As the temperature dips around the world into figures with a ‘minus’ before them, it’s easy to look at the cars coated thick with ice and think, “Uh-uh, no way I’m running today.’”
But running outside in frost or snow can provide some of the best memories of the year, with your local routes transformed into winter wonderland scenes the type you normally only glimpse on Christmas cards, providing plenty of opportunity for you to post photographs on Strava.
As explorer Colin O’Brady says in The Impossible First, when witnessing a ‘sundog’ circular rainbow on his solo trek across Antarctica: “I’ll probably never do this again but these are the moments that I’m going to remember.”
As well as memories, running in freezing temperatures also has a number of health benefits, from lowering heart rate to increasing VO2 Max and long-distance running speed.
It should be emphasized that the most important thing when running in cold temperatures is to be prepared. Hypothermia can set in quickly, so ensure you carry more layers than required, a foil blanket or bivvy bag, a working phone, and let someone know your route and timings or set up Strava Beacon (see tip no. 9).
Once that’s done, follow our tips to help you run outside in winter:
Abide by the simple three-layer system to ensure you remain warm on the coldest of days: baselayer, midlayer, outer layer.
Your baselayer will ideally be merino (see No. 3), will fit tightly, regulate your temperature, be breathable and wick sweat away from your body without becoming soaking wet (which then becomes cold).
Your midlayer should include lightweight insulation if it’s particularly chilly, such as a padded long-sleeve jacket or gilet packed with an insulating material such as Primaloft.
Then the outer layer should protect you from the weather, ideally a breathable windproof and/or waterproof shell if it’s a blizzard outside.
The bonus with layers is that if you begin to warm up you can remove one before you get too hot and begin to sweat too much, as damp inner layers can also lead to you getting cold and your temperature dropping.
2. Protect your extremities
Gloves/mittens and a hat are non-negotiable. If it’s face-freezing-cold, add a liner pair of gloves under your insulated gloves or mitts for extra warmth (again, merino is ideal here). You lose around 10% of your body heat through your head (the old adage that you lose 40% is a myth), so look for a running hat with ear flaps to keep your ears extra toasty.
Also, a neck gaiter is a game-changer in terms of trapping heat from escaping via your jacket collar, and you can pull it up over your mouth and nose if your face goes numb. Arm sleeves are also a handy addition if you’re wearing a T-shirt or vest baselayer and feel you might overheat.
One last secret tip many cold-weather runners swear by: heated hand warmers. With some brands you can get 10+ hours’ heat out of a pair, ensuring your blood circulates nicely below zero if you pop one down your mitten.
3. Merino’s your friend
The wonder fabric is more expensive for a reason: this natural sheep fibre is soft, highly breathable, moisture-wicking, and antibacterial so it won’t maintain unpleasant odors, a bonus of which is that it requires less washing.
As a result, it makes for the perfect baselayer material.
4. Pick the right shoes
You need grip, not Vaporflys. It’s a time for trail shoes, the longer lugs, the better. You might even require ice cleats or crampons to give you traction through deep snow.
5. Warm your clothes
A simple trick to make you more likely to actually pull your running kit on a cold day? Hang your kit on a radiator, put them close to the fire, heck, even warm them up in the microwave (beware of zips!) – you’ll be surprised at what difference warm clothing makes.
Even if when you step outside it instantly loses all of its heat, by that point you’re out of the house, so you might as well keep going…
6. Join a Strava Challenge
Heading into inclement weather requires a degree of motivation that is sometimes not achieved simply by ‘going for a run’.
If you need an aim, a target, a purpose, a reason for running, sign up to one of Strava’s monthly challenges. Whether it’s logging a 5k run or recording 500 minutes of activity in a month, it all helps in getting you off the sofa and out the door.
7. Create a summery playlist
Heat Waves, Summertime, Here Comes The Sun, Surfin’ USA… whatever songs remind you of summer, stick them on a playlist and turn the volume to 11 while you leap through the white stuff like an Arctic hare. That way, you’ll trick your mind into keeping you warm.
8. Coffee and cake stops are recommended
If you feel like your core temperature’s dropping, then it’s time to stop for a warm drink. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, soup – glug it down and you’ll soon start to feel better. Cake helps, too.
9. Use Strava Beacon
As mentioned earlier, running in cold weather is all about staying safe. Plan your route carefully using Strava’s ‘Create a Route’, ensure you inform someone of your route and expected time back, pack plenty of extra layers and a foil blanket and/or bivvy bag plus spare food and ensure you set Beacon up on your phone when you begin recording your activity on Strava.
Strava Beacon shares a URL with specific contacts, so they can track your activity movement in real time, with your position updated every 15 seconds. You can send your location via text