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.
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!
By the time I finished, I couldn’t even smile for pictures. My face was numb!
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.
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!