Running in the winter, for beginners especially, often seems incredibly intimidating. The frigid temperatures, harsh winds and icy conditions sometimes sound impossible to conquer. However, winter running is certainly possible – even for beginners – and comes with a surprising number of benefits.
Is it a good idea to start running in the winter?
Choosing to start running in the winter might be an unpopular decision, but it is certainly possible. The outdoor conditions make running a bit more challenging for even the most seasoned runners, but with a little perseverance, they can certainly be conquered.
Conquering winter running as a beginner will not only make you stronger, but it has the potential to improve your fitness even faster than running during the summer or fall. That’s not to say it will be easy, but for those who are determined to start running and succeed – winter is just as good a time as any.
Winter Running for Beginners: 12 Tips for Success
Running in the winter brings plenty of challenges, for beginners especially. However, it is possible to make winter running feel easier, more comfortable, and even – dare I say it – enjoyable.
Dress in layers
Cold weather running means that most runners start out feeling freezing cold, yet end up sweating midway. Dressing in layers is a simple and easy way to stay comfortable throughout any run. Once your body warms up, you’ll be able to shed some layers, with easy access to them should the wind pick up or you start to get chilled.
Related: What to Wear Running in Cold Weather
Cover your head, face and neck
If there’s any area that beginners should prioritize while running in the winter – it’s the head and neck. When selecting gear, be sure you can adequately cover your head, face and neck as needed during a run. Keeping these areas covered with help avoid heat escaping and protect vulnerable areas from any snow or wind.
Add 10 – 15 degrees to the real feel temperature
The biggest mistake beginners make when running in winter is not dressing for the correct temperature. Dressing as if you are heading out in the actual temperature will leave you sweating up a storm in no time.
Instead, always dress as if it were 10 – 15 degrees warmer than the real feel temperature. This takes into account the fact that your body will be active and moving, increasing your core temperature more so than a regular venture outdoors in the winter.
Complete a dynamic warm up
Dynamic warm ups are important for running at any time of year, but especially in the winter. Squeezing in a few dynamic warm up exercises indoors before running will get your muscles warm and loosened before heading out into the cold.
Lengthen your running warm up
Another strategy to help ease the transition as you begin a run in the cold is to lengthen your warm up. Spend more time running as a slow, easy pace before diving in to any speed or pace goals for the run.
Focus on easier, maintenance running
Although training for PRs and specific goals during the winter is certainly possible, it is a great time to focus on simply maintaining fitness. Running easier during the winter can still provide a plethora of benefits – as this “easy” running still involves varying terrain, extra resistance from wind, and plenty of calories burned.
Adjust for windy weather
Ice and snow might have a bad reputation for ruining winter running – but the biggest obstacle usually comes from the wind. Windy conditions, on top of already frigid temperatures, create quite a challenge for runners – especially beginners.
Always check the weather ahead of time and adjust the temperature for wind. On exceptionally windy days, prepare to run based on effort and not pace. Running into the wind will likely result in a slower pace, even though your body is exerting the same amount of effort as your usual running speed.
Stay dry with waterproof gear
Running in the winter for beginners often involves quite a bit of trial and error – especially when it comes to gear. To avoid ending a run feeling wet and cold, it’s important to invest in a few pieces of high quality, waterproof gear. Prioritize waterproof shoes and a jacket to keep the most vulnerable areas dry.
Incorporate regular cross training
Winter running season will likely involve shorter outdoor runs than other seasons. However, avoiding a loss or plateau in fitness is relatively easy. Simply increasing your cross training to compensate for shortened or missed runs will help your body stay in peak running shape all season.
Use the treadmill for speed
Beginner runners can still work towards speed goals in the winter with the simple addition of a treadmill. When outdoor running conditions get too intense, taking intervals and speed workouts to the treadmill. Rather than running for lengthy periods of time on the treadmill, use it for quick, easy intervals to supplement your easy runs.
Dress to be seen
Not only does winter running season bring cold, windy conditions – it also brings more darkness than any other season. Whether it’s already dark outside or is getting dark due to cloud cover and snow, it’s important to be seen. Purchasing a few pieces of reflective gear, such as a jacket or leggings, will help traffic and other pedestrians see you coming.
Start with hand warmers
Another useful trick for beginners when running in the winter is to start with hand warmers. Ensuring that your hands are warm right from the start will help ease some of the discomfort that comes with initially stepping outside.
Regardless of how motivated and excited you feel to start running in the winter, the challenges usually arise a week or two into the journey. As time passes, the initial motivation starts to fade and it’s much easier to focus on the discomforts of winter running. Here are a few tips to stay motivated to continue all season.
How to Stay Motivated Running in the Winter
With a little preparation, determination, and these simple tricks, you’ll stay motivated to continue running in the winter all season long. Here are a few tricks for success!
- Reward yourself
- Set concrete goals
- Track your progress
- Run with a friend
- Adjust according to weather
- Listen to music or podcasts
- Run based on effort, not pace
- Sign up for a race
Running in the Winter for Beginners: What to Know Before You Start
While winter running is generally considered safe for all ability levels, there are a few guidelines to know and follow to help you stay healthy all season.
How cold is too cold to run?
The answer to this question varies greatly depending on who you ask – as well as the individual runner to which it is referring. However, in general, it is safest to avoid running for any longer than 30 minutes in temperatures below 0 degrees Farenheit, as these conditions have the potential to lead to more harm than good.
Always check the real feel temperature before heading out – which is adjusted based on wind and other conditions. If you are determined to head out in frigid temperatures, you’ll want to stay close to home and listen to your body – if you notice any signs of frost bite or hypothermia, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Can you run in the winter without a treadmill?
Absolutely! It is a common misconception with beginner runners that winter running success requires a treadmill. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Regardless of the climate in which you live, running in the winter can still bring success with only outdoor runs. In most cases, you’ll find that the distance and pace of your runs may drop a bit compared to other seasons, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that you gain just as much fitness.
When the weather conditions are rough and you’re stuck inside without a treadmill, try compensating for the missed run with some type of cardio-based cross training.
Can you still run with a cold?
Another issue that is a popular topic when it comes to running in the winter is whether or not it is safe to run with a cold. Luckily, the experts tend to agree when it comes to answering this question.
In general, it is usually safe to continue running if your symptoms are only above the neck. Headaches, nasal congestion and dry eyes are all symptoms that fall into the “above the neck” category. However, if you are experiencing any symptoms below the neck – such as body aches or a chest cough – it is safest to take a rest day.
Running in the winter has so many benefits for beginners. While the journey might be a hard one to begin, once committed, most runners are surprised to discover just how much they love it.