-12 weeks from spring (depending on where you’re from). I think it’s no coincidence that 8-12 weeks is just the right amount of time to train for a new distance, or to improve your speed in a favorite distance. Excellent running plans are available from Runner’s World (check out their plans, Smart Coach, and RW Challenge) and other online resources. For those of us in the Hartford area, consider signing up for a training program through Fleet Feet or the Hartford Marathon Foundation. Several prominent runners and coaches like Hal Higdon and Jeff Galloway offer both online training plans and excellent books that might inspire your winter running. Or, if you have a smart phone, consider an app to help support your training. Knowing that a race is coming up helps me stay on course.

3. Gear Up

Layering is key to keeping warm when running in winter. I keep myself toasty with a thermal base layer + warm top layer + jacket outfitting strategy. The key to layering is to invest in the proper layers for running. For tops, consider wearing a thermal base layer that wicks the moisture away from the skin and a top layer that blocks the wind. If it’s really cold, a mid-layer that fits loosely and is fluffy and warm can offer added warmth. Invest in thermal  pants, tights, if you like tights, and consider two bottom layers if it’s really cold. Check out my gear reviews for some of my favorites. Finally, I advise investing in good running jacket for wearing in windy or wet conditions. Nothing is worse than being cold and wet. Overdressing is easy, so be sure to dress for weather that’s warmer than the current temperature. And, to be extra careful, wear a top layer that you can remove mid-run if the sun comes out or the day heats up unexpectedly. Run close to home when you’re testing new gear and don’t be afraid to cut your run short if you find you aren’t outfitted properly. Don’t risk frostbite, hypothermia, or other cold weather maladies just to get in an extra mile.

4. Accessorize

Winter is the perfect time to work those accessories. You’ll need gloves or mittens and a hat to keep warm in cold conditions. Why not make them cute? If you’ve been reading, you already know that I love my Saucony Ulti Mitts, which come in a cute pink and flashy orange. Companies like Athleta, which caters to female athletes, offer great options for thermal hats that have feminine details and female-friendly fit. Look for hats with pony tail holes if you have long hair. The pony tail will help keep your hat in position over your ears and make it more resistant to shifting mid-run.

5. Be Safe and Be Seen

With dusk coming earlier and the sun rising later, most runners will have to run in low light conditions at some point. Wear clothing and accessories that have reflective details. Consider a reflective vest, flashing lights, and other options to stand out. It’s always wise to wear bright colors, especially colors that will offer high contrast against snowy or icy backdrops. Many clothing companies offer specially developed high-visilibility options of favorite colors – like Saucony’s Vizi Pro line or the Brooks Nightlife line.

6. Beautify

Here’s a special tip for the ladies out there – if you’re planning to wear gloves and a hat, consider making your run a time to for a little extra beauty treatment. I like to apply a thick hand lotion before putting on gloves or mittens. Use leave-in conditioner (I find the spray on kind doesn’t freeze) and braid or pin up your hair before covering it with a hat. Instead of applying Vaseline to exposed skin to avoid wind burn, I use a heavy face cream with SPF 15. Don’t forget to apply lotion with some sun protection factor before heading out on winter runs. Just because the sun isn’t blazing hot doesn’t mean you won’t burn.

7. Have Fun!

Winter running can be fun! Don’t forget to appreciate the unique joys of winter running – the crunch of ice underfoot, the sun glittering on ice and snow, or the special views on new trails thanks to bare trees.

Here’s more winter advice from, Runner’s World here and here, Cool Running, and The Globe and Mail.

Happy running!

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