Winter and Cold Weather Running Tips for Beginners – Be Exceptional!

Jeff Baldelli
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Safety First

It’s not unusual to encounter a temperature range here in New England of 40 degrees Fahrenheit in one day. It’s easy to get cold here in the winter, so you want to make sure you are dressed appropriately.

Here are a few things to remember when dressing for cold weather running:

  • Wear layers: This keeps you warm and helps to regulate your temperature.
  • Wear a hat: Not only will this help keep your head warm by covering the crown, but your body heat will be conserved while you sweat.
  • Wear gloves: Thin gloves will allow you to maintain a firm grip on your phone or water bottle.
  • Wear socks: It’s easy to overlook your feet when preparing to go running, but your feet shouldn’t be left out in this equation.
  • Wear running shoes with a high degree of breathability and a thin sole.

Be sure to dress all the appropriate areas of your body because heat loss through the head, fingers, ears, and feet is the greatest. With the right gear, you can safely and comfortably keep running in the winter.

Know the Weather

Winter running is a lot different than any other kind of running. If you’re running in very cold weather, you need to get enough layering in order to stay warm.

It’s important to find the right balance between keeping yourself warm and also having enough ability to run at the pace you want. If you’re in a race, the last thing you want to think about is whether you had enough to eat or drink beforehand or whether you got enough sleep the night before. In cold weather, you need to get the clothes so that you are warm enough to put on your best performance.

Remember, you may even get cold while you’re running. So don’t stop once you feel like you are warm because you will be at risk for getting cold too quickly when you stop running.

You also need to watch the temperature of the air. Running in cold air will be creating a lot of cold air. You have to make sure you are ready for that.

Don’t Be Scared of a Little Rain

Most runners love running in the rain and if you could have a choice, you would probably choose the rain over snow. This is because running in the rain is less likely to leave you soaked clear through to the skin with the ice cold rain bouncing off of you.

Heaven forbid, if it gets really bad, you can always run in the backyard. Think about it while you are running : sunshine and fresh air, you can’t beat that!

So, if you have to run in the rain, try this. Find a good rain jacket. Look for material that is breathable: these are lightweight coats that feature zippers which allow you to open them up really wide. That way it will let the cold air circulate around, keeping you really warm.

It is also built in with a hood that fits close around the head so that you look good in front of a potential running partner.

Invest in Good Winter Running Gear

While cold weather doesn’t feel good when you run, the actual temperature doesn’t matter nearly as much as you might think. Whether you exercise in it depends far more on how you dress.

Many people are perplexed about how to dress for winter running, especially in the early morning. Light layers are the key for any weather. In winter, make sure to wear a hat and gloves, so your core remains warm. Wear a base layer of a moisture wicking synthetic fabric under running tights, sweat pants with a fleece insert or warm-up pants. Wear a long-sleeve top with an inside neck, and tuck that shirt into your pants. If you are running in a skirt, wear tights, and wear socks with a plastic bag over them to prevent ice crystals.

Tighten your winter running clothes to prevent air from getting in and chilling you. You should wear a jacket over your clothing, so when you start to sweat, the jacket absorbs that sweat and keeps you dry.

If you are running in an area that does not require lights, wear reflectors and reflective tape to make it easier for you to be seen in the dark by cars. If you are running with others, try to allow at least 50 feet between you and other runners. A group of runners will make it easier for vehicles to see you as well.

Warm Up Properly

Warming up is very important any time you go for a run, but it is especially important in the winter. Cold weather put a lot of stress on your muscles. That is the reason why it’s so important to warm up before running.

The way that your body warms up is with blood flow. Blood vessels in your muscles dilate or expand to allow blood to rush to them. As your muscles get warmer, they stay warmer after you’re done running. Warming up before you run reduces your risk of injury.

Here is how a good warm-up should go:

  • Walk around for 5-10 minutes, then jog slowly for 5 minutes
  • Jog for three minutes, run slowly for three minutes, and repeat this pattern for about 10 minutes
  • As you warm up, gradually switch from walking to running at a moderate pace

Create/Maintain Your Running Habit

One of the top challenges that runners face after recovering from an injury is developing a new running habit.

For most runners, the problem arises because their running has been a solo activity. But when they begin running again, they try to re-invent the wheel and begin their training alone.

Body’s natural tendencies are to avoid things that could be painful or frightening. When we start doing new things, we want to be with other people who feel the same way we do. You are just “hard wired” that way.

If you want to create a new running habit once you’re ready to get back to it, then have a solid running partner or coach or program to follow. A running pal will keep you accountable and stop you from becoming too complacent.

Running programs, like the run/walk training program in The Exceptional Runner Program, are designed to get you running again with ease.

It builds a strong, healthy running habit.

Remember Others Are Also Dealing With Poor Conditions

As you’re running through the cold and the snow, remember that many other people are taking the same route as you. If you can, make time for extra layers.

Those extra layers will help you to be prepared for the weather and to potentially help you avoid getting sick. Look for running attire that is specially designed to fight against the cold weather. The better prepared you are, the easier it is to stay motivated to run when temperatures become extreme and dangerous.

If there is a hill on your running route, you’ll want to make sure that you stay safe by learning about how to run downhill without injury so that you don’t end up freezing or breaking anything. It’s also important to learn how to run without making your hands or face too cold.

In order to prevent chapped and cracked skin, make sure that you are wearing socks, gloves, a hat and scarf.

Wear clothes that allow you to breathe easily without overheating. As a rule, you should never listen to music or have headphones in when you run outside in below freezing temperatures. The distraction may make you lose your sense of direction or endanger your life as you move.

Don’t Get Stuck on Results

When it comes to making positive progress, it’s important to stay focused on the process rather than obsessing over the results. Consistency, after all, is the key to achieving goals. Keep this in mind as you continue your running plan over the winter.

When you want to get results quickly, it’s easy to lose motivation and give up. When your plan doesn’t go as expected, you might try to create an alternate plan that’s more exciting based on the success of one race. Unfortunately, it’s easy for a runner to get caught up in the drama of a detailed plan.

Realize that no matter what the season, there will always be roadblocks. Instead, build momentum by working on a plan that aims to release the stress of the situation, rather than trying to create the ideal situation.

Instead of obsessing over a specific race, focus on what needs to be done to achieve a great race. When you build your plan, use rest days to reflect on what you’ve learned. This type of reflection can strengthen your resolve, so you’re able to apply the wisdom gained to the next workout or race.

Don’t Forget The Basics

If you regularly run in the cold, you’ll need to take some extra precautions to stay safe. First of all, make sure that you dress properly for the weather. The first layer on your body should be something that’s waterproof, like a nylon shell or a waterproof jacket.

You should opt for breathable fabrics like wool or fleece, instead of cotton. Cotton holds in heat, and in the freezing winter temperatures, you’ll need to get rid of heat in order to prevent your body from overheating.

Your second layer should be a warm layer. Your jacket should be warm enough that you feel the need for a third layer, like a fleece. If you're not comfortable, add another layer.

You’ll need to add another pair of gloves, too. Don’t go with the obvious mittens, because they’ll get wet when you wipe your nose.

Instead, use gloves that are insulated.

They’ll keep your fingers warm even if they get a little wet.

Remember Why You Run

If you’re running in the winter, you probably don’t like it too much. One of the best ways that you can make cold weather running more enjoyable is to remember why you enjoy running in warmer weather. If sunshine and green trees bring you a lot of joy, won’t you be in the mood for those things when you’re out running?

Having a goal is another great way to help. This can be a race you’re training for, or just a distance goal. Knowing your goal makes your runs much more meaningful, and you’ll know what makes them worth it when you come back after you’ve been out.

Finding the positives in something that you normally find frustrating will go a long way toward making your runs fun. Choose a motivational song for your runs if that helps keep yourself in a great mood. Then, after your run, treat yourself with whichever thing was making you happy while you were exercising.