Welcome to the Fitness Fire Storyteller series! We’ve asked some of our favorite fitness and running bloggers to share their experiences with us. Today’s story comes from Ken of “Ken Stands on Things.” Ken’s passion for running was spurred in 2016 when he lost 45 pounds. He has since added running to his fitness journey and enjoys the therapeutic elements of running and racing. He’s here to give us some tips on running in cold weather—so gather 'round the Fitness Fire and enjoy!
It’s that time of the year—when the morning air becomes crisp, when the leaves all fall, and winter is at your front door waiting to present your cheeks with a stinging cold kiss. It’s also the time of year when the mornings are darker, motivation tends to run out, and the thought outdoor running just makes you want to just stay inside.
MIND OVER MATTER
Love it or hate it, cold-weather running requires a little bit of extra prep work, both mentally and physically.
Let’s talk about your mental game. Everyone has their own methods to psych themselves up for cold weather running. Whether it’s the reward of a hot drink or sweet indulgence afterward, or maybe the promise of a nice hot shower, there is no denying that cold-weather running takes effort. Now, I could dive deep into mental preparedness, but for the sake of keeping things relatively short, I’m going to keep it simple.
Let’s just cover the basics. The first step to making sure you’re mentally prepared is knowing that it’s not just you who procrastinates. Humans tend to be on the lazier side; it’s just in our genetic makeup. Our “lizard brain” likes to conserve energy and makes hard tasks (like cold-weather running) that much harder by creating an internal conflict. The lizard brain will make you question your routine (especially in the mornings): Why expend the energy if it’s not necessary? This warm bed is so safe and inviting, why not just wait until later?
Point being: You need to defeat the lizard! If there is a long, drawn-out process involved in your cold-weather running routine, chances are it’s not going to stick. Do yourself a favor and keep things simple to make getting out the door a little easier.
QUICK TIP: Morning running tends to take a backseat for me in the winter months, but when I have to hit those miles in the early morning, I have found sleeping in my running clothes the night before put things in motion. If I’m in my running clothes when I wake up, I'm already one step closer to hitting the street!
Also, think of other innovative (yet simple) ways to get yourself out of bed. Try setting your alarm clock across the room, so when it goes off you HAVE to get up! Maybe you need extra motivation, try telling your significant other about your plans and ask for their assistance to keep you accountable. If you live alone, get your running friends on board and make plans to meet up. Having someone in your ear first thing in the morning can help you get up and get moving!
Along those same lines, making a commitment to others helps you stay the course. Being held accountable can be a strong influence because many of us are more concerned about letting others down than ourselves. So, make sure you share your goals and make plans to get out there and run with your friends.
Like I mentioned earlier, we could go on and on about the mental games, and maybe that’s a future post, but let’s move on and get to the physical aspect of cold-weather running, more specifically: gear.
LET'S GET PHYSICAL
Running in cold weather calls for mental grit to combat the frost, as well as a demand for physical barriers to protect your body from turning into an ice cube. A good rule of thumb that was passed down to me is to dress comfortably for the outside weather as if it were 20° warmer.
So, on a 50°F weather day, dress as if you were going outside on a 70°F day. For me, this equates to running shorts, a short-sleeved tech shirt with a light windbreaker, or a long-sleeved tech shirt. Your mileage may vary, but any time it dips below 60°F out, I know I’m wearing gloves. It’s also helpful to pile on the light layers. Lightweight layers can be easily shed (and carried) to help cool you down if you run too hot. Light layers are a great way to manage and regulate your body temperature during a cold-weather run.
COLD-WEATHER RUNNING GEAR
This seems a little obvious, but a good pair of wool socks are a good choice when hitting the cold outdoors. If you're not a fan of wool, most athletic running socks that cover your ankles are a good choice.
Some running shoe brands have GORE-TEX (GTX) models with added waterproofing and extra insulation to combat the wet and cold, but I have always just worn my trusty, go-to “normal” running shoes. Double up on the socks if that’s your jam, but I feel a weird relief when my feet get wet in the slush and snow on those long runs.
QUICK TIP: If there is frequently snow and/or ice on the ground when you run, don't be afraid to invest in some sort of traction device you can easily put on over your shoes. I have two different pairs of traction devices; one pair has minimal studs that work great in the ice and light snow (similar to the Yaktrax Run ) and the other pair has pretty aggressive spikes to help in deeper snow and icier conditions (like the Yaktrax Summit Boa).
HOW TO LAYER FOR COLD-WEATHER RUNS
For my base layer, I always start off with running shorts. Depending on the temperatures (and wind), I might cover up my legs with running tights—again focusing on lightweight materials that I can shed if I get too hot. On wicked-cold days I may run in jogging sweatpants, but I've found I tend to operate on the hotter side of the spectrum and the sweatpants are usually a little too warm for me.
For my running shirt, I always wear either a short-sleeved or long-sleeved tech shirt as a base layer. It all depends on how cold and windy it is outside. If it’s going to be windy on my run, long sleeves are a must. After the base layer shirt, I add on an active-wear sweater or sweatshirt (for cold days where I’m looking for extra warmth) or a light windbreaker or light jacket (for cold, windy days where I need a shield from the wind). Again, if you focus on light layering techniques, you can never really “overdress” for the occasion.
One thing that can be a game-changer for cold-weather running is a packable jacket. Lightweight and often weather-resistant, these jackets fold up into a neat little pouch for easy carrying as you finish your run.
Headgear for me is pretty basic: It’s either a hat or beanie. I usually always wear a technical trucker hat year-round. In the colder months, I’d recommend using a moisture-wicking cover-up such as a neck gator. These are designed to help block the elements from your neck and face and are pretty versatile in the sense that they can be worn around your neck, as headgear, or as a sweatband. I like to combine the neck gator and technical trucker or beanie on cold days to keep my head warm and relatively sweat-free.
Lastly, hand coverage is important to me. Any time the temperature drops below 60°F, gloves are a must. There are plenty of options out there from well-insulated mittens to sleek gloves with "tech-friendly" fingers.