The Best Advice for Running in Cold Weather: A Guide for Runners

Sabrina Wieser running in the cold

Winter is here. And with the cold weather comes the hardest part of all: leaving the warm bed for those brisk morning runs. I gotta tell you, I already miss the summertime, but it will be here again before long. In the meantime, here is some of the best advice I can give on running in the cold.

CAN YOU GET SICK FROM RUNNING IN THE COLD? 

I meet a lot of people who are worried about getting sick from running in the cold. They are afraid of getting pneumonia or damaging their lungs when running in cold temperatures. It totally makes sense though, right? The air can feel harsh, you can get headaches, your lungs can start to burn, and it doesn’t seem crazy to assume that you could at least get a cold as a result.

These common concerns make sense, but running in the cold – when done safely – actually does not have negative side effects on your immune system or health. A particular study on immune system stimulation in the cold shows that lower temperatures do have a temporarily suppressive impact on the immune system, but this is for only as long as participants were cold enough to start shivering. 

Is it bad to run in the cold?

In other words, the cold weather should not deter you from running or getting your miles in. Obviously, if the weather is extreme or icy, you will want to avoid running because of slick spots that can lead to injury. But if you are worried about damaging your lungs, getting sick, or other bodily harm, don’t be! 

My words of advice for staying warm enough to not overly tax the immune system and for comfort’s sake: bundle up in layers! Obviously, you don’t want to wear a giant, bulky coat that will make you overheat, but depending on the forecast in your region, dress smartly. I like to wear a scarf, mittens, and dress in layers that I can remove and tie around my waist as needed. Read below for more tips on what to wear when running in cold weather. 

WHAT TO WEAR WHEN RUNNING IN COLD WEATHER

Layers – layers – layers. Start your run warm and comfy and take off a layer or two. When you’re warmed up, tie them around your waist. Easy as that! I always wear the warmest layer on the bottom so that once I start taking things off I’m still dressed warm enough at the end.

One thing I can assure you is that the temperatures on the weather forecast won’t feel the same when you’re moving. When you dress for running in cold weather keep in mind that once you start running, your body heats up fast.

But it’s also the other way around, once you finish your workout you will cool down much quicker than in the summer. Getting out of the wet clothes as fast as you can is crucial. Bring a change of clothes and put them on once you finished your run.

COLD WEATHER RUNNING GEAR

The right cold-weather running gear is extremely important in the winter. Layer up with at least 3 layers, I wear a scarf, gloves and a hat. Cover your ears, hands, and ankles. Also, make sure that you run with the wind in your face on the way out and wind at your back the second half of the route (if that’s possible).

If you run with the wind at your back the first half of a run, you’ll get hot and sweaty, and when you turn around, the wind will get very cold. 

Here are some suggestions for basic winter running gear. 

BREATHING TIPS IN COLD WEATHER

It can be difficult to adjust to cold weather running just because breathing can be such a pain. But breathing is such an important facet of the running that practicing proper technique can really make your experience positive and can have carryover for marathon running. In fact, Wim Hof, the world record holder for long-distance running in extremely cold temperatures, has shown the power of proper breathing through his Wim Hof method. Just through practice and sheer mental toughness, Hof has learned to regulate the temperature of his body. 

Do you need to go as extreme as Wim Hof? Obviously not, and more than likely you’d get hypothermia, but the basic principle applies: your body is resilient and will adjust to the cold without damaging your lungs or causing harm. All it takes is some practice and conditioning and you will be running and breathing normally in cold weather in no time. No sweat at all!

THE BENEFITS OF RUNNING IN THE COLD

There are many benefits of running in the cold: gathering mental and physical toughness is one, but there are many more. Sadly, there is no definitive proof that you will burn extra calories in the cold, but here is a list of things you can gain from running in brisk temperatures.

  • Running in the cold, especially in the winter, is key for fighting off mood disorders and for promoting wellbeing.
  • You will keep your training consistent and will be race-ready all year long. This is important for those who are looking to qualify for marathons (like the 2020 NYC Marathon). 
  • It is actually easier to run in the cold because you expend less energy than during the hot and humid times of year.
  • Just like running on the beach, running through the snow can become an added strength-building challenge to your routine. Be safe though! Practice caution and don’t slip. 

HYDRATION DURING THE WINTER

I tend to drink a lot no matter how cold or hot it is anyways, but for some of us it’s different: It may be cold and dry outside, and you might not think that you’re sweating, but you could be losing just as much fluid in the winter as you do in the summer. So make sure to hydrate just as good like it’s 80 degrees outside. 

TEMPERATURES BELOW ZERO

Here in New York, we can get super cold winters where temperatures dip below freezing, be sure and pay attention to local weather information and warnings. Have an eye on the winds and on the “feels like” temperature to determine what to wear. 

Sometimes it’s best to hit the gym instead of running outside because cold temperatures and dry air can aggravate some health conditions. Also, as stated before, if the roads are icy or covered in slow, it can be riskier than it’s worth to run on slick surfaces. Doing an indoor workout can be an alternative for extreme weather days.

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