Running in the winter is a feat that is to be respected. Layer incorrectly, and you flirt with the possibility of extreme overheating, or on the other end of the spectrum, a scary case of frostbite. Either occurrence can wreck the confidence you’ve cultivated as a runner, ruin your outdoor experience, and force you to limit yourself to treadmill workouts, with your Garmin failing to see the light of day until Spring. As someone who has finally made nice with Midwestern winters after twenty-seven years (Chicago upbringing notwithstanding), I understand your reticence, but I also want you to experience the joy of a winter run. Let’s cover a few basics….
The clothing rule of thumb, generally, is to dress for 20 degrees warmer than the weather you’ll actually encounter during your run. Of course, this rule of thumb is not nuanced enough to factor in windchills, freezing rain, and other elements
crazy acts of nature, so this requires a bit of trial and error. I’ve found that I’m usually warm enough to comfortably chase an endorphin high in 15-35 degrees Fahrenheit in a sports bra, long-sleeved, moisture/dry-wicking shirt, a shell jacket, compression pants/fitted leggings, sturdy running socks, ear warmers, and good gloves. After 35-40 degrees, I can lose the sleeves and swap out the shell jacket for a long-sleeved, hooded Henley. Of course, this changes in windy and/or wet conditions. You will quickly discover how to avoid over-dressing and under-dressing on the run with time and experience.
Some runners swear by Yaktrax and similar products when running on snow and ice-covered sidewalks. Personally, I don’t use these implements, and prefer to just slow down or run on the grass when the sidewalk doesn’t appear to be safe. In this respect, winter running can be very similar to trail-running as a novice – it requires watching your step and paying close attention to varying terrain.
Hardcore Training/Pace Improvement
Much like running in warm/hot weather, your body begins to make adaptations to running in the cold after a few weeks. You might find that you run slower than your typical pace during your first couple of runs, and then regain your normal training pace or better after those physical adaptations have occurred. As I’m not training for a particular race event or distance right now and using the winter as a time to work on strength and flexibility, I’ve given my average pace very little thought; instead, I’ve focused on effort. Did I get my heart rate up? Did I work up a sweat? Am I smiling at the guy who cut me off in traffic on the way home, because I’m on a blissed-out endorphin binge? Success!
Your first few weeks running in winter weather will feel strange and at times, uncomfortable. During my first few cold-weather runs, I craved the feeling of the sun on my skin and wearing just shorts and a tank top. Now, I embrace the the thin air and how easily I can see my breath – it’s surprisingly an invigorating experience.