Tips For Running In the Cold


One of my goals was to run outdoors this winter and so far, it’s a success. I run 3 times a week with temperatures between -10C and 5C (-14F to +23F for our American friends). This can go to -15C or lower with the wind factor.

Why Run? If you missed it, read why you should consider running regularly.

It’s not crazy as it sounds! Yes winter in Canada is cold, dark, and dirty. But running outdoors is less depressive than being confined in a living room or exercising in a crammed gym. Here are my top tips to make winter running suck less:

Tip #1 : Head cover

If you have a warm head cover, it’s 50% done. The reason is simple: half of the body heat escape through the head. Without a hat or equivalent, you will be miserable. And you will also hate me for encouraging you to run outdoors. And we don’t want that, don’t we?

In my case, I have a cap as well as an Under Armour Balaclava. The fancy name is ColdGear Infrared Hood but it’s a good old balaclava. When it’s less than -10C, I also put on my jacket’s hood. Note: any winter hat is totally ok.

The rest is less important. If you have more money to spend, get a running jacket (I have a MEC Nitro Thermal) and leggings, and you’re good to go. But you don’t need exotic gear, and especially not special winter shoes. I run with general purpose trainer shoes and there’s no reason to get another pair.


Tip #2 : Run fast

The second most important tip is making sure you run fast. The slower you run, the less heat your body will produce, which means slowly freezing in cold weather.

This means as soon as you get out, run fast. Don’t wait around or stretch. Just run. Don’t slow down or stop. If there are snow banks ahead, I don’t slow down, I just jump. If there is a red light, I don’t wait for traffic, I just cross the road on the other side (which is green).

Tip #3 : Don’t have high hopes – you will be disappointed!

Winter is not the right season to break personal running records. I have tried this, by experimenting with more coffee, meditation or focus. Even if you feel like running faster, physics law means you will have less traction. Your legs and feet will not be able to transfer the full force to the ground. You will also lose traction in turns. Finally, trees are leafless during the winter and the extra wind will slow you down.

In my experience, I find you will generally be 10 to 25% slower than during high season, no matter how hard you try.

Instead of having a performance goal, enjoy your workout. I like meditative running, and breathing fresh air. Others listen to music, or use the time to be with friends. It can also be an opportunity to run outdoors, in the local park.

Tip #4 : Plan your course

Since you have to run fast, and can’t stop, it is important to find a track with a distance you are comfortable to run fast.

Garmin Connect has an online course planner that will show the distance. So does Suunto and most other GPS sports watch maker.

I choose a course that ends just near a bus station, a metro stop, or outside home, depending on the day. If you design a course that’s too long, it will mean generally you will have to walk to go home and slowly freeze.

Tip #5 for snowy sidewalk: Run on the Road

This depends where you live. If sidewalks are snow and ice-free, then run on sidewalks.

In Canada, there are frequent snowstorms. This means they can be a hazard for runners. Deep snow is terrible for speed, while a layer of dark ice can hide below the snow.

If the city hasn’t cleaned up the streets, I generally choose tracks that have bike tracks and run on the bike track. This is OK for small to medium streets, with low speed limits, and with reflective gear. Since I run fast, I outrun cars or have ample time to keep right.

Last Tip: Enjoy!

If you feel miserable, always get cold after a run, then there’s no reason to continue running outdoors.

Others will be happy in a gym or swimming, and that’s totally ok. I run because I feel good, I feel less bloated, alive, and also forget my stress. It’s a great time to reset the internal clock and be young, hungry and scrappy again, like a little child. Hope you feel the same way too !

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