What do runners do in the winter?
November 17, 2015 10:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm a beginner runner and I'd like to keep running through winter. I'm a total wimp about running in the dark and cold. Lets change that...

I sweat like a pig and then get cold and miserable. And I hate that, but I can deal with it.

My typical run is through a park, I wear a head lamp after dark. There are a few joggers, a few dog walkers, and many cyclists.

I'm just learning how to layer clothing to have a good run. Under 60F is okay, under 50F is a uncomfortable, below that is a real challenge for me. I'd like to keep running (and be happy) when it's very cold. I'm trying to figure out layering. I really need help with that. What do I wear to run in January weather? Shells, layers, base layers, break it down for me.

Or should I get a treadmill from craigslist to use for the next three or four months?
posted by peeedro to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
1. Layer up with tech clothes. Smartwool is awesome. You should be able to run outside until it's below zero. Old Navy has cheap running clothes that layer well.

2. Join Planet Fitness or another cheap gym for the days where it's too dangerous.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:42 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

When it's cold out, breathing while running can be uncomfortable. My favorite trick is to wear a scarf or something else I can tuck my face into some of the time, for nice warm breaths.
posted by the_blizz at 10:44 AM on November 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ooooo I love to run in the winter. For me the key is to wear way less clothing than you might think. Here's my guidelines:
Greater than 50 degrees- shorts and tank top
30-50F - fleece headband, shorts and tee shirt
20-30F - fleece headband, shorts, tee shirt, light hoodie and gloves
10-20F- fleece headband, tights, tee shirt, light hoodie and gloves
Under 10f - my base layer changes to tights, warm socks, and long sleeve thermal shirt. Depending on temp I will wear the light hoodie or a tee shirt over this. I may wear a neck gator as well, and I still have my headband and gloves. Believe it or not it's still easy for me to overheat at this temperature so I will only break out the neck gator of it's really windy. It sounds crazy but I HATE being too hot while running.

Also yak tracks for the snow, I basically keep them on my sneakers from December to April. Also, always wear sunglasses for both wind and cold protection and to shield your eyes from the strong snow glare.

I don't usually run when it's below 0, and I never run when it's below -10f. I will say that I'm from a cold place so either you deal with the cold or you stay inside, and this system is what works best for me (as opposed to piling on the layers for outdoor exercise).
posted by pintapicasso at 10:54 AM on November 17, 2015 [10 favorites]

Also - if it's not obvious- the first 3 or so minutes of a run are pretty darn cold, but after that it's fine.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:55 AM on November 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've run in temps as cold as 12 degrees. (I now tell myself if it's less than 15, I won't even think about it. Yes, I am partially insane.)

a nice fleece cap helps.
I use HotHands in my gloves to keep my hands from freezing.
I second the smartwool or wool socks. Doubling up on socks didn't work for me. I tried.
I usually wear a base long sleeve shirt and a jacket that can withstand temps down to 30 degrees or so. It was expensive at the time, but it works like a charm - it allows me to stay warm, and unzip a little bit if I start to overheat.
Thermal pants and/or tights underneath if it's below 30.
posted by EastCoastBias at 10:56 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Everyone's different, but personally, I finally realized that as long as I keep my ears and hands warm, I'm good in shorts and a t-shirt down to 20 or 30 F. Little uncomfortable for the first few minutes but feels glorious after that. I got a nice lined technical ear warmer with a wicking mesh inside and fleece outside, and some running gloves, and I'm good to go. Ear warmer still gets soaked but a lot less so than a full cap.
posted by ftm at 10:56 AM on November 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

I started running in cold weather last winter and felt very tough heading out when it was 15F. But I realized that I wasn't tough: After I warmed up, it was generally quite comfortable. A few thoughts:
1) Your core will be warmer than your extremities. You will often need gloves and a hat even when wearing relatively light shirt/jacket/pants. In moderately cold weather, some people will even run in shorts, t-shirt, gloves, and hat.
2) Fitter runners are literally burning more energy and therefore have less need for warm clothes. On the one hand, if you're a beginner, that might make it harder for you. On the other, as you get fitter, running in the cold will get easier.
3) In especially cold weather, warm up inside with some calisthenics or jogging before going outside to make the first few minutes less of a shock.
4) If it's windy, outer layer should be windproof.
5) Close-fitting tech base layer will wick sweat and prevent clamminess. However, if you are running below 40F and you are sweating significantly, that just means you're wearing too many clothes: Take some off.
6) In very cold weather - perhaps below 35F, but it will vary by person - wear something on your face, such as a balaclava or scarf, but make sure it's not too tight so you can adjust it when you warm up.
7) You have the great advantage of starting when it's not too cold, so you will have plenty of time to adjust gradually as the temperature falls.

Some more advice here.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:02 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

It depends a lot on the person and your workout, I'd say plan on shorter runs and dress conservatively and slowly adjust to where you're comfortable. I often don't get comfortably warm until 10 minutes into the run.

Above 40 (fahrenheit), two layers are adequate for me. Light long sleeve tech shirt + thin jacket. If it's windy or rainy, the jacket is wind/water-resistant. Otherwise it's a softer synthetic warmup-ish zip-up hoodie. Most of the time, about 20 minutes into the run, I will have opened up the zip or taken off the outer layer. My legs don't get too cold, so normal running tights or even shorts are fine. I wear or carry a fleece headband in my pocket. I like my jacekts to cover my neck when zipped up. Tucking in or pulling out inside shirt is a small adjustment that makes a difference.

Below 40, the bottom layer becomes a "thermal" tech shirt, like UnderArmour second skin. Outside is still similar. If I'm feeling extra cold, I'll throw in a light tech shirt in between the two layers. That can always be removed and tied around my waist. Tights may switch to thermal ones, but really depends on how cold your legs get. Wool socks may or may not be necessary. Headband is almost always on. A fleece neck warmer or a buff is a nice adjustable and light accessory to keep your neck and airways warm and keep cold air from going into your jacket. Mittens and hat (instead of headband) as needed...
posted by bread-eater at 11:03 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I forgot to also mention DressMyRun - it's a nice resource that helps me decide what to wear if I'm feeling indecisive.
posted by EastCoastBias at 11:16 AM on November 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

My cold weather secret is that I get dressed for the temp after I warm up, but rather than start our cold, I put on down coat and do a few things around the house, so I'm preheated. I generally can get my core temp up a few degrees so that first few minutes feels refreshing rather than painful. I tend toward super hot, so even below zero, I rarely wear more than running tights and a fleecy top. Hats and mittens too.
posted by advicepig at 11:19 AM on November 17, 2015

Best answer: In addition to the good advice above, take a look at Dress My Run, and at Runner's World's What to Wear sites.

Above 40°F, I wear shorts and a t-shirt, unless it's raining or windy. Below that, my go-to clothing is:

Above freezing: wind briefs, light tights (Icebreaker wool-synthetic blend), light wool shirt (200 g/square meter), glove liners, and a headband that covers my ears. (I always wear Smartwool PhD socks regardless of temperature.)

20-32°F: light tights, light wool shirt, rain jacket, headband, glove liners.

0-20°F: heavier tights (Sporthill 3SP fabric), light wool shirt, wool/synthetic blend softshell jacket, headband, light gloves.

If there's wind, I dress for 5-10°F colder depending on how much.

I usually wear my normal running shoes. On fresh snow, I will use trail shoes with lugs (Salomon Speedcross 3). On compacted snow or ice, I use Kahtoola Nanospikes over my regular shoes.

If I'm doing a long run in the winter (more than an hour), I'll run a loop course so I can stop at home and change into a dry shirt if need be.
posted by brianogilvie at 11:21 AM on November 17, 2015

Oh, forgot to add, below 20° or if I'm feeling cold, I will often put on a light wool cap, and take it off when I warm up.

If it drops below 0°F, I have a light balaclava and vented ski goggles, but I haven't needed them.
posted by brianogilvie at 11:23 AM on November 17, 2015

Layers only help if you have the ability to add and remove them. If you are doing laps of the park and can leave stuff in one spot and pick them up the end then you could start off with warmer clothes and remove them as you go along. Alternately you could carry a bag and stuff them in that, but I do not enjoy carrying things when I run. Otherwise you will have to pick an outfit for the weather and go with that.

In cold weather I will generally wear pants (either sweatpants or shell pants, I don't have any running tights), t-shirt, gloves and headband (to keep my ears warm).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:25 AM on November 17, 2015

For me the hardest thing was breathing, definitely try a scarf or tall turtleneck over the face if the cold air is making you feel like the icy fingers of death are stuck up your nose.

Also it's nice to have a part of your sleeve that is good for nose wiping, if you're using technical windbreaky fabrics for your outer layer. I did this by cutting the toe open on an old saggy pair of tube socks and wearing them as snot vambraces.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:35 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

The way I was taught the same concept mentioned above: If you dress for the first mile, you'll sweat then freeze by the 2nd mile. If you dress for the 2nd mile, you'll be cold for a bit but then fine.
posted by jeffjon at 11:38 AM on November 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

For upper body, I like the combo of t-shirt, arm warmers, and hoodie. Arm warmers are easy to take off without removing the hoodie once you warm up a little. You can buy them, but if you are a person who has old worn-out tights sitting around it's easy to make them by cutting off the appropriate amount of leg and you know, wearing it on your arm instead.
posted by yarrow at 12:09 PM on November 17, 2015

i don't think anyone has suggested this, and it's a bit fussy, but if you do a short distance in a loop then you can drop off excess clothes once warm, then continue.

also, you can run less and do other things. the gym i go to is a sports clinic and has a fair number of runners (going by marathon shirts). to be honest i am not sure what exercises they do, so can't recommend anything, but really my point is that it's the kind of gym with kinesiologos (i am not sure of the english translation!) that help plan exercise for your particular sport.
posted by andrewcooke at 12:10 PM on November 17, 2015

To the degree they help, I do the following. I'm from a warm weather climate.

Above 50: Running shorts and a t-shirt
40-50: Long sleeve tech sweater with zipper and extra long sleeves with thumb holes, like this.
20-40: Same sweater, gloves and hiking pants to replace the shorts. A hat if it's in the mid-30s or lower.

It doesn't get colder than 20 where I am, and even that's really rare.

Don't wear cotton anything, and you might try both merino wool and polyester base layers. One or the other may be better for you at getting moisture off your body.
posted by cnc at 12:38 PM on November 17, 2015

pintapicasso: Ooooo I love to run in the winter. For me the key is to wear way less clothing than you might think.

And now, a counterpoint: as a teenager in Minnesota I also ran in shorts all winter…until the day I slipped on the ice and fell and twisted my ankle, and then had to hop five blocks to the nearest friendly place to get a ride home.

When I was up and running I was fine, but by the end of that trek I felt like an idiot and also my legs had dumped most of my body heat into the air. (Oh, and also, I grew to hate Tommies even more because no one even offered to help me or even ask if I was all right.)

It sucked. LAYER UP! :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:48 PM on November 17, 2015

I run in the winter in Stockholm.

What do I wear to run in January weather?

Well assuming your January is like my January.

The trick is to leave the house warm and then peel off layers as your core temperature goes up.

Top: Tight fitting synthetic turtleneck. Long sleeves. This will keep your core warm and wick away sweat. Over this a loose fitting synthetic tee-shirt, short sleeves. Over this wear a windstopper fleece with a high neck and front zipper. Over this wear a windbreaker with a front zipper. (Over this I wear a reflective vest.)

Bottom: A pair of winter tights, ordinary socks. Over this a thick pair of shorts as necessary.

Head: A thin skull cap.

Hands: Wear socks on your hands - cotton socks - gloves get too warm too quickly. This is the key.

Midway through your run, you'll ditch the socks on your hands, and pull down the zipper of your windbreaker and your fleece.

Reflectors, reflectors, reflectors. I wear a reflective vest and have one or two dangling reflectors hanging from my back and side.

If it's icy I like to use Yak-Trax, but for the most part ordinary training shoes do the trick for me.

And if it's under -25C I stay home and drink.
posted by three blind mice at 12:51 PM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

As others said, this is a super personal thing and you kind of need to figure out what works for you. However, it is my belief that everyone who runs in the winter should own a Marmot driclime windshirt. It's a sort of magical ultra-light windbreaker with a cozy microflece lining that seems to work at any temperature under about 40F. It's like wearing a pocket of warm air.

Personally, rolling out of bed at 6am and immediately heading out into -5F weather when you're still in sleep mode is the worst part. The problem for me is staving off the psychologically damaging chill you get before your body comes up to operating temperature, but still being able to vent heat and sweat fast once you're moving. It all comes down to blocking the wind as much as possible early on in the run, with the ability to open up and let air in later on.

For anything under about 40F, down to as cold as it gets here (-10F is about the floor), I wear the aforementioned miracle windshirt over varying base layers. Avoid cotton. Invest in smartwool/ibex/icebreaker high tech wool. Down to 20F, I wear a wool t-shirt (or patagonia capilene 1/2) as a base layer. Below 20F, I'll add a mid-weight (260g/m^2) icebreaker wool long sleeve shirt. Below about 5F I add another very light long sleeve wool t-shirt. Modern wonder merino is really the best tool for the job. It doesn't get stinky and it's warm and comfy when wet.

Leg warmth usually isn't a problem for me. I wear mid-weight long johns (patagonia capilene 2/3 or icebreaker ones) and shorts. Below about 15-20F I add another pair. Below 5F and I throw a pair of windproof nylon pants over them.

On my feet: wool hiking socks and loose minimalist running shoes with yak tracks spikes if it's slippery. Tight shoes cut off circulation and are to be avoided.

Hands: I wear wool glittens. M'loves. You know what I mean. Being able to open the flap once I warm up is nice. If it's REALLY cold I wear thin liners inside those.

Head: a light merino balaclava is great. If it's under 20F I add a beanie over that. If it's really outrageously cold, I might add a second light balaclava.

This theme of using layer upon thin layer of clothing really lets you dial things in to your personal comfort level and strip off extraneous clothing and stuff it in a pocket or fanny pack once you're warmed up.
posted by woof at 1:05 PM on November 17, 2015

I also tend to run warm, so agree with the above that you might not need as much as you think. I guess since you sweat a lot (like me), another trick of the layers, is to shed them. (converting my C

50F and up: tank top and shorts.
32F and up: t-shirt and shorts. Maybe bring gloves for first 5 minutes if it's below 40F and windy.
(below this point, I go by temperature *with* windchill taken into account).
14F and up: long sleeve shirt, gloves, pants. Gloves go off as I start to warm up. Be prepared to roll up sleeves.
-20F and up: wind breaker, ear muffs, gloves, wind-proof pants (at least I'm testing that this year; previously I did my normal running pants and got chilly legs). Gloves probably take 20-30 minutes until they come off.

Shirts/shorts/pants are all wicking fabric - either shirts from races, or the cheap wallmart lines; gloves are dollar store cheapy stretch knitted one-size-fits-all style. Windbreaker is uninsulated, running style - at the coldest temps I go out in, all of the back vents are unzipped.

I'll note that if the absolute temperature is below -5F that's generally where I call it quits, unless there's 0 wind. I had the best frost beard on a day that was -22C (-7.6F) and otherwise calm! But here in Ontario, that fortunately doesn't exclude too many days.

Running less bundled than you initially think you need means that yes, those first 5-10 minutes are uncomfortable, but your core ultimately stays warm and there's very little sweating. Which for me is extra important as my schedule involves immediately taking the Beag out for a back alley pee; if I'm too sweaty I'll freeze.

I'm too cheap for yaktrax or similar - I converted an older pair of shoes to screw shoes. I did't fall once last winter, while even my dog went down twice.

(For winter dog running, at 14F-32F he gets Musher's secret on his paws, and below that he gets the rubber balloon style booties.)

Running in a winter snow storm at night with a headlamp rocks.
posted by nobeagle at 1:13 PM on November 17, 2015

The lovely thing about running in the winter is that you can avoid sweating like a pig altogether. Thirty below freezing is wonderful weather for running. If you are sweating before you have gone two blocks then you are seriously over dressed.

My rule of thumb is that for the first couple of blocks I should feel much too cold, the next couple of blocks I can deal with it but I am shivering, then a half dozen blocks I am comfortable, and then I start taking layers off so as not to overheat. A large nylon backpack of the kind that folds up to take almost no space is ideal to stuff the hoodie and mittens and scarf and hat into as you start peeling off.

Be prepared to dress idiosyncratically, depending on your sensitivities and circulation. You might, for example find that running along with a ski mask over your head and face, but only a t-shirt for your top is the right amount of layers for you once you get going, if your ears and nose are sensitive to the cold but your torso just vents heat like crazy. Alternatively your body might want something cozy like a hoodie, but your hands and head prefer to go bare.

If you live someplace balmy it might rain during "cold" weather and that, and ice are the hardest things to deal with. Clothing that is more than adequate while the weather is dry becomes miserably inadequate when it is raining. Very light waterproof shells are helpful if you are running in weather like this. Avoid them otherwise, and when it is only a little damp as they will trap the moisture inside more than keep it out.

If your body is warm enough from exertion getting soaked in cold water becomes not uncomfortable at all. I have sat down in a few puddles made from melted ice.

Be aware what black ice looks like. Also, learn to fall down. Basically, make sure you don't land BUMP but roll with it or go into a slide.

I don't try to keep my shoes from getting wet in snow and slush and water, but I make sure they get dried out thoroughly and quickly after I get in. Soles that can handle ice are critical. You want to make sure you have the right kind of treads if you are going to be encountering ice.

In brutal weather your may wish to breath through the nose so the air gets warmed up before it hits your lungs which can make it difficult to really get going. Breathing through your mouth can produce a solid painful mass in the chest feeling when the air is far colder than your lung tissue. But that's the kind of weather when you don't have problems with over heating and sweating at all, because nothing cools you down faster than gasping in lungfuls of air which are so much colder than your body core temperature.

If you cover your face to keep it warm the cloth will promptly frost up. If you are warm enough the moisture won't freeze solid next to your lips and nose and cheeks but if you slow down your scarf can get frozen to your skin. To avoid that carry a spare scarf.

Every one I know who has glasses has given up and taken them off outside in cold weather. For one thing the lenses will pop out, but mainly they frost over and render you completely blind and there is no good way to deal with this. There are sprays you can use to coat the lenses, or you can try to deflect your exhalations downward but neither of those work worth a darn.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:23 PM on November 17, 2015

I'm a serious runner and while NOTHING feels as good as that stretch in your warm house, I bought a treadmill a few years ago.

I like the treadmill because it shames me into running when I may not have wanted to go outside. But the best part for me is that I now SO MUCH MORE appreciate the first day it hits 40 and I can get outside again. Switching it up keeps it fresh for me. I also increase my weight training; feeling sore muscles in the winter gives me a much-needed endorphin rush.
posted by kinetic at 2:11 PM on November 17, 2015

I found a local (county) gym that had an inside running track and joined for the winter months, and it was worth it when there were long stretches of melt and freeze.
Because while I do run in the cold (using some of the layering techniques other people have already mentioned), I'm very prone to falling over in icy conditions.(!)
posted by hiker U. at 2:57 PM on November 17, 2015

Give yourself some time to figure it out, trial and error. You have plenty of gear suggestions, but basically, you're going to figure it out day by day, run by run. Conditions vary hugely. It might be 20, sunny, and still, and you'll have a great run and feel really warm. Or it can be 24, raining sideways, and blowing like stink, and you're going to be frigid. Evaluate it every day, and build on what you learn. Never forget a hat - if it gets too hot, stick it in your pocket. Never forget gloves - ditto.

I find a scarf or at least a fleece neck thingie that covers my mouth essential for warming air when it's really dry and cold.

Don't worry, you can do this. People do this. You feel like a Titan when you run all winter. Go for it.
posted by Miko at 7:21 PM on November 17, 2015

One thing I haven't seen mentioned is the cool down. You're not going to want to spend much time walking around after your run when it's cold out, so you should adjust your stopping point to somewhere closer to home, and do any post-run stretching indoors.
posted by cardboard at 7:30 PM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't do well breathing cold air but this fleece, silk-lined mask is great: http://icanbreathe.com/ . weighs so little it hooks over your ears (good with glasses, hat, helmet), wired at the nose, boned down the front so you don't suck it in when you're sucking air.
posted by clew at 9:26 PM on November 17, 2015

I just run at the gym. But I'm not a hardcore runner.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:48 PM on November 17, 2015

I used to run in NYC and preferred the winter. I just froze my a*s off for about 10 minutes before I started to warm up. I ran 15 minutes in one direction, and then I ran 15 minutes home. I got home when I was still pretty warm.

You'll figure out what works for you.
posted by Piedmont_Americana at 1:25 AM on November 18, 2015

I am the sort of person who hates cold weather, feels cold in June and carries a hot water bottle everywhere and until I started entering half marathons I just point blank refused to run outdoors from October to March. But once I tried it I realised it is actually better in some ways! When it is cold it takes me a lot longer to get tired and I can go 10k without water which makes life a lot easier!

The first few seconds when you step outside in your running gear can be somewhat bracing, but after the first ten minutes or so you won't notice the difference - you may even be glad of the cool air! Do your warm up inside the house and make it aerobic so you are already a bit sweaty when you leave. I don't bother with layering clothes - I run in a vest and tights if it is 50f or hotter, a short sleeved sports top down to 40f, and a lightweight long sleeved running top and long yoga pants when it is proper cold. If you feel cold, run faster! I even went for a run alongside a frozen-over river last January and I felt like a proper hardcore mofo.

Oh, and make sure the house is toasty warm when you get in and that you have a nice warm bath to look forward to!
posted by intensitymultiply at 7:27 AM on November 18, 2015

Running through the winter is doable, but you are at least mentally tough for doing it.

I hate being cold when I run, so while I understand that I'll warm up after a mile, I hate being cold for that first mile, but since I'm running outside in the winter, I also give myself a break on pace -- being outside and running is the goal, not running fast. I don't want to be cold, but I don't want to sweat too much either. I don't want to fall down when the ground gets snow, ice, water on it. So I take it easier outside when it's cold outside because just running is enough.
posted by garlic at 2:24 PM on November 23, 2015

Also, whenever I'm going long distances outside, I have a backup plan in case I have to abort my run. Since I'm in a big city, that means my mass transit card, and my bike-share key, plus some cash if I have to stop for a warm drink on the way back home.
posted by garlic at 2:26 PM on November 23, 2015

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