Running in the Cold

Cold Weather Running (September 2013)

Falling temperatures and fewer daylight hours do not mean that your outdoor running routine has to go into hibernation for the winter. Running through the cold weather can help shake those winter blues, improve your energy level, and guarantee that you will be in better shape once swimsuit season rolls around. Follow these tips for cold weather running:

On cold days, you’ll lose a reported 40% of your heat from your head, so it is important to keep it covered. You also want to protect your skin from the cold and wind, and also prevent frostbite and chapping. To keep your head and neck warm you will need a thermal hat, a fleece or wool hat is perfect for keeping your head warm during winter runs. You can easily tuck it into your leggings if you feel like you are starting to overheat.

Chapstick/Vaseline: Protect your lips from chapping with some Chapstick or Vaseline. You can also use the Vaseline on your nose and cheeks (or anywhere else on your face) to prevent windburn and chapping.

Dress in layers

The key to winter running dressing, especially with your upper body, is layering. Not only do layers trap body heat, they allow sweat to move through the layers of clothing. The moisture is wicked away from your first layer to your outer layers, and then evaporates. Here are some suggestions on how layers for your upper body:

Wicking Base Layer: The layer closest to your body should be made from a synthetic wicking material, such as DryFit, Thinsulate, Thermax, CoolMax, polypropolene, or silk. This will wick the sweat away from your body, keeping you dry and warm. It is very important to make sure you do not wear cotton for this layer because once it gets wet, you will stay wet. When it’s above 40 degrees F, you can usually wear just a long-sleeve base layer.

Insulating Layer: Your second or middle layer, which is needed for very cold weather (below 10 degrees Fahrenheit), should be an insulating material, such as fleece. This layer must continue wicking moisture away from the skin. It should have the perfect balance of trapping some air to keep your warm, yet release enough vapor or heat to avoid overheating. Some fabrics suggested for your second layer: Akwatek, Dryline, Polartec, polyester fleece, Microfleece, Thermafleece and Thermax.

Wind- and Water-proof Outer Layer: This layer should protect you against wind and moisture (rain, sleet, snow), but at the same time allow both heat and moisture to escape to prevent both overheating and chilling. It is a good idea to wear a jacket with a zipper for this layer, so that you can regulate your temperature by zipping it up and down. Suggested outer layers: ClimaFit, Gore-Tex, Microsuplex, nylon, Supplex, and Windstopper. If it’s between 10 and 40 degrees F, you can usually get away with a wicking base layer and an outer layer.

Gloves/Mittens: You can lose as much as 30% of your body heat through your extremities, so it is important to cover those hands. On cold days, wear gloves that wick away moisture (i.e. cotton). When it is extremely cold, mittens are a better choice because your fingers will share their body heat.

Lower Body: Tights/Running Pants: Your legs generate a lot of heat so you do not need as many layers on your lower body. You can usually wear just a pair of tights or running pants made of synthetic material such as Thermion, Thinsulate, Thermax, Coolmax, polypropolene, and/or silk. If it’s below 10 degrees F (temperature or wind chill), you may want to consider two layers on your lower body: a wicking layer of tights or a wind-proof layer such as track pants.

Shoes: Your feet also stay pretty warm, as long as you keep them moving and dry. Try to avoid puddles, slush, and snow. Look for a running shoe with as little mesh as possible, since that is where the water will seep through to your feet.

Socks: Never wear cotton socks (in cold or warm weather) when running because they will not wick away the moisture, leaving your feet wet and prone to blisters. Instead, be sure to wear a good pair of wicking socks made of fabrics such as acrylic, CoolMax, or wool (in the winter).

Further reading:

Cold weather running tips (link)

Running with a cold / feeling unwell (link)

If you have any condition which could or would impair or limit your ability to engage in physical activity, please consult a doctor before attempting running.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment.