Running Outdoors All Winter Is Not That Bad

It's a great mood booster, and you will only be cold for a little while.


I am not a fan of winter.

I know we always tell our kids not to use the word “hate,” but I have been known to use that word in conjunction with winter weather on many occasions. In fact, a prediction of colder-than-normal temperatures or frozen precipitation is so often met with my “Bah Humbug” comment that my teenage son bought me a mug with that saying. (I’m not anti-Christmas, just anti-cold weather.)

But even though I would not mind hibernating indoors, there are a few activities that get me out of the house and into the arctic temperatures.

Yes, I actually love running outside all winter long.

I’ve read that those with Seasonal Affective Disorder should get outside during the all-too-short winter daylight, and should also exercise regularly. The Mayo Clinic suggests both as a home and lifestyle remedy. I’ve never been officially diagnosed with the disorder, but I do know that getting out for a morning run is a great mood-booster.

The thing about winter running is that you are not cold for very long. I hate (there’s that word again) being cold, and because I have Raynaud’s Disease (when fingers completely lose circulation and turn deadly white due to the complete lack of blood flow) I don mittens as soon as the temperature drops to 50˚F.

Unless the wind is really howling or the temperature is below 10˚F, in which case I am probably staying wrapped in a Snuggie in front of the fire, I usually warm up within 15 minutes of beginning a run. I even take my mittens off after a few miles on many sub-freezing days.

The key is dressing correctly for winter running, and I don’t mean over-dressing.

You should be a bit cold for the first mile, or you will be overheated for the rest of your run and sweating profusely, which can end up making you even more chilled when you stop.

I generally wear light layers of wicking fabric. The day glo windbreaker (mine is yellow/green, and my husband has an orange one that I am a bit envious of) is a key top layer. It makes you stand out, which is very important from a safety perspective on those gray days. It also provides protection from the wind and, should you venture out when it’s precipitating, is somewhat water resistant. When it’s in the 30s and 40s I wear just a long-sleeve shirt (definitely made of “dry fit” or some other wicking fabric) under the windbreaker and add either a fleece vest or long sleeve pullover when the temperature drops even lower.

I graduate from capri leggings (40s) to regular spandex running tights (30s) to fleece-lined running tights (below 30˚F). If it’s really windy, I will occasionally add wind pants.

The fleece headband appears at about 45˚F and is replaced by a hat (also of wicking material; mine is made by Mizuno) when it’s in the low 30s, very windy, or precipitating.

I prefer mittens to gloves. It’s easier to ball up my fingers for warmth when I start out. I have a great pair of double layer mittens (made by Brooks) with a fleece inner layer (can be worn on its own) and an outer layer made of windbreaker type material. They even have some special fabric on the thumbs for (stop reading if you get disgusted by talk of runny noses) wiping that inevitable runny nose. Luckily they also hold up well in the washing machine.

Socks made of wicking material are also important. I got some great “Darn Tough” lightweight wool socks for Christmas. They are already my favorites!

My recommendation is to try winter running. You don’t have to go fast, or far. I once got caught at mile 13 of an 18-miler when a major snowstorm began earlier than predicted. That was not fun, and is not something I recommend.

Be careful on the ice. Yak Trax (or one of the other types of metal cleats that attach to the bottom of your running shoes) do work to provide traction if you really want to avoid the treadmill – or the couch.

Sometimes it’s just too snowy to run. I haven’t yet tried snowshoeing, but I do like cross-country skiing when the weather insists on snowing. It’s about the only other outdoor winter activity that keeps me in an unfrozen state for the duration.

I also downhill ski at least a few days a year, but not without an industrial supply of hand and toe warmers.

“Desperado” pops into my mind a bit too often in the winter. (Dating myself, I know. It’s that song by the Eagles that includes the words: “Don't your feet get cold in the winter time? The sky won't snow and the sun won't shine. It's hard to tell the night time from the day …”)

The sun is shining as I write this column, and the temperature is registering 56˚F even though it is mid-January. Now in my opinion, that is acceptable winter weather.

If you need some extra motivation, Fleet Feet Sports in West Hartford has several programs for runners of all abilities. They also offer an excellent supply of winter running apparrel and accessories.


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