Friday, January 5, 2018

Winter Running Gear & Tips

Winter running can be hard.  It's frigid outside, the days are short (plus we all know any given temperature feels colder in the dark!), and races are far and few between.  Then there are also the ice and snow factors!  I run outdoors as long as the roads are safe, no matter how cold it is.  In Missouri we rarely get below -10* for our lows, so it's nowhere as extreme as Northerners have it, but it's still quite cold!  I start nearly all of my weekday runs at 5:30 a.m., so I am usually running in the coldest part of the day.  It's rare I can tell you the forecasted highs, but I always know what overnight lows to expect for the upcoming week (this is the case year-round though)!
Just -1*/feels like -8*
My biggest reason for staying outdoors is because I enjoy it much more than treadmill running, but I also got injured from running on the treadmill at the beginning of 2016, so I have since completely refused to run on it.  This winter if it becomes unsafe to run outdoors I will either run on my YMCA's indoor 1/7 mile track or cross-train instead of risking the treadmill.  Thus far I've been outside every day, and since I only have a week until the Houston Marathon I feel like I've pretty much made it, since the worst weather we get should fall within my marathon recovery phase.
My best cold weather attire
Out of necessity, I've learned a thing or two about cold weather running gear.  All tights are not created equal!  Glove and mittens - also not equal!  I could go on, but you get the picture.

My top winter weather gear picks are pictured above.  I have no affiliation with any of these companies, but am just trying to help out fellow winter weather warriors.  They include:
  • Nike Fit Dry fleece-line turtleneck.  Truth be told, I've been wearing this every single day since it's been single digits or below zero out!  I've had it since 2009, so it's clearly also very durable, considering I do the same thing every cold winter as far as wearing it every day.  Nike doesn't make this top anymore or I would buy another!  It's warm enough by itself down to about 5-10*, and colder than that I add a jacket.
  • Mizuno Breath Thermo tights.  These are the only tights that keep my legs warm enough when it's under about 20*.  I am comfortable in them alone down to about -5*, and colder than that I'll add a pair of long underwear under them or tapered warm-up pants on top of them.
  • Newzill compression socks.  These are thicker than any other sock brand I own, and I don't even have to double layer with them.
  • Mittens:  I have a pair of little girls XL Champion brand ski mittens from Target that I found on clearance, and my hands often even get hot in them.  This is major because in any other mittens I have, my hands freeze when it's under 10* or so (gloves are far worse!), and painfully cold hands used to be my limiting factor on running outside in the stupid cold.  You can add single use hand-warmers to gloves/mittens, but with these I haven't needed those yet (tested down to -8*)!
  • Balaclava.  I have two really good ones, but I don't know where I got either of them or what brands they are....but cover your face!
  • Screw shoes (for snow). Put several screws into the soles of an old pair of running shoes, and you have traction! There are also shoes made for snow running that I'm sure are worth the investment if you live somewhere that gets a lot of snow that sticks around (here in Missouri it typically doesn't because our weather is so bipolar).
My other winter running tips are:
  1. Use single use hand warmers and foot warmers if your extremities get cold, especially on long runs.
  2. Get dressed with a space heater in your bathroom.  It's really hard to get out on the cold if you're already cold in your house!  You can also toss your running clothes in the dryer for 5 minutes before putting them on so they are nice and toasty.
  3. Warm up before you got out.  I do some planks, glute activation, and/or plyometrics indoors before going out into the cold.  I get to the point where I am too hot (but not yet sweating) in all of my winter gear so I'm dying to get out of my heated house. 
  4. Run into the wind first and come back with it behind you.  There is nothing worse than getting several miles out and being nice and sweaty, then turning back into the bitter wind.
  5. Even better than #4, if it's windy and this is possible, have someone drive you out the distance you plan to run, then run back with the wind behind you.  This makes a HUGE difference on very windy days, when the windchill may be 20* colder than the air temperature.
  6. Wear fabrics that keep you warm with your own body heat and sweat.  I find that I'm either drenched in sweat under my gear or too cold; there is no in between.  I have no problem being drenched in sweat as long as I'm not cold from it, and the gear shown above does the trick for me on that.
  7. Change out of your sweaty gear as soon as possible when you finish - it gets cold quick!  A warm drink right after running is a great way to re-hydrate and warm back up.
  8. Don't be afraid to move workouts around.  I hate this just as much as (or more than!) anyone else, but it's worth it to do your tempo a day early or a day late if the temperature difference is going to be 20*!  I ran a key tempo a day early last winter because it was around 30* in the morning, and the day the tempo was actually scheduled was going to be around 5*.  Although my legs weren't quite as recovered from my long run as they ideally would have been, I still have no doubt I performed much better than I would have at 5*!  Switching long runs back and forth between Saturday and Sunday is also a possibility I leave open if one day is going to be a lot warmer.  Here is Missouri we have extreme weather changes often, so I try to arrange my runs accordingly.
  9. Run at lunch from work if you can.  I can usually get in 4-5 miles pretty easily at lunch if I plan ahead, and more than that is a trick but can be done occasionally if I really plan ahead.  I know that not everyone has this flexibility, but if you do, take advantage of it to run in the sunlight and warmer temps.
  10. Split up mileage into two runs.  It's not ideal to do this all of the time, but occasionally if it's just too cold to be out for more than a half hour or so, run two 4 milers instead of one 8 miler, for example.  If you're okay with the treadmill you can also do part of your run outside and the rest on the treadmill; I recommend starting outside and finishing on the treadmill due to the sweat factor if you do this.
  11. Don't stress about pace.  I run my easy runs by feel and have noticed that when it's very cold they are 20-30 seconds/mile slower.  When it's extremely cold our bodies make adjustments, and we won't run as fast because of this...not to mention we are wearing 15 lbs of clothing!  This is really hard for me to accept, but it's just like running in heat/humidity in that we won't be as fast, but the effort and benefit is there.
  12. Accept that something is better than nothing.  This is also hard for me, but if, for example, you're scheduled for 10 miles and only run 5 due to it being too cold to stay out for longer, you did 5 miles more than 0!  Give yourself grace on your training this time of year.
    Excellent reminder from MPR Coaching in Instagram
  14. Finally, if all else fails, move south!  My husband and I definitely plan on retiring south.  But seriously, remember that in just 6 months we will be complaining about the heat and least I know I will!
What did I miss?  What cold weather running tips do you have to share?


  1. I have taken your idea of running on my lunch break and I love it! I have some quick shower wipes and an extra deodorant I keep at work. I am lucky that I have a very flexible job as well. It is also always hard for me to accept that my pace will be off in more extreme temperatures, but more so the cold than the heat. I have decided I am going to do the OKC marathon for my spring race, so my training will probably be peaking during the coldest month lol, ugh. Thanks for your tips and good luck at the Houston marathon :).

    1. I'm glad you get to take advantage of lunch break runs! They are so refreshing at this time of year not only because of the warmer temperatures but also to actually see the sunshine. :-) I look forward to hearing about your OKC training and of course about the race. Let me know if you have any more training questions - it was fun chatting with you about it. Also, I've felt the same way with having a more difficult time accepting pace changes in the cold - I think it's because in the Midwest we have more of the heat/humidity that slows us down in the summer than the sub-10 degree stuff, so we are just more used to the heat slow downs. My easy pace was slow last week, but today at 35 degrees it was back to "normal" which was reassuring! Hopefully we don't get anymore below zero days!