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Cold Weather Running

The arrival of November has brought cooler temperatures and shorter days. It was 31 degrees here in Charlotte this morning and dark by 5:30 p.m. This presents some challenges for running. Gone are the days of throwing on shorts and a tank and hitting the road. The time has arrived to break out cold weather workout gear and acclimate our bodies to the brisk temperatures.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve read quite a few Tweets, Facebook posts and blog updates about dislike of running in the dark cold. True, it’s not the most fun thing to do but it is necessary if you’re training for a spring race or just wanting to maintain your regular running routine.

I think there are two key elements to surviving cold weather running: attitude and gear. With the right attitude and proper gear, you may even find a love those cold runs!

ATTITUDE

  • The first few cold weather runs of the season are the hardest. It’s very similar to the struggle we go through every summer with humidity. You have to acclimate your body to the colder temperatures. It will get easier! The burning feeling in your lungs will subside and the ache in your ears will pass. Be extra careful to cover hands, head and mouth if necessary when you’re first starting out with cold weather running.
  • You will always be colder than you want to be the first 5-10 minutes of your run. Resist the temptation to overdress. I usually follow the guideline of dressing like it’s 15-20 degrees warmer than it is. Check out this cool application on RunnersWorld.com where you input conditions and it tells you what to wear. I’ve used this as a guide since college. And if you have to overdress because you just can’t stand it – layer and shed them as you get warm.
  • Try to avoid negative thoughts about the cold and think about how lucky you are to be running outside and not on the “dreadmill.” 😉
  • Suffer with a friend. Doesn’t that always make it easier? This is also essential if you are running in the dark.
  • How cold is too cold? I think that’s personal choice. What’s cold for some may be perfect conditions for others. Luckily, our temperatures usually don’t drop below the teens so I run outside all year. I really believe that barring negative temperatures and snowstorms, that it’s possible to continue running outside through the winter if you’re dressed appropriately. That said, I know I have some readers in VERY cold parts of the country. I’m sure you run through conditions I can’t imagine!

GEAR

Here are some of my cold weather running must haves.

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The first thing I reach for when the temperatures drop is my vest. I find that if I keep my core warm, I can continue running in shorts and a t-shirt for quite a while. My go-to vest is Columbia’s Benton Springs Vest. No frills but reasonably priced and great quality.

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Keeping your hands warm is important to keep heat from escaping the body. I love these Lululemon W’s Brisk Run Gloves. They have all kinds of fun features like storage pockets, a slit on the thumbs that allows you to play with your iPod or phone and a slit at wrist to allow you to see your Garmin or watch.

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The head is another place where we lose a lot of heat. This Nike Dri-fit Lightweight Running Skull Cap is the perfect hat for keeping your head and ears covered. It even features an opening for ponytails in the back so you don’t have to smush your hair against your neck (which I find really uncomfortable when I’m running).

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When it’s time to add a warmer layer, I usually reach for a fitted half zip. I find them extremely comfortable to run in and they regulate my body temperature well. Also, if I want to cover my neck, I can zip it all the way up. I like this Nike Women’s Chamois Half-Zip and it even features built-in hand mitts!

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And when it’s really cold, I break out the running tights. I try to hold out in shorts as long as I can but usually when temperatures dip under 40 degrees, I switch to tights. These Under Amour ColdGear Fitted Leggings feature special ColdGear technology that “wicks moisture from the skin and circulates body heat, keeping athletes warm, without weighing them down.”

Last but not least…

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The reflective vest! No, you’re not going to make a fashion statement in one of these but they are necessary if you’re running in the dark. Please wear reflective clothing – protect yourself! I wear this Nathan vest.

Questions? Feedback? How do you survive cold weather running?

{ 25 comments… add one }
  • 1
    Rebecca November 8, 2010, 11:10 pm

    Thankfully where I live in Australia, it doesn’t get too cold, thankfully it doesn’t snow. I normally in winter do a warm up inside for about 10 minutes and then go outside, with a vest, 3/4 pants and T Shirt, I find I heat up pretty quickly and I prefer that cold feeling, I find it refreshing.
    Does it snow where you live?

    • 2
      Jen November 9, 2010, 9:00 am

      Rebecca – GREAT suggestion about warming up inside for a few minutes before heading out. Snow is a major event here. We usually get a “dusting” a couple of times each winter. I don’t think I could live somewhere where it snowed all the time!

  • 3
    S @ extremebalance.net/blog November 8, 2010, 11:48 pm

    I live in Northern BC, and I run all year around—I also XC ski in the winter. And while I’d NEVER run beyond -20 C, I’ve skied at -36, for love of the game!! The keys for me were layering Icebreaker (http://www.icebreaker.com/site/index.html)–2 layers on the bottom, 1 on top with a cashmere layer, and a shell (probably could have done with a bit more…), MEGA wool socks,and a balaclava. I’m asthmatic, so there’s absolutely NO question about not having my mouth and nose covered for good. It’s not always pleasant, but if you don’t join winter, it beats you. Oh—also necessary for my winter running: cramp-ons!

  • 4
    S @ extremebalance.net/blog November 8, 2010, 11:50 pm

    oopsie on the link and text joining, I meant to say Icebreaker: http://www.icebreaker.com/site/index.html

    and I wear 2 layers on the bottom + shell pants, and 1 on top + cashmere + shell. Crazy Canuck or what, eh? 🙂

  • 5
    Alaina @ Jogging Concierge November 9, 2010, 12:18 am

    Thank you so much for the tips! I’m usually so detered from running outside because of the weather. And it being dark out.

    On my last cold run (probably low 40s) I wore a pair of Patagonia leggings, long sleeve wicking shirt and windbreaker, along with hat and gloves. I may have to invest in a vest! 🙂

  • 6
    Lauren @ Lauren Runs November 9, 2010, 6:08 am

    Such a great overview and also cool calculator from Runner’s World! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that tool before on their site. I’m running with a “Winter Warriors” training group, so I’ll make sure to share this with them!

    In Chicago I’ve already run in 40 weather w/ high winds, and that calculator was pretty accurate. I’m more or less OK with the running “cool” at the beginning, although what I found this weekend is that it’s hard to plan for races! You check your warmer gear, and then are waiting around sometimes 15+ minutes before you even begin the run! I may have to go back to the “trashbag” or “giveaway clothes” concept that I used with my marathon a few years ago… I didn’t think I’d need to for starting a 15K, but it was 30 degrees at the start! By the finish though, I had taken off my vest unzipped my half-zip.

  • 7
    Maggie November 9, 2010, 7:08 am

    I actually really love running in the cold, I prefer it to the summer and even the spring. I’m in NYC so it gets really chilly here.

    I think gloves over a shirt with thumb-holes is the best. Keeps your arms warm! Also, if you’re near outlets check them out. I got that same Nike half-zip you have above for $30 last winter and I just bought a great Under Armor wind-breaker-like jacket on-sale from $75 to $25!

    • 8
      Jen November 9, 2010, 8:55 am

      Great tip on the outlets. I rarely pay full-price for workout clothes. I can usually always find things on sale somewhere!

  • 9
    Cyndi @ Weightless Life November 9, 2010, 7:41 am

    I think attitude is a huge part of running in the cold weather. I like to tell myself that if I want to stay warm I’ll just have to run faster.

  • 10
    Erin November 9, 2010, 9:41 am

    This post is so helpful. I’m just starting out, and I’m worried the cold weather will deter me as a beginning runner. Knowing how other runners make it work reminds me that I can’t use weather as an excuse. I appreciate the tips!

  • 11
    Tanya November 9, 2010, 9:59 am

    Such a great post – since I just started running in Sept. I have NO winter gear and I keep procrastinating but this was a great reminder that I need to get on it!

  • 12
    Claire November 9, 2010, 10:29 am

    Awesome thorough post on cold weather running 🙂 This came at the perfect time for me 🙂

  • 13
    iEatDC November 9, 2010, 11:17 am

    Lululemon gloves, Under Armour and Reebok assorted earwarmer headbands, and my lights. I have a headlamp that I can take the LED light off and attach to my SPIbelt or leave on my head, and also a flashy light i sometimes put on my back (pants, shirt, back of belt), like I’m a bike. Dark means CAREFUL NOT TO TRIP. Eventually, when it’s really cold, I’ll do a wicking layer and a fleece layer. I like that my fleece layers nearly all have zippered pockets for my phone and keys.

  • 14
    Brittney November 9, 2010, 1:02 pm

    Great post! I need more winter running stuff and these are great ideas! Thanks Jen!

  • 15
    Michelle (The Runner's Plate) November 9, 2010, 2:44 pm

    This is just what I needed! I just posted last night about how much I hate running in the winter–even though I’ve done it thousands of times before, but I always hate the first few weeks of it because it is such a shock. The coldest weather I’ve run in was in -40* F during college one time. Now that was cold!!

    • 16
      Jen November 9, 2010, 3:03 pm

      Oh my gosh Michelle, you are tough! I would draw the line if temperatures dropped below freezing. I can’t even imagine what -40 would feel like.

  • 17
    Yin November 9, 2010, 3:26 pm

    Thank you for this post! I’ve been trying to know how to prepare for runs in the winter since it’s my first time running in this weather. Bookmarking this post 🙂

  • 18
    Bonnie November 9, 2010, 4:54 pm

    Hi Jen! I’m a new-ish reader and love your blog. 🙂 I myself did a post on winter running a few weeks ago but mainly stuck to the clothing department…I think your notes on attitude are super key! It’s gets pretty cold in Calgary where I live and often I switch to backcountry skiing to keep my cardio up (slash b/c I love it!), but I’m more determined this year to embrace winter running. Great to read some other thoughts on it; can’t wait to try the Runner’s World calculator out – it’s a new tool to me!

  • 19
    Becky November 9, 2010, 7:41 pm

    I actually don’t mind cold weather running. It makes me feel kind of hardcore 😉

    I rely on a hat, gloves, lightweight vest, and running tights. I just bought my reflective vest last weekend. Since we get plenty of snow up here, I’ve also gotten used to some treadmill runs and don’t mind them every once in awhile. Snow and ice can be dangerous for running.

    My biggest thing for winter running is remembering to stay hydrated. Even when it’s cold, our bodies need water. Sometimes I don’t drink enough on cold days and I really notice the difference.

  • 20
    Ashley November 10, 2010, 8:19 pm

    http://www.amazon.com/Vedante-Reflective-Pop-Bands-Sustainable/dp/B001KG5AB2/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

    these look cool!! I wonder if they work?!? I have been leaving work right at 5 and running from there, so that I can get my runs in before dark. I usually get back right when it starting to get dark. Just enough light still out. I can’t bring myself to wear a vest – is that bad!? I never run at “night night” usually just around dusk before it gets too dark.

    I love these tips though. I will be doing a significant amount of marathon training in the cold!

  • 21
    Catherine November 10, 2010, 11:19 pm

    Love this post! Thanks for the tips… I think attitude will be the first improvement for my cold weather runs! It helps to see how you (and so many others!) get through the winter months!

    • 22
      Jen November 11, 2010, 11:13 am

      Your tweet the other day inspired me to write it! So thank you! Let me know if you ever want to run together. We’re so close and it’s better to have a partner when you’re running in the dark. I’m always up for a run!

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