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10 Strategies to Make Your Winter Runs More Enjoyable

Don’t let the chilly temps get to you. Here, the tips you need to run in the cold without feeling miserable.

winter run
Rudy MalmquistGetty Images

One of the most difficult parts of a winter run: when the frigid temps and snowy weather pop up a mere 24 hours after a warm, sunny, 60-degree day. And then that less-than-ideal running weather sticks around for what feels like way. too. long.

But winter running has its joys, from the beauty of a white-filled landscape to the peacefulness of having roads and routes to yourself. And with the right gear and mindset, you can not only continue training as usual, but you can even crush harder workouts.

So, instead of skipping your run and heading inside to the cozy comforts of home—or even turning to the treadmill—use these 10 tips from cold weather pros to make the best of each winter run.

1. Run Toward a Reward

Luring yourself out the door with the promise of a reward at the end—whether it be a catch-up with a friend or brunch—works well to get you motivated to move. “Set a date to meet someone for a run,” says Jean M., a Runner’s World reader in Colorado. “There’s no wimping out when someone is waiting.”

Usually in January and February, the Running Room in Edmonton, Alberta, hosts the Hypothermic Half Marathon, which attracts 3,500 runners in 14 cities across Canada—even at temps as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. “There’s a big, free brunch afterward,” says John Stanton, the founder. “People will do anything for omelets and pancakes.”

Doing a winter run solo? “Tell yourself that you can go back inside after five minutes if it’s really bad,” says Patti Finke, author of Marathoning - Start to Finish. “Usually, you stay out there.”

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2. Wear the Right Shoes

To keep warmth in and slush out, run in shoes that have the least amount of mesh. If you have shoes with Gore-Tex uppers, all the better, says Mark Grandonico, former president of the Maine Track Club in Portland. Wear socks that wick away wetness but keep your feet warm. One of our favorites: the non-itchy SmartWool socks.

3. Dress Like It’s Warmer

You want to be warm without sweating so much you get a chill. “The rule of thumb is to dress as if it is 10 to 20 degrees warmer [than it is],” says Grandonico. “You should be slightly cool when you start.”

Think: layers of technical fabrics to wick sweat with zippers at the neck and underarm area to vent air as you heat up. The more you run outdoors, the more you’ll learn your own preferences. You can use our handy What to Wear tool to help you decide what to slip into, depending on the temperature outside.

4. Stay Safe With More Lights

With limited daylight, chances are you’ll be running in the dark, plus snowbanks on plowed streets make you even harder to see. To stay safe, wear reflective, fluorescent gear, and don’t be shy about wearing some lights so people can see you from afar. Adam Feerst, a coach and trail race director in Denver, recommends using a headlamp or carrying a flashlight—not only will this help you see where you’re going, but then other people can see you.

5. Warm Up Prerun

Move around inside enough to get the blood flowing without breaking a sweat. Run up and down your stairs, use a jump rope, or do a few yoga sun salutations.

“The cold doesn’t feel so cold when you’re warm,” adds Laura Salmon of Akron, Ohio. If you’re meeting a group of running buddies, don’t stand around in the cold chatting before you run. “We sit in our cars,” says Feerst, “waiting for one person to get out before we all get out.”

6. Outsmart the Wind

Start your winter run by heading into the wind and finish with it at your back, so the breeze doesn’t blast you after you’ve broken a sweat. To avoid a long, biting slog, try breaking it up: Run into the wind for about 10 minutes, turn around to run with the wind at your back for five minutes, and repeat. You can seek out man-made wind shields, too.

Keep in mind: Exposed skin is especially vulnerable to chilly gusts. If wind’s in the forecast, consider slathering up with BodyGlide, Vaseline, or opting for a full face mask while you’re out there checking off miles.

7. Be Flexible With Pace and Mileage

“Winter running is more about maintenance miles than speed workouts,” says Feerst. In very cold weather, look for “inversions,” places that are elevated and where the air will be warmer. “Even 300 feet up, the air can be 20 degrees warmer, which makes a big difference,” says Steve Bainbridge, former trails liaison for the Fairbanks, Alaska-based Running Club North, the northernmost running club in the United States.

Bainbridge’s coldest run took place in minus 50-degree weather. “My eyelashes were freezing together,” he says. If you can’t run in the middle of the day when the temperatures are warmest, run twice a day, says Stanton, three miles in the morning and three miles in the evening: “That’s better than doing one long six-mile run where you might get very cold toward the end.”

8. Change Quickly Postrun

Your core body temperature drops as soon as you stop running. To avoid a lingering case of the chills, change your clothes—head to toe—as soon as you can. Women need to get out of damp sports bras quickly. Put a warm, dry beenie over wet hair. And drink something hot—a steamy beverage is great, but a hearty soup does double duty by refueling your protein, carbs, and sodium stores while also warming you up.

“We go to a coffee shop after our runs and use the bathroom to change,” says Grandonico. “Then we all relax with coffee and bagels.”

Driving to a run? Bring a thermos of green tea or hot chocolate in your car to savor afterward.

9. Run Well in Rain

Runners in Mobile, Alabama, one of the wettest cities in the United States are always prepared for rain. “In my car, at all times, I have a spare pair of sneakers, a running outfit, and three beach towels,” says Allyson Lamey, a member of the Port City Pacers club.

“When it’s raining, I slip my feet into plastic baggies, then put on my running shoes,” says Darryl Dalcerri of Lompoc, California. “The baggies keep my feet dry even when I run through puddles.”

If you have to dry shoes overnight, crumple up newspaper and cram it tightly into your shoes, with the insoles removed. The newspaper soaks up the moisture.

10. Race Someplace Warm

Having a winter race to aim for is great for keeping you motivated to train through the fall and straight through winter. Even better motivation? Knowing race day will be free from snow and ice. Southern summers can be brutal for runners, but during the winter, temperatures are moderate enough to go after a personal record—which is part of the reason Florida offers many marathons in the colder months.

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