You wake up, crawl out of bed, open the front door, and whew! A blast of icy cold air slaps you in the face. You had planned on running today, that’s why you’re up early, but now you’re not so sure. Can you go running even if the weather is cold?
Yes, you can run in cold weather, ideally if the ground is clear (no ice or snow). Make sure you wear layers, but not too many, as your body will begin warming up when you sweat. At that point, having excess layers on can make you overheat.
This article will be chock full of useful information that will help you decide when to run in the cold. We’ll talk about how wintertime running can be beneficial, how to stay safe, and what to wear. Whether you’re new to running or you would only run in the winter sporadically, you’re certainly going to want to keep reading!
Can You Go Running in Cold Weather?
The fun thing about running–besides that it’s free–is that you can do it anytime. It’s not always safe to run; does that include running during the winter too? In most instances, it does not. Many runners do not stop just because the weather is cold, which means you don’t have to either. Although stepping out into single-digit weather with freezing wind chills can be daunting, you’ll only feel it for so long.
That’s because as you exert yourself, your body warms up. You’ll start sweating, and before you know it, you’ll forget that it’s the middle of January and you’re out for a run. This isn’t like taking a polar bear plunge, so why not lace up your running shoes and give cold-weather running a try?
The Benefits of Running in Cold Weather
Okay, you made it to your favorite running route and brrr, it is freezing. You definitely deserve some kudos for reaching this point. As you run, make sure you keep the following benefits in mind, as you’ll get to enjoy them each time you brave the cold and run.
Changes Your Running Routine
Many runners can fall into a rut. They run at the same times of day, on the same days, and at the same places. The sheer repetition of it all can sap the joy out of running, as it begins to get boring. What’s even worse is that at this point, your muscles aren’t even benefitting. When you do the same sort of exercise all the time, your muscles can hit a plateau.
Running in the winter can make everything seem new again. Perhaps you’re inspired by your spirited attitude and you decide to take the left fork instead of the right fork on your usual path. You could even deviate from that path entirely. The renewed sense of vigor you’ll experience will remind you what you love about running. Your muscles will also appreciate the new challenge and respond favorably.
Fewer People Around
It’s the worst when you go to your favorite park on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon but the place is packed to the gills. You barely have a straight-ahead route to run without bumping into people. It’s a bit claustrophobic. After that, you decide not to run during peak hours, as it’s too crazy for you.
Peak hours will once again reenter your calendar in the wintertime. Only the most dedicated runners and athletes will be at the park or outdoors for prolonged periods in the cold. Even on a Saturday afternoon, you can be the king or queen of the park, as you’ll be unlikely to bump into large throngs of people during this time of year!
Might Reduce the Effects of SAD
Seasonal affective disorder or SAD is a seasonally-induced depression. Between the shorter days, the colder temperatures, and the lack of sunshine, the grayness of winter often makes SAD more pronounced. If you have SAD, you might experience symptoms such as:
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or hopelessness
- Concentration problems
- Mood changes
- Weight and appetite changes
- Sleeping issues
- Low energy
- No interest in activities and hobbies
- Long-term depression
- Suicidal thoughts and ideation
Like all depression, SAD is quite serious. Although running can never replace the guidance of a therapist, doctor, or mental health professional, some studies do posit that running and other physical activity might be able to help abate SAD symptoms.
The data comes from a 2014 article from UCL in the United Kingdom, which wrote about a JAMA Psychiatry study from around the same time. The study had a huge sample size of 11,135 participants. All participants were born in 1958 and were part of the study until their 50th birthdays.
The participants who exercised regularly warded off SAD the most effectively. By adding more exercise to their weekly routines, the participants reduced their depression rate by six percent per activity.
Could Increase Calorie Burning
Among the most beneficial reasons to run in the cold is for the calorie-burning perks. Everyone has brown adipose tissue, which is also known as brown fat. The number of mitochondria in brown fat is greater than that in white fat. This means that brown fat can act as an insulator, which is why it only kicks in when you get cold.
Where does brown fat get the energy to shield you from the effects of the cold? By burning calories, of course.
As babies, you’re born with the largest quantities of brown fat you’ll ever have in your life. Even then, it’s believed to only comprise about five percent of a baby’s total body mass. Although at one point, experts said that adults had no brown fat, fortunately, that’s not true. We don’t have as much as we did in infancy, but it’s there. Running in the cold will activate the brown tissue so you torch more calories during your runs!
The Hazards of Running in Cold Weather
As much as we would recommend running in cold weather, you have to be aware of these safety risks as well. Use the information in this section to make an informed decision about the days and times you go running.
When running in the winter, some people make the mistake of thinking they have to wear their heaviest winter coat, their bulkiest winter gloves, a scarf, and a nice knit hat. While yes, you will feel protected from the chill when you first leave your house, it goes back to what we said before. As you begin exerting yourself, you’ll sweat.
Your body temperature increases, but the warmth can be released, so it stays trapped within the layers. Your clothes begin to feel like a prison. If you take your gloves or winter coat off, what are you going to do with them, hold them? You can’t tie a winter coat around your waist; it’s too bulky. So you keep wearing everything until you overheat.
If you’re overheating, you might have muscle cramps and dizziness. Your blood pressure can quickly drop and your pulse will feel weak. You might also get colder as the sweat begins to cool on your body. The best thing you can do when overheating is to stop running, get home, and take your layers off. Drink some water to rehydrate what you lost in sweat and then take it easy for the rest of the day.
Slips and Falls
By now, everyone has seen the video of the Portland runner who says it’s a beautiful type of snow for running while she’s live on the news and then slips and falls. (If you by chance haven’t seen the video, check it out here.) Yes, it’s a funny clip, but it also proves just how easily you can lose your footing in the snow.
No snow is good for running. If you try to run in the snow, you could end up in a situation like the female runner above. Sure, she seemed unscathed, but slips and falls can lead to bruises, fractures, and broken bones.
Potential Lung Damage
That burning feeling your lungs experience when you run in the winter is not something you should ignore. According to this University of Alberta article from 2020, “high-intensity” wintertime running and other cold-weather activities can hurt the lungs, sometimes permanently.
In very cold temperatures, the lungs cannot humidify what air they receive, drying out the lung airways. Will this happen if you do one cold-weather run? No, but if you run outdoors often enough in very, very cold temps, then permanent lung damage is a possibility you must be aware of.
Tips for Running in the Cold
You’ve weighed the pros and cons and you’ve decided that you’d like to go running in the cold. Before you do, make sure you check out this section full of tips for a fun, safe run!
Layer up, But Not Too Much
We’ve talked throughout this article about how wearing too much winter gear can cause overheating, but that doesn’t mean you want to run in a t-shirt and shorts. There’s a careful balance in dressing yourself for wintertime running.
First, start with a base layer up top. This layer should be thin, and–above all–moisture-wicking. Avoid cotton materials for the base layer, as they hold sweat, which will cool on your body. Polyester is a much better material.
If the temperatures are going to be around 10 degrees Fahrenheit during your run, then put another layer over your base layer. This will insulate you, so choose a thicker material such as fleece. Again, the second layer must be moisture-wicking.
The second/third layer should be waterproof and windproof, such as a jacket. You’ll need gloves as well, but not thick, chunky knit mittens. Instead, buy lightweight, flexible, moisture-wicking gloves. Up top, you can wear a balaclava, neck gaiter, bandana, and/or a thermal hat made of wool or fleece.
For the lower half of your body, a single layer will do. You can wear running leggings if you want, even in the wintertime, or you can try thicker pants. Only in temperatures of 10 degrees and under should you consider doubling your layers. Make sure the base layer wicks away moisture!
Start with Short Distances
Runners tend to agree that running in the winter is a lot more difficult than in warmer climes, partly because of the wind (which we’ll talk about shortly) and also since the temperatures are just so frigid. Between the shock to your body and the burning feeling in your lungs, wintertime running can feel like starting from scratch.
Your stamina and endurance might not be what they usually are, so it’s better not to push yourself too much. Start with a short run, maybe a quarter-mile. Taking baby steps might not feel like much, but you’re still making progress, and that’s the important part.
Reconsider Running When There’s Snow or Ice on the Ground
As we said before, there is no perfect running snow. All snow is slick and slippery. It only takes one step and your feet are up in the air and you’re landing on your back with the wind knocked out of you. Hard, compacted snow isn’t as slippery, but it’s certainly a tripping hazard, so that’s not worth traversing either.
Ice can be even more dangerous, especially black ice, which is hard to see. If it’s so cold that there’s snow and ice on the ground, we’d strongly advise you to reconsider your run or at least wait until someone’s shoveled or plowed.
Run in the Daylight
When scheduling your cold-weather run, make sure you have daylight on your side. In the dark, it’s far easier to get disoriented. You also can’t see around you, which is a safety risk from so many standpoints. If someone with ill intent is nearby, you can completely miss them until it’s too late. You also wouldn’t notice that pothole or dip in the road, leading to possibly severe injuries. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, the nighttime winter temps can be unbearable to be out in.
Keep the Wind Behind You as You End Your Run
The wind is your biggest enemy in cold-weather running. You’re already grimacing in the freezing cold, and the wind only makes things colder. That’s why this next piece of advice we’re going to share may sound counterintuitive, but you want to start by running into the wind. Wait, what?
This early on in your run, you’re not sweating, so the cold blast of air won’t make your body temperature cooler. After about 10 minutes, when you’ve really begun working up a good sweat, you want to redirect yourself so the wind is at your back. Then continue that way through the end of your run.
Consider Upgrading Your Running Shoes
Your current running shoes might not be made to contend with the cold, hard, slushy ground, so don’t run in them during this time of year. If you don’t already own a pair, consider buying trail running shoes. This style of running shoe increases your traction so you can handle winter slush without losing your grip. The shoes also boast more waterproof protection than your average pair of running shoes.
Do a Pre-Run Stretch or Even a Small Workout
You’d prefer not to feel the cold down to your bones, so why not start your run while you’re already a little warm? Before you hit the trail, stretch your entire body. You can also do a brief workout before you begin running, but make sure you don’t exert yourself to the point where you have nothing left to put into your run!
Have Something Fun Waiting at the Finish Line
Running in the cold is not easy, and few people enjoy it. It’s just something that runners do. That’s why our last tip is this. Make sure that you reward yourself for a job well done. Decide what your reward will be before you start running so you can keep it in mind during the tough stretches of your run!
If you’re ready for a chilly challenge, you can certainly run in cold weather. You might accelerate your calorie-burning, and you can change up your tired running routine for the better too. Just make sure you run in the daylight, dress in moisture-wicking layers, and limit running in snow and ice. Good luck!
Let’s face it, we’re all quite attached to our phones, quite literally. You don’t want to miss a friend’s text message, a family member’s social media post, or that important work email when you’re out running, but you’re just not sure of an efficient way to carry your phone. What are your options?
You’ve recently decided to take up running. You love the freedom you feel when you’ve hit your stride, not to mention how fit running is making you. It’s your goal to participate in a race sooner than later, and you’ve already started preparing. A running buddy of yours suggested you buy some running socks as part of your training, but you’re not so sure. Are running socks worth it?
If you’re planning to eat before you run, you want to schedule your mealtime at least two hours ahead of lacing up your shoes. You also want to stick within a range of 300 and 400 calories. Which foods will fuel you up before you run versus weighing you down?