Running in Winter Wonderland – Five Tips for Extreme Cold Running

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For a Puerto Rican girl, winter can seem like a daunting season full of “Do I really want to go out into the cold?” and “Maybe I should just skip a walk because that would require bundling up and I just do not feel like it” kind of moments.  Here in Minnesota, those thoughts can multiply… unless you love the snow.

Any Gilmore Girls fans?If you are you remember that famous phrase by Lorelei “I Smell Snow”.  No, not the illegal “snow” but rather that feeling and smell in the air, right before it snows.  The air changes and there is this barely noticeable “smell” of snow.  I am that kind of person, attune with the weather and snow makes me happy. How did that happened? Back in 2000, I was in a peace keeping operation in Bosnia, and one winter's day I went out for a run.  As I started my run, it started snowing.  I will never forget it.  There was nobody else walking around our base of operations.  I was the only crazy running.  The snow intensified and the biggest snowflakes I had ever seen started falling.  To this day, if I close my eyes, I can still hear the snowflakes falling.  I can also hear the muffled sound of my footsteps in the snow.  It was the most peacefully surreal moment I have ever had… in a good way. 

In that moment I fell in love with running in winter.  Yes, I am that crazy that will run in 12°F or when it is snowing. For the purposes of this post extreme weather = 30°F or below.  In my case, this temperature comes with winds and it is brutal.  All this being said, I am not immune to the elements and running in extreme weather requires preparation and making sure you are protected, and today I am sharing with you my top five tips for extreme cold weather running. 

Photo by  Isaac Wendland  on  Unsplash

1. Layers Are Your Friend.  The key to successful extreme winter running is layering.  If you remember nothing else, remember this.  My initial impulse when dressing for running in the winter is to bundle up, only to sweat once I start running.  Layers allow you to shed what you do not need.  I really the tip from Runner’s World about dressing in layers: The rule of thumb is to dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer.  What does that looks like for me?

• Wicking base layer (sports, bra, long-sleeved shirt, underwear, socks).  For me, any piece of clothing in direct contact with skin is a base layer. The key is comfort and breathable.  Some people like merino wool while others go for polyester.  The choices are as endless as your budget is.

• Wind resistant softshells are awesome especially if you hate wind.  Makes all the difference.  I like to wear a form fitting one.

For socks, I like them warm but light (thank goodness for Smartwool) to cover my knees because of my arthritis. Look for blends that will keep your toes warm and cozy.

• Running Tights.  There are tons of amazing running for running in the cold but for me, the tights that work are skiing tights because they have a panel in the thigh area to protect from the wind.  And we have terrible wind in my area.  I have yet to find running tights that compare to skiing ones.

• Running gloves and hats are a must! They protect you!  But make sure your hat isn’t too heavy or you will be sweating like crazy.  Go lightweight here. Did you know that thebody loses the majority of its heat through any exposed skin? So cover up as much as possible.

• Sunglasses—DO NOT FORGET THEM! The first (and only time) I ran without sunglasses, I was miserable, as the sun reflected on the snow.  My eyes were crying the whole time, and I think at times I was running with my eyes closed for some relief.

• Running Shoes—the best for last, right?  Water-resistant but breathable is the key. Don’t follow this and your feet will be very uncomfortable.  Even for road training, if itssnowing, I like to use a trail shoe because they have traction. Wearing gaiters over your calves will keep your ankles and legs dry when the snow is deep.

Let’s talk icy conditions, because we get lots of that here in Minnesota.  The best item I found are Yaktrax straps.  You hook them to the front and back of your running shoes and it gives awesome traction when running in icy conditions, so you can avoiding slipping on hard snow or ice like on a scene from Home Alone.


2.Get Warm.  During winter running, but especially extreme cold, warm-ups are mandatory for me especially because I do have some arthritis in my right knee.  Seriously-- do not skip this part.  Warming up your muscles is key to avoiding injuries.  You can do a pre-warm up inside and then take about 15 minutes outside for a slow jog to get the muscles warm and loose.  Then feel free to bring it!

3.  Cover any Exposed Skin.  The most painful part of extreme weather running is the exposed skin, so I leave none.  When it insanely cold, I wear a face mask or balaclava.  I make sure my hat covers my ears and that my neck is also covered.  For any other areas of the face, if it is windy, I rub a bit of Vaseline to protect against the elements.

4. Safety:  We have a saying in the Army—Safety First—and this is no exception.  This is very important to me because I live out in the country and if something happened they probably would not know where to find me.  A few simple rules I follow—

• Map my route with a Plan B in case I need to cut the run short.  I use Map My Run and when I go on longer runs, I print the route and stick to the fridge so hubby knows where I am going.

• Bring your cell phone AND make sure you keep it in a pocket where it will stay warm.  When the phone gets cold it will drain the battery. So keep it somewhere it will stay warm.

• I always let someone know where I am going.  I even let my mom know when my husband is out of town.  Just let someone know in case of emergency.

• Run mid-day when the temperatures are warmer and there is plenty of light. It is my favorite time of the day to run.

5. Use Common Sense:  Yes, I love to run outside in the winter but sometimes it is too damn cold!  On those days I just know how my body will react, and so I stay indoors and run on the treadmill or elliptical at my work gym.  You just have to be flexible and change the plan.  No run is worth you getting injured. No run whatsoever. 

Happy Running! Stay safe! 



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