A Guide to Winter Running

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Snow covered ground and temperatures below freezing. Can you still lace up your shoes and go for a run? Of course! We run about the same number of sessions per week and the same mileage no matter the season, and don’t even think twice about the weather before we head out. Or, that’s not quite true – we obviously think a lot about the weather so we dress appropriately, but we do so without much fuss and without any thoughts on… well, staying inside. But as we know many normally stick to gyms and treadmills in the winter, we thought we should put together our best tips to keep going and keep loving the sport, despite cold air and slippery ground. Or despite… we’d argue winter running is quite amazing. Go see for yourself!

1. How to approach the temperature

The by far most difficult aspect of winter running is deciding on what to wear, and the easiest mistake to make is to over dress and find yourself sweating like crazy after 1-2 kilometers. A basic rule of thumb is to add about 10-15 degrees Celsius to the actual temperature, and think about what you’d wear for a walk. This can help you determine if you should go for shorts, thin pants or insulated pants, what type of jacket is appropriate and so on. If it’s windy, you should expect it to be a little colder, while a faster pace and/or sunshine will warm you up more. In other words, if it’s -5ºC, think about what you’d wear for a walk in 7-8ºC. You’d most likely wear a pair of pants, a long sleeved base layer and a wind proof jacket, as well as a thin type of hat or headband and gloves. That would be pretty perfect for your run in -5ºC, provided it’s not very windy.

And remember: being a little cold for the first 5-10 min is totally in order – if you’re not, you’ll be too hot very soon. Also, if it’s windy and you can choose to go with the wind towards you in the beginning or the end, choose the beginning. You’ll be wet towards the end and therefore much more susceptible to getting very cold quickly.

2. Layer up

Shooting for several thin layers is much preferred over a single thick item. This way, you achieve better ventilation and moisture will be able to escape, preventing your clothes from getting soaked and you getting hypothermia. With layers, you can also adjust the temperature much better when you’re out there, by for example unzipping your jacket a bit but without exposing a bare chest. Using wool closest to your body will provide you with the best of all worlds – warmth when warmth is needed, cooling when cooling is needed and way less smelly clothes, meaning fewer wash cycles needed. Up top, a base layer underneath a wind proof jacket works great on most days (with varying thickness depending on temperature of course), and small add-ons – such as a buff around your neck or a hat instead of a headband – can be used if it gets slightly colder but not cold enough for a third layer. Simply adding thicker socks and gloves can work very well as well. Double pants isn’t really ever necessary unless it’s very, very cold, but using windproof underwear is a great tip to protect your butt from getting cold (a common problem for women). Layering a wool buff across your bum, on the inside of your pants, is a personal trick we’re happy to share.

3. Feet and hands

Wool socks and waterproof shoes is a combination worth sticking to for your feet to be happy. As you get going they’ll warm up quickly, so don’t fear feeling cold in the beginning. The same goes for your hands – that they’ll warm up – but pay attention to the wind and precipitation situation. Strong wind will get those hands cold quickly, and they’ll get even colder if they get wet. The trickiest weather is when the temperature is right above freezing and comes with rain, which will saturate your gloves. The best bet will obviously be a pair of water resistant gloves, but simply bringing a spare gloves in a plastic bag is another alternative. Changing into a pair of dry ones halfway through will feel like heaven! Also, remember that mittens tend to keep your fingers warmer than gloves. We like to wear thin gloves from around 7-8ºC and switch over to thicker ones around freezing. Mittens we turn to when it’s getting closer to -10ºC.

4. What about your phone?

Unless your phone has a brand new battery, chances are it’ll have a bit of a tough time out in the cold for a long period of time. Phones are obviously good to bring from a safety standpoint – especially if you run by yourself – but instead of rushing out to buy a new one, consider either replacing your battery or wrapping it up nicely when you run. The smartest move is to keep it as close to your body as possible, as opposed to in an outer pocket, and if your clothes don’t offer up a good storage place, you could get a waist or arm band and put this on underneath your clothes. It’s highly recommended to think about this beforehand, so you don’t find yourself without a working phone at a time when you really need one.

5. Shoes

This section is in collaboration with Icebug.

Grip, warmth and water resistance. Those are probably the three most important features of proper winter running shoes. Studded shoes are highly recommended for any icy, snowy conditions, and we dare say that once you’ve tried a pair, you won’t go back to unstudded until springtime. With studs, you can gallop across a frozen lake without hesitation or having to worry about slipping one bit – they’re really that good. And even though your feet will warm up a lot, a bit of a warmer shoe is nice – however waterproof shoes would rank higher than warm shoes on our list. The name of the game is to stay dry, because once you get wet (and especially when paired with non-wool socks) it won’t be fun. As the Icebug ambassadors as we are, we can’t call ourselves completely unbiased, but we really couldn’t recommend their shoes more – particularly for winter conditions. Fool proof grip is, after all, their no. 1 specialty and mission. Our favorites include the Pytho BUGrip, a versatile model with low drop that shines on the trails, the Oribi BUGgrip, which is lightweight and fast, and the NewRun BUGrip, which is geared more towards running on winter roads.

6. Intensity during the really cold days

You can keep doing your speed session without much weather consideration down to about -10ºC. Around there, it might be wise to take it back a notch, as you risk putting a little too much strain on your airways when pushing the pace in such cold weather. If you have a hard time “only” going easy, keep an eye on the forecast and get your intervals in when you spot a warmer window.

7. Snacks and sports beverage

Do your energy bars and balls get mushy and way too soft in your vest or pack during the summer? Well, winter is their time to shine! Running on empty can make you feel even colder than you “should”, so bringing a snack for your longer runs is definitely advised – and balls and bars will hold up so much better in the chilly temperatures. Perhaps check out these Run Far Energy Balls, our preferred mid-run munch from October until April? Also, don’t forget that you can bring warm sports beverage! If you pour it into softflasks, it won’t stay warm for too long (but it’ll take a while before it’s ice cold) and you can also consider bringing a small, light weight thermos.

8. Pre and post run

Before heading out, it’s nice to get all nice and toasty. Stepping outside when you’re already cold isn’t too nice, so try sipping on a hot cup of coffee or tea before lacing up. Also, make sure that you have something warm to dig into when you get back and have come out of the shower. Whether you’ll quickly cook up some steaming oatmeal or heat up leftover soup, it’s highly recommended to eat something hot right after. (But shower first – sweat and wet clothes will get you cold very quickly, and you don’t want to expose yourself to any risks of getting sick). Having a yummy, warming treat waiting for you afterwards also doubles as a motivator to get the run done.

9. Headlamp and reflectors

If you live in a place that gets cold in wintertime, you might very well also live in a place that gets dark in wintertime. And unless you can find time midday to run, you’ll very likely be running before sunrise and after sunset a lot. This means you’ll need a proper headlamp to accompany you, as well as reflectors so other people (primarily those driving cars) can see you. For reflectors, we like to throw on a thin vest up top, and if we’ll be spending the majority of the run on roads with car traffic, we’ll also either make sure pants and shoes already have reflective materials, or we put snap-on reflectors around our ankles. It’s definitely a good tip to have something on your lower body, as it’ll move and further attract attention. For headlamp, we recommend one that has a rechargeable battery and preferably one made for sports activities. Because you move pretty fast, a camping headlamp simply won’t do the trick – you won’t have enough light far enough ahead of you to make sure you’ll be able to safely move forwards (even more important in technical terrain, of course, but even roads need maneuvering). Let’s just say we’ve been there and done that…

10. Forget about pace

And last but not least, a note on pace. Unless you’re a professional or someone else with a very strict training plan, we’d advise not looking at your pace whatsoever. If you do care about training effect and don’t want to let go completely, focus on effort level instead. Running in snow obviously takes a lot more energy than on flat, dry ground and will therefore make sure your effort stays high – even though the pace might show something completely different. Also, aiming for too fast of a pace with less than ideal grip underneath your feet definitely poses an accident and injury risk. In other words: wear proper footwear and let the effort remain where you want it to be without focusing too much on what the pace says.

That’s it – have fun winter running!

Feature Image by Frida Berglund Photography from 2018 Åre Trail Tour. All other images by Sophia and Michael Miracolo.

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2 thoughts on “A Guide to Winter Running”

  1. Or just move to Skåne. It just struck me this “winter” that winter sports is a big thing for a big part of this country. But here in Skåne it is business as usual. Hiking, running etc – just a little bit colder and probably raining horisontally. Miss the snow.

    Great post!

    1. Haha 🙂 We sure hope winter (and winter sports) will remain a big thing and not turn into a relic of the past due to climate change… We’re staying positive! Thanks, happy to hear you liked it! And who doesn’t like some horizontal rain?!

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