It’s been scientifically proven: Running in cold temperatures is hard. A 2014 study published in the International Journal of Environmental & Science Education confirmed that motor skill function and muscle efficiency decrease in cold weather. Other studies have shown that our hearts need to work harder in cold weather to circulate blood.
All that said, running outdoors in the winter is still good for you. In fact, it’s great. Breathing fresh, albeit cold, air and exposing yourself to sunlight (and the Vitamin D that comes with it) can help ward off seasonal affective disorder. Exercising outside has proven mental health benefits overall. And let’s face it, we could all use a boost during the dark and sometimes gloomy days of winter.
Winter running, however, doesn’t come without its challenges. To arm yourself with the right mindset, gear, and strategies, follow these tips.
1. Celebrate Your Toughness
Getting out and running on potentially challenging surfaces can boost your confidence. Gearing up (see Tips 2 and 3) and braving the cold will leave you feeling like you can tackle anything. This sense of self-reliance carries over into any race plans you may have throughout your year, but also applies to everyday life challenges. If you have spring or early summer races on your calendar, envisioning your race and embracing a mindset of toughness will be critical for getting you out the door. If you lack motivation most winters, put a spring race on your calendar.
2. Layer Up
Being comfortable during winter runs is all about dressing strategically. A breathable base layer close to your body will help with heat regulation, while wearing a midlayer or outer shell, depending on the weather conditions, will add extra protection needed. Sweat-wicking tights (thin, fleece-lined, or windblocking) that suit the weather will also keep you comfortable, as will wearing longer-cut socks that bridge the gap between your shoes and running bottoms. Cover extremities with gloves and a beanie (or a winter running hat) to best deal with colder temperatures. And to keep feet warm in cold conditions, consider wearing waterproof running shoes. Shoes with uppers made of Gore-Tex or other weatherproof liners keep moisture out and warmth in.
3. See and be Seen
Due to winter’s shorter days, you might find yourself running in dark or low-light conditions either on occasion, or all the time. Arm yourself with a good headlamp, handheld light or waist- or chest-mounted light to illuminate your path ahead. That light will also help cars see you, but you should add to your visibility by wearing clothing, shoes and accessories with reflective details—and/or dressing in high-visibility colors. (Stay away from wearing all dark colors with no reflectivity!)