Running

Baby It’s Cold Outside: How to keep running when the mercury drops

Tips for running in the cold + what to wear running when it’s cold outside

I grew up in Utah, and while not the coldest state in the country, I’ve definitely experienced some very chilly days. And contrary to what my family thinks ;), North Carolina does get cold. We don’t get in the single digits very often here like they do, but the cold here is bitter…I think it must have something to do with the humidity. It feels like a damp cold that cuts to your bone…I swear 30 degrees here feelers MUCH colder than 30 degrees in Utah.

tips for running in the cold

I’ve been running for over 15 years, in Utah, in NC, and while traveling for work and play which means I’ve dealt with all kinds of weather, including freezing temps and multiple feet of snow in my days (oh heavens I’m getting old…I just wrote “in my days”…). Here’s some tips to keep running through the cold months.

Tips for Running in the Cold

1. LAYER LAYER LAYER: Wear multiple tops and multiple bottoms. As you warm up you can shed layers if necessary. Layers help keep you warmer than one heavy piece of clothing and also help with wicking sweat. (Until you figure out what layering options work best for you, I suggest running in loops near your house so you can ditch layers at home if necessary, assuming you don’t want to carry your excess.)

How ‘bout some examples:

If it’s in the 30s in North Carolina, it tends to feel colder than the 30s in Utah because NC is a wet cold and UT is a dry cold.  In a dry cold in the 30s, I’ll probably wear shorts (mayyyybe tights) and a long sleeve shirt + gloves. In NC, I’d wear tights, a long-sleeve shirt, a light jacket or maybe a vest, gloves and maybe a beanie. Oftentimes I end up taking gloves off, but I like to go out with them since I have Raynaud’s and my fingers get cold easily!

Another example – I ran a race at 11:30 PM on New Year’s Eve in 2007. It was 11 degrees. This is what I sported: Thick beanie, scarf, two long-sleeved tops + running jacket + heavy gloves + running tights + track pants + two pairs of socks.

Looking for my recommended cold weather gear? Go here!

what to wear running

By the time I finished, I couldn’t even smile for pictures. My face was numb!New Year's Eve Race in Utah

This is a good guideline from Runnersworld.com for dressing for cold weather running.

What to wear running when it’s cold

  • 30 degrees: 2 tops, 1 bottom. Long-sleeve base layer and a vest keep your core warm. Tights or maybe shorts if you prefer to be cooler.
  • 10 to 20 degrees: 2 tops, 2 bottoms. A jacket over your base layer, and wind pants over the tights.
  • 0 to 10 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms. Two tops (fleece for the cold-prone) and a jacket. Windbrief for the fellas.
  • Minus 10 to 0 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms, extra pair of mittens, 1 scarf wrapped around mouth or a balaclava.
  • Minus 20 degrees: 3 tops, 3 bottoms, 2 extra pairs of mittens, 1 balaclava, sunglasses. Or, stay inside.

2. AVOID COTTON: Cotton absorbs sweat and holds onto it. What happens with cotton holds onto all the sweat? You end up in soaking wet, heavy clothes and your body temp drops mid-run. Bad bad bad.

Instead, opt for wicking material. TJ Maxx and Target both sell affordable technical tops and so does Fabletics. Read the labels if you aren’t sure to make sure it says something to the effect of helping to pull sweat from your body and evaporate. Note: all my layers from #1 are technical tops.

3. INVEST IN A GOOD RUNNING JACKET. I spent $100 on the red jacket in the above pictures. Worth.every.penny. It’s fleece lined but still breathable to help sweat escape. It’s always my outer layer and it freaking rocks. I’ve had it for over 10 years and it’s still going strong. Aside from running, I wear it all.the.time; it’s my go-to weekend/travel jacket. Here are a couple similar ones to mine: Salomon Active Softshell Jacket, Mizuno Unite Jacket, Nike Shield Jacket (this is a bit lighter weight than mine). Lululemon also has awesome cold weather layers and jackets.

4. KEEP YOUR HANDS AND HEAD WARM. While you need to ensure your feet are warm enough (there are great wool running socks available), I always notice (and am miserable) if my hands or ears are cold. When in doubt, put on gloves and a beanie. If you do get too hot, you can take off your gloves/beanie and tuck them into your waistband or just carry them without being too annoyed.

Ridge to Bridge Marathon North Carolina

When I run in really cold temperatures, I wear heavier gloves. If it’s around 30 degrees or warmer, I’m usually fine with some cheapo gloves. I buy a bunch of gloves at the dollar store and use them during the colder months. (They are also great to have for race days when you are freezing at the starting line but warm up during the race. They were cheap so just ditch them at a water station.)

My earband and beanie are fleece. Fleece is cheap and pulls moisture away relatively well. If you’re running in really cold temps, you should probably spend money on a good, technical material beanie.

5. WARM UP ON A TREADMILL. If it’s really cold, sometimes I’ll go to the gym to run on the treadmill for the first mile, then layer up and head out for the rest of my run.

6.  REMOVE YOUR WORKOUT CLOTHES IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOUR RUN. Your clothes will still get sweaty, even if it’s technical gear, and you don’t want to stay in wet clothing as your body temperatures starts to come down after your run. Helloooo beginning stages of hypothermia. Trust me – I know from experience.

7. RUN WITH A FRIEND. Running in the cold can be miserable. Having good company makes it much more enjoyable. And they’ll get you out there when you really don’t want to.

8. DON’T BE STUPID. If road conditions aren’t good (e.g. after a storm or when ice has formed), be very wary of cars, especially around curves or when coming to a stop. Even if plows have cleared the roads, be aware of how much space you’ll have (or not have) on the road; piled snow makes the lanes much narrower and will probably cover up any shoulder of the road that you usually run on. You may need to change your usual route to take the roads less driven to avoid playing chicken on coveted asphalt space. And if it’s simply too cold, too icy, too dangerous, run on a treadmill, take a cycle class, or enjoy a cup hot chocolate on the couch.

9. OTHER TIPS/NOTES:

  • There’s not as much daylight, so be sure to wear reflective gear (this is my favorite) if you are running in the dark, dawn or dusk.
  • If your schedule allows, run in the middle of the day when there is more warmth. Lunch break runs are great during the winter months.
  • Don’t expect to run your best. You might be slower. It might feel harder. Cold temps can do that. But you get a gold star just for being out there.
  • Don’t forget to drink. You might not feel thirsty, but you still need to hydrate before and after running. And hydrate during the run if you’re out there for 60+ minutes.
  • Know your body. If you just don’t feel right, call it a day and head inside. Shivering, dizziness, sudden anger/hostility…don’t try to be unnecessarily hardcore and try to push through it. It could be hypothermia.
  • I LOVE the tool from Runner’s World called “What Should I Wear?” You enter in your weather conditions and it will tell you what to wear. Brilliant!

Stay warm, be safe, and have fun!

Do you try to run outside in the winter or do you stick to the treadmill?

What’s your best tip for running in cold temperatures?

Do you call it a beanie or toboggan? Most people in NC say the latter – I was so confused when I first moved here. ha!

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  • Matt
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    Great tips! I will suck it up if it’s cold, but if it’s cold and wet, I retreat to the treadmill!

  • Jess @atasteofconfidence
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    I don’t mind running when its in the 30’s, but once it drops below freezing, I’m a wuss! Thanks for the tips!

  • Lauren
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    I don’t mind running in the cold (cause it’s cold in VT A LOT) because I hate the treadmill. I won’t run if it’s freezing rain or heavy snow though, too wet = too cold. I wear a fleece headband and gloves to stay warm.

    • Teri
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      Yeah, if you’re wet, it’s just miserable. I like a warm rain, but a wet snow or cold rain is no fun!

  • dana @ my little celebration
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    Great tips! I like to run as well but tend to get off track in the winter months. So thanks for the inspiration!

  • Karlee
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    I tend to be a pansy when the temps get below freezing and head to the treadmill. You’d think I’d be used to it since it’s winter for a good 6 mos here, but I’m not 🙂 I’ll keep those tips in mind though if I ever man up!

  • BroccoliHut
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    I saw you post that RW link on Twitter earlier, and it is now on my favorites list! SO useful!

  • April
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    Timely post. I am running in the Mistletoe (5k though, not ready for a half marathon yet, not ready to commit to training) this Saturday too and have seriously been wondering for 2 days now about my clothing strategy. Good luck in the half, I’ll keep my eyes open for you and will cheer you on if I see you!

    • Teri
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      I wish I saw you on Saturday!! You work downtown, right? Wanna meet up for coffee sometime this week? Shoot me an email if so: [email protected]

  • Heather (Heather's Dish)
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    i’m a fan of the “don’t be stupid” tip 🙂 so true! just be careful and don’t push yourself past your ability (in a bad way)

  • Ashley
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    Awesome awesome post girl!! This is such a great topic and you’ve come up with a super helpful list. I like running when it’s cold and I’m sure you remember from Utah, that if the sun is out, it makes such a difference. A good warm-up is also pushups or crunches or both! 🙂

    • Teri
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      Your so right – the sun helps a LOT. Good idea for push-ups or crunches!

  • sassy molassy
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    i usually run outside when it’s crappy. I think that long pants (to keep the muscles warm and not pulled) and gloves and a hat are soooo key! I’m just relearning how to dress this winter for my runs. Great tips.

  • Lauren
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    Ah, I HATE running in the cold. Many call me crazy, but I would rather run in the HEAT over the cold any day!

  • faith @ gracefulfitness
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    I just took care of #4 yesterday at Old Navy by buying a fleece hat and gloves. Now I am geared up for winter running! My threshold right now is about freezing but I think I will push it down a few degrees this winter and be just fine, as long as I layer up!

  • Katie Heddleston
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    This was so great and came in perfect timing for me — yesterday my friend and I set out for a very cold run… there was TONS of black ice everywhere and we had to call it quits earlier than we wished.

    • Teri
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      there is no dealing with black ice. glad you played it safe!

  • Pure2raw Twins
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    Great tips, now that I am trying to train of a half marathon I need to do a better job of wearing proper clothes outside now that it is cold 😉

    ~Lori

    • Teri
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      what half are you doing??

  • sarahsouth
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    GREAT TIPS! I will remember to run with you more often 🙂 see you at the half tomorrow!

  • Heather @ Side of Sneakers
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    I LOVE running when it’s cold out. Actually, I prefer it. I hate getting all hot and sweaty haha. I love wearing running tights under another pair of pants that are more wind resistant- that way you’re ankles don’t get cold with air sneaking in 😉

  • Kathryn Hutchison
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    I am definitely a treadmill woman when it gets cold outside! In Austin, where I live, it doesn’t even get very cold, but I can not hang when it does.

    P.S. Your hat in the picture above is adorable, by the way.

    • Teri
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      thanks! I bought it in Switzerland when I didn’t pack appropriately for my trip. 🙂

  • Nichole
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    Adore this post! I love the specific degree breakdown.

    Really great tips!!! I learned a few things myself.

    I can’t believe you ran NYE. I was probably already 3 sheets but your 3rd mile, haa. Impressed!

    • Teri
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      wow, that’s saying something if YOU learned something from the post. You are a running pro! Thanks girl!

  • Clare @ Fitting It All In
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    Thanks for this! I’ve been super wimpy lately about running outside since it’s so cold. I definitely need to get some winter socks…my toes are always numb!

  • Courtney F
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    I am a weeny running outside. I would rather run on the “dreadmill” than run in the cold. Where did you get your “go-to” red fleece jacket??

    • Teri
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      I bought the jacket at an outdoor company in Park City, UT. The brand is Salomon. You can buy it online. They have great jackets – lots of different types.

  • Jessica
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    If the temps dip below 25 I like to move my runs inside. I used to be more hardcore with winter running till I was out one cold morning and my eyelashes kept freezing together and couldn’t feel my fingers, toes or nose!

  • Liz @ IHeartVegetables
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    This is SO perfect!!!! I was nervous about it being cold for my first 5k tomorrow and I was trying to decide what to wear! I think I’m going to go get some real running clothes so I don’t wear cotton!! Thanks for the great tips 🙂

    • Teri
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      I hope your 5K went well!!

      You will be amazed how much real running clothes will make a difference over cotton, even for indoor workouts!

  • [email protected] Texas Gunslinger
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    Great post, Teri! I’m not a runner…not in the slightest…but, honestly, really *WANT* to be a runner. I *WANT* to love to run and be able to just hop on a treadmill or go outside and take off for 4-5 miles. I’m definitely not there yet (in fact, I only do a 10-minute run as a warm-up before strength training and count down the clock as it is, DOH!), but am making it my goal to at least *try* to run more and hopefully I’ll start to like it. I think the first step is getting new music because that pumps me up…

    Anyway, that wasn’t really related to your post about running in the COLD, but I definitely run on a treadmill, especially now that it is snowing outside! Oh, and cool beans on the Runner’s World “What Should I Wear?” tool. Neat!

    • Teri
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      haha! Well, if we lived by each other, I could make you run and you could make me strength train 🙂

  • Becca @ Peace, Love & Bagels
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    thank you thank you!! It’s getting cold in Cleveland very very quickly and my motivation is waning, but I’m planning on training through the winter for a spring marathon. Thank you so much for the extra punch of motivation!

    • Teri
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      Training in the winter for a marathon is tough, but you can do it!!

  • tamara beckett
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    I used the “what should I wear?” app just this morning as it was 30 degrees in S. Georgia(!!) I didn’t have any of my throw-away gloves from last winter when I lived in Salisbury, NC so my hands were Fuh-reeeezing!!! I alternated running with my hands in my pocket! Went to Wally-World on my lunch break and picked up a bunch of cheap gloves( 2 for $1.40 in cute pink/purple/white stripes!)

    But I’ll take it after 6 months of running 80-90+ and 100% humidity weather!

    My best cold weather running story was in NC where I was carrying water in my pack but didn’t realize it was leaking and for about a mile felt this stinging pain in my butt that I thought was from the previous days workout but later found out it was freezing water!

    • Teri
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      hahahahahaha! That is hilarious about the freezing water on your butt!!!

  • Yin
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    Thank you for this post! And the Runner’s World “What Should I Wear?” link — extremely helpful 🙂

    I haven’t been running due to shin splints and have been going on the elliptical. Just the other day, I thought that going on it for at least 10 minutes wouldn’t make me not want to go outside and run. I’m glad someone else thinks the same way! 😀

    • Teri
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      🙂

    • Nikki
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      Ugh I hate shin splints! Lost count of how many times I used to get them!

      My advice is to anyone is to keep doing stretches, also work on strengthening your hip, back and core muscles as this improves running form and posture, a lacrosse ball is a great cheap alternative to a foam roller. I used to suffer pretty bad from them but I’ve been pain free for as long as I can remember now, I bought a pretty good e-book on it actually and it helped me a lot, I think it was this one, http://howtostopshinsplints.com/stop-shin-splints-forever-review/ , I was skeptical at first but it worked for me.

      Anyway hope this helps and good luck!?

  • Gwen~healthymamma
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    Ouch, that looks cold. I live in Phoenix so the weather is fantastic all winter, it’s running/hikink in the summer that’s tricky!
    I’ve been getting splitting headaches lately when I run. Any suggetions?
    Also, I need to keep reading through your blog, but what running shoes do you recomend?

    • Teri
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      That is so weird about the headaches. I’ve never heard of that. My only suggestion is making sure you are drinking plenty of water… but you might want to give your doctor a call.

      I don’t recommend a certain brand since everyone’s feet and stride are different, but in the past I’ve loved Mizunos, Asics and Brooks. Go to a local running store and they can get you a shoe that fits you best.

  • Heather
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    I kept thinking you were telling people to eat baklava and that you were kidding. And then my brain turned on and I ACTUALLY read what you said.

    I still think baklava would be helpful, though.

  • Caree @ Fit-Mama
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    Great tips!!! I am trying to run more and thats great advice as its getting colder. I doubt I will have to dress in too many layers as it doesn’t get too cold here in TX. I did notice how uncomfortable I was last weekend when I ran and my ears were freezing!

    • Teri
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      cold ears are the worst!

  • Melissa
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    Great tips! I love winter running! Dressing in layers I really think is key. 30 degrees really isn’t that cold once you get moving, and a lot of people may be inclined to overdress. I also think its a great idea, especially if you live the colder climates, to invest in good cold weather running gear. I got a lightweight underarmour hoodie for Christmas 4 years ago and its still in great shape. The technical clothing is usually lighter and you don’t feel weighed down. Happy Running!

    • Teri
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      such a good point to not overdress! That can make it ever worse! And you’re right – 30 degrees isn’t that cold once you get going.

  • Lee
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    Good advice. I am a wimp about the cold and generally do my runs on the treadmill. However, I have run a few winter races and I always seem to overdress and get hot!

    • Teri
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      Yeah, overdressing can definitely be a problem. I always use that Runners World tool to check my outfit when I’m running a race.

  • Kelly Olexa
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    GREAT post!! I so needed to read this as a newbie runner just starting to also run OUTSIDE IN CHICAGO!! YAYAYAYA! ;-0

    • Teri
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      Oh man Kelly. GOOD LUCK in Chicago. It’s FREEZING there!

  • kel
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    These tips are awesome! I live in MN and really dread being stuck inside on the treadmill. I have a minimum temp of 5 degrees in order to run outside. My balaclava is my best friend!

    • Teri
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      5 degrees?!?!? Wow…you are hardcore. 🙂

  • Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table
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    I was searching for some tips and found this post. Great ideas – thank you! I now feel like a wuss since I’m in the South where it barely gets below 30 and you were running a race in 11 degree temps. 🙂

    • Teri
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      yay! I’m so glad you found this helpful. And I’m totally a wussy in the cold now. I moved to NC two years ago and complain whenever it’s below 40 degrees now! 🙂

  • rebecca
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    great tips for runners and fun to connect with another Winston blogger Rebecca

    • Teri
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      I know! I’ve been trying to find other Winston food bloggers! Finally found one! 🙂

  • Bekah @ runtrackmind
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    As a New Englander not running in the cold is just an option for me. I actually enjoy temps of 30-20, but anything lower than that can get a bit rough. Love the tips! I try to watch for not just the temp but wind chill too when trying to figure out the best outfit. Stay warm. 😉

    • Teri
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      oh yes, wind chill is so important too! Good point!

  • Andrea @ The Skinny Chronicles
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    Thanks for the tips! Now I just need to clear my emotional block against cold weather and get out there.

    • Teri
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      I find that drinking a cup of hot tea helps me get out the door when I really don’t want to go out in the cold. You can do it!

  • Katie @ microwavin maven
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    Great post! I hate the treadmill but do not really know what to do when running in the cold and dark of winter, so I usually retreat to other gym options. Gonna take these tips and try to run outside!!

  • Katie @ microwavin maven
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    Great post! I hate the treadmill but do not really know what to if I feel like running in the cold and dark of winter bi usually just retreat to other gym options gonna take these tips and try to run outside!!

  • RLR
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    Great tips! I’m a new runner (since September) just building up my wardrobe of running/technical gear – this is a great reference for me to figure out what to invest in and where I can save a few dollars.

  • Dani
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    Regarding your comment about how the cold in NC feels colder than it actually is.. I completely agree! It’s so funny you say that because I was JUST texting my mom about this today. I am from Minnesota (so cold! and my whole family is still there) and I live in SC now. It’s 36 where I am right now and it honestly felt bone chilling cold. I told my mom that it feels single digits out!

    I am sure you’ve mentioned this on your blog before, but what brought you from Utah to NC?

  • Amy
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    Oh my goodness, you are the best! I think you meant ‘toque’ instead of ‘toboggan.’ ?