Winter doesn’t officially begin for a few weeks, but daily low temperatures are already sinking into the forties and thirties. Fearing the biting wind chills, many runners seriously slack during colder months, hibernating until March. But with the right gear and preparation, running outdoors in near freezing weather is not just possible—it can be downright enjoyable. Take a look at these tips to keep your routine going all winter long.
We lose most of our body heat through our heads, so a fleece or wool hat can make a big difference in keeping cold runs comfortable. And Philly Runners co-founder Seth Weiss says sometimes a pair of sunglasses is a must. “If there’s snow on the ground and the sky is blue, you’ll find that it’s even brighter in the winter than in the summer,” he writes on the club’s website.
The key to covering your torso is to pile on thin layers because it traps body heat more effectively than wearing one heavy jacket. Start with a base of synthetic material like polypropylene to wick sweat away from skin. If it’s extremely cold—we’re talking under 20 degrees—throw on a second insulating layer of fleece, which will trap body heat to keep you toasty. Finally, top it off with a weather-proof layer to protect against wind, rain or snow. It helps to choose a zippered jacket, so you can let some cool air in if you start to overheat.
Compression running tights
Weiss advises wearing sweat-wicking synthetics over cotton, even in super cold temperatures. “Your sweat will leave your clothes wet and heavy and then the moisture will freeze, making you very cold,” he says. “Long underwear works great as an extra layer under the outer layer for very cold days.” Underneath those, make sure you’re wearing running underwear.
Fingers are probably the most susceptible to numbness and frostbite, so it’s essential to keep them protected. Pick an insulated pair of gloves, also made with synthetics, that will keep body heat in while wiping sweat away from palms. In extreme cold, Temple cardiologist Alfred Bove recommends mittens, which allow the fingers to share body heat.
You have to keep your feet warm to prevent frostbitten toes, but your standard cotton socks might not do the trick. Pick insulated, wool socks to keep body heat in and frosty air out. Most athletic brands, like Under Armour or SmartWool, will also be lined with synthetic materials to keep feet sweat-free.
Generally, your basic running sneaker will do just fine, but choose a pair with minimal mesh if you’ll be trudging through snow. More important, pick up a pair of strap-on ice cleats for icy routes to prevent dangerous falls.
You may not feel as thirsty, but staying hydrated is equally important in the winter as it is in the hottest months because it helps your body regulate its internal temperature. Don’t disregard water and Gatorade just because you’re not completely parched.
Keeping skin hydrated is especially important in winter. The icy temps and wind chill can leave you with raw, dry cheeks and chapped lips. Slather on moisturizer and dab some Vaseline on your lips to battle windburn. While you’re at it, make sure your lotion has SPF—just because you can’t feel the sun’s heat doesn’t mean its UV rays are taking the season off, too.
Cold weather makes muscles more susceptible to stiffness and soreness, so loosen them up inside while you’re warm to prevent injury. Devote plenty of time to stretches like these to ensure a safer run.
Slow it down
If there’s ice or slush on the ground, take your pace down a notch and shorten your strides for more stability and control in case you slide.
Decrease your distance
“Black ice can lead to a fall and injury, and general concerns about good footing in the winter. After snow storms there are often snow piles that force runners into the street, which needs to be considered when planning a running course. In extreme cold, it’s wise to plan shorter loops to stay close to home in case injury requires you to walk back,” says Bove.
Embrace the treadmill
If conditions seem too dangerous (or it’s just too damn cold), ditch the outdoors and log a few miles on the treadmill instead. To stave off boredom, try out one of the interval programs that come with most machines.