The Keys to Running: In the Cold

Running in the ColdIf ever there was a good reason to skip a scheduled running workout, the most obvious would be that it’s just too cold outside.  No two bones about it, running in the cold sucks! Now obviously if you live in a warmer climate this isn’t a problem, but for a lot of people it’s a convenient obstacle to deal with and even more convenient excuse. (Of course you don’t want to run when it’s storming, snowing or icing either, but statistically speaking those are pretty rare events; so stop being argumentative.)

Be Flexible

This seems obvious, but pay attention to your workout routine!

It’s far too easy to get stuck in a rut, even if (actually more like especially if) you regularly exercise. For instance, I am a morning runner; I typically finish my run before the sun comes up.  As fall ends and winter begins, it gets increasingly darker and colder as the days go by.  Eventually it just gets too cold out, and I have to give up my outdoor morning run.  I have to find the time after work, on weekends, or move it indoors to the treadmill (see below).  The key here is that I didn’t just stop and wait for spring to arrive, which would have been the easy thing to do.  The weather is changing, you can change also!

Bundle Up!

If running a serious component to your fitness routine you should consider investing in some cold-weather gear – gloves, hats, tights (or preferably in my opinion, the not-so-tights), long sleeve shirts, thermal gear, etc… Most of these items are made of the same wicking materials as their summer counterparts so they will still help move sweat off of you while keeping your body heat contained.


Layering will help a lot.  Start with a normal technical t-shirt, and wear a light shell on top.  For colder temps, start with a long-sleeved compression or thermal shirt, and layer on top of that.  The intent is to keep your chest cavity (your lungs) warm. Nothing sucks more than feeling like you are breathing icey daggers while powering through a run!


Again, gloves are kind of obvious when it’s freezing out. However, instead of the big old winter gloves you use for shoveling snow, pick up a pair of runners gloves.  These are often a much thinner material, and some have flaps that can fold over your fingers like mittens (manly mittens, of course) to provide more protection from wind and cold.  Some brands also provide a small sleeve on the back of the hand for storing a house key or ID and others offer designs for ease of smartphone or iPod operation.


You will feel the cold on your head more than anywhere, so you want to keep it as warm and insulated as possible.  As with all things, one made of wicking material will help get the sweat off of you and stop the hypothermia from setting in.

Track Pants

While some people prefer running tights, which are effective for keeping you warm, I prefer looser fitting track pants.  It is just one of those personal preference things really. For extremely cold temps, again, go layer a pair of track pants over a pair of tights.

Serious runners take note – By the time you have all this gear on, you have added some weight to your frame, and you may notice a small difference in your pace or your cadence.  Don’t worry about it.  Be mindful of the changes, but don’t stress over your pace or your time.  The fact that you are out getting in your run and staying active is reward enough!

The Dreaded Treadmill

This may seem like anathema to a lot of runners who love pounding the pavement, but it can do the trick when Jack Frost is threatening you.  When the temperature gets below my threshold, I move it indoors.  I pay for a gym membership, and I am certain to get my money’s worth during the colder months when I have to give up my preferred outdoor loop.  I can get my 5K in just as easily, even if the scenery is a little boring.  There are some benefits to be had during a treadmill workout though:

Hills – Live in a flat area? Here is your opportunity to focus on your hill workouts!  You can set the incline to 3 or 4 (or higher) and start getting those hill workouts that you’ve been wanting to try.

Speed – While there is a limit, you can definitely use one of the pre-programmed interval setting to force you to get your speed workouts in.  When it’s just you on the road you can back off here and there (sometimes without even noticing), not so when it’s the treadmill controlling things!

Try some new things too! Strengthen your calves by setting a very slow speed and walking backwards on the treadmill for a few minutes.  You will look ridiculous, but it’s a nice twist to your workout.  Alternatively you can select a slow setting and try a sideways walk with a feet-together, feet-apart cadence to work your quads, holding on the rail for support if necessary.


Cold weather is a great excuse for skipping a run, but it’s just that – an excuse.  There are lots of ways to a workout in despite the weather. Make it so!

Brian Kehs

About the Author: Brian Kehs is a husband, father of two, a runner, and a manager in IT. In addition to running, Brian is an avid Star Wars fan boy who thinks Neil Gaiman’s Sandman may be the best literature out there. He regularly run 5Ks, 10Ks, 10-milers and half marathons. In his free time he coaches an elementary school running club.

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