Happy Winter! This past week was a busy one with the Christmas holidays, and it was easy to miss that the Winter Solstice slipped right by. The Winter Solstice marks the first day of Winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s also the shortest day of the year. From here on out, each day will get a little bit longer and a little bit lighter. Every year I think Winter is not so bad through the end of December. Then once Christmas and New Year’s passes and we’re staring down a few more months of dark mornings and dreary days, it can start to feel a little… deflating. But there really is so much to enjoy about Winter running!
A fun fact about me: I used to absolutely loathe Winter and cold weather. And then I chose to go to college in Central Pennsylvania, moved to Michigan, and now I live in New England. So it’s safe to say I know a thing or two about cold-weather running! In that time, though, I’ve really come to embrace and even appreciate Winter. Really, it’s a mental shift. Winter brings inconveniences – like snow, ice, and cold temperatures – which will force you to slow down at times and occasionally adjust your training plans. But if you know that going in and can keep an open mind, you can enjoy some of the special parts of this season… like quiet, peaceful miles when no one else is out, getting to lay the first set of tracks in fresh snow, not finishing every run drenched in sweat, and not struggling to breathe in high heat and humidity.
Another fun fact about me: I’ll run outside in almost anything. (Lots of ice is where I draw the line, though!) I’ve done a handful of runs in -10 to -12º F, and I think that’s the coldest I’ve ever made it.
My Winter running tips:
- Getting out the door in the Winter takes a little more time and planning, but it’s worth it to do it right. If you’re running in the dark, make sure you can see the ground in front of you and are highly visible to cars and others at all times. It’s worth it to run safely. If it’s cold out, make sure you’re warmed up and properly layered. Keeping your muscles warm and healthy are worth it, and can prevent injuries down the road.
- Good gear helps. The saying ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear’ is not entirely wrong. If you can invest in a few pieces of really good, quality gear, it will make Winter running SO much more pleasant and enjoyable. Look for warm, but sweat-wicking technical fabrics; mittens instead of gloves; mid-calf socks instead of crew length; and YakTrax for your shoes if you’re running on any snow and/or ice.
- If you’re comfortable in the first mile, you’re overdressed. When dressing for cold temperatures, remember that you’re going to warm up (a lot) as you go. Generally speaking, if you’re a little chilly for the first mile, that means you’re dressed perfectly and won’t overheat later in the run. If you’re perfectly comfortable and content in the first mile, you’re going to be overheated and uncomfortable later in the run.
- Embrace the opportunity to get mentally tougher! Winter running builds toughness, and that’s something all of us can enjoy and appreciate come Spring and Summer races. You may have to adjust expectations and paces depending on the temperature and if there’s any snow on the ground – but forcing yourself to get out the door in sub-freezing temps can feel immensely satisfying when you’re done and make you realize you’re a lot tougher than you thought. I’m a big fan of training in all conditions, because you never know what race day might bring and you always want to be prepared.
- The treadmill is a great training tool. For times when it’s not possible (or smart) to run outside… the treadmill is a great tool. You don’t have to be tough all the time – so if you do have treadmill access, don’t be afraid to use it. Even if it’s possible to do easy runs outside, it might not be possible to do quality sessions or go after faster paces. And even if it is possible, sometimes you need a mental break from sub-freezing temps days upon days upon end. A treadmill run here and there can help break things up and make Winter running feel a lot more managable.
- Winter can be a great time to embrace cross training and/or strength training. If you’re not training for an early Spring race, Winter is likely a base-building time for you, anyway. If you live in an area that gets really tough Winters, OR if running through Winter just feels really miserable for you, it can be a great time to work on getting stronger indoors, or by replacing some of your miles with other forms of aerobic cross training.
My favorite Winter running gear:
If you’re looking to brave the elements this Winter, here is a comprehensive list of everything I love.
- A great base layer: For a formfitting base layer, I love the Lululemon Swiftly Tech Long Sleeve and the Oiselle Flyte Long Sleeve. For a looser-fitting base layer, the Outdoor Voices All Day Long Sleeve (one of my favorite 2020 purchases – it’s made of the dreamiest fabric!) and the Lululemon Swiftly Breathe Long Sleeve. These pieces all work great on their own for 30º+ weather, or as a layering piece in colder temps. In colder weather, you might want a warmer base layer. For that, I love the Oiselle Flyout Wool Long Sleeve and the Lululemon Runderful Long Sleeve.
- Cozy mid-weight layers: The Saucony Women’s Sunday Funnel Neck and the New Balance Heat Grid Hoodie are two great layers to have in your arsenal. Wear these when you want something more than just a base layer, but aren’t quite ready for a puffy jacket.
- An all-conditions outer shell jacket: The Oiselle Say Anything Jacket gets rave reviews for being able to withstand miserable cold, rainy weather – great for those living in areas like the Pacific Northwest! This also works as a great outer shell layer for windy runs.
- Warm jacket: The Lululemon Down for It All Jacket is hands down the best jacket for very cold Winter running. It’s an investment piece, but worth it if you regularly see sub-20º temps.
- The best running tight: There are so many things I love about the Lululemon Fast and Free Tight – mainly its perfect compression, and the amazing side pockets! I wear these in all conditions, and any temps above 25º or so.
- Fleece-lined tights for under 25º: The Athleta Rainier Tight and Athleta Altitude Tight in Polartec Power Stretch are amazing for when regular tights just won’t cut it.
- Windbreaker pants for really cold days: For running in under 10-15º, I recommend layering with a windbreaker pant overtop of your tights. CRAFT ADV Essence Wind Pants are a great one.
- Mid-calf socks: We want to keep all the tendons and ligaments in the feet warm in order to keep them healthy. Smartwool makes my favorite socks for Winter running. And in really cold temps, I wear these.
- Warm headbands and buffs for keeping your neck and face warm: The Smartwool Merino 250 Neck Gaiter is amazingly soft and comfy. I’ve also heard great things about SKIDA brand, and I’m dying to get my hands on their Alpine Headbands and Alpine Neckwarmers. Their prints are so cute. A baclava is a must-have for truly cold temps – I wear them for anything under 10 degrees or so. I like the Smartwool Merino Sport Fleece Hinged Baclava, and the Northface Underballa Baclava.
- Yaktrax for running on snow and ice: Yaktrax are a device made out of little metal coils that you stretch over the bottom of your running shoes. They grip the ground underneath you when running on snow and ice – and they help you to stay on your feet. Living in New England, I’ve used these every single year since I’ve gotten them, and I can’t imagine my life without them now. They give you so much peace of mind.
- Extra thick gloves and mittens: A few favorites – the Oiselle A.T. Mittens, the Oiselle Super Puff Mittens, and the CRAFT Core Insulate Split Finger Glove. Mittens are a huge game changer and will keep your hands so much warmer than gloves!
- Hand warmers: I have Reynauds and get poor circulation to my hands when it’s cold out. They’ll turn blue and go numb after particularly cold runs. Shoving a pair of HotHands Hand Warmers into my mittens was a trick I learned in college and makes a huge difference for me. I buy them in bulk on Amazon in prep for Winter running!
- Reflective gear: I swear by my Noxgear Tracer 360 Vest for dark runs. It’s super bright and makes sure you can be seen from both the front and the back. It’s also insanely lightweight, and once you get it tightened to your correct size, you’ll barely notice it while running.
- A good headlamp: I currently use the Petzl Actik Headlamp, which has been great to me, but am planning to upgrade to the Petzl IKO Headlamp soon. The Petzl brand headlamps are great, high-quality, and have a really good battery life. The Actik Headlamp does slide down on my forehead a little bit while running – but I’ve heard the IKO does an amazing job of staying in place with no bounce!
- Sunglasses: Yes, sunglasses! Miles of sun bouncing off of fresh white snow can be blinding, and there’s nothing worse than spending an entire run squinting. Goodr makes the best budget-friendly running sunglasses I’ve found. If you’re able to invest in something a little pricier but higher-quality, I can’t recommend ROKA’s running sunglasses more highly. I just got this pair for my hubby this Christmas (in the Matte Black), and he loves them! Super lightweight, anti-fogging, and they don’t move a bit while running or working out.
- A shoe dryer: Hear me out – I know this sounds like a silly purchase, but once you get a shoe dryer you’re not going to be sure how you lived without them. If you’re running in snow or soggy weather day after day, your running shoes may not get a chance to fully dry out in between sessions. I keep my shoe dryer under our stairs, right b the door, so I can take off my shoes right when I get in and put them on the dryer. The next time I want to run, they’re perfect (even a little toasty… which feels amazing on a cold day!).