Running outside this winter? Experts share hot tips for cool temps

Advice on how to dress, getting a proper warm-up, adapting your route and more.

Advice on how to dress, getting a proper warm-up, adapting your route and more

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

With the doors of gyms closing on and off due to the pandemic, 2020 has been the year where many of us have started running again for the first time since high school Phys Ed class. Now as the temperature drops, so may your desire to workout, especially outdoors. But winter running doesn't have to be all that bad if you approach it the right way — like wearing the right gear, warming up properly and practicing good form. Here are a few tips on how to prepare yourself for cold weather runs so you can continue crushing those outdoor workouts. 

Dress warm 

"Although it is tempting to overdress, remember that it feels 10 degrees warmer when you run," explains Jennifer Lau, Nike master trainer and co-owner of Toronto training company Fit Squad. The general rule of thumb is to add 10 to 20 degrees to the outside temperature to calculate your running temperature. If you overdress you'll get too hot too quickly into your workout, which can sabotage your run. 

The best way to dress for the cold weather, according to marathoner and Running Room founder John Stanton, is to "wear three layers: base layer, insulating layer and windproof shell." The base layer should be made of a sweat-wicking material that keeps moisture away from your skin and dries out quickly to keep you feeling fresh. Don't wear cotton for your base layer — once it gets wet, you'll stay wet. And with the sun setting earlier in the winter, John also recommends wearing bright reflective gear so you can be seen by vehicles in dark. 

Warm up indoors

One tip to help you brave the cold is to warm up indoors when you're dressed. "That initial cold feeling will actually feel great," says ultramarathoner and co-host of The Longest Stride podcast, Jonathan Greenwald. The cold weather doesn't feel so cold when you're warmed up so try things like briskly walking around your house, doing some jumping jacks or jogging up and down the stairs. Greenwald says the key is to loosen up those tight muscles and get the heart pumping without breaking a sweat. Warming up before heading out into the cold will also reduce your risk of injury. 

Run smaller loops 

Instead of heading out for a long winter run, do smaller loops around your neighborhood. "That way, if the cold becomes unbearable, you're not too far from home," advises Stanton. If you start to get too hot, you can easily drop off some layers inside. Stanton also suggests running into the wind for the first part of your run and with the wind on the return portion. This will help make the latter part, which is also the harder part as your muscles fatigue a bit, more enjoyable.

Slow down 

It's important to adjust the intensity of your run to the outdoor conditions. "You shouldn't expect to run at the same pace that you would in warmer weather," says Greenwald, "and that's okay." Your body will be working hard to maintain your core temperature so running may feel harder. A good technique to practice is to shorten your stride to improve your footing on icy roads and sidewalks. 

Wear the right shoe 

When you're running in the winter, traction is key to avoiding slips and falls. Make sure to look for a shoe that is weatherproof with good traction for slippery roads and sidewalks. "Reflective design accents are also great safety features as it gets darker earlier in the winter months," says Lau. It might seem like a luxury to buy a seasonal running shoe, but if you plan on running a few times a week, having drier feet and a safer shoe is definitely worthwhile. Lau suggests the Nike Pegasus 37 Shields. They're designed specifically for wet road surfaces, with traction patterns that grip the pavement better. The weatherized shroud upper helps repel water and keep feet dry. 

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 Shield, $170, Nike

Greenwald is a fan of the Saucony Peregrine ICE+. It's a water-resistant trail shoe with a number of features that make winter running fun. He says they're a great confidence booster when the conditions are not in your favour and he wears them to run on snow-covered roads and sidewalks; especially if there are hidden patches of ice.

Saucony Peregrine ICE+, $189.99, Sport Chek 

Stanton's winter running shoe of choice is the Brooks Ghost 13 GTX for its reliable cushioning and comfort while delivering built-in weather protection. 

Brooks Ghost 13 GTX, $184.99, Running Room

Lastly, keep in mind that it can be too cold to head outdoors. If it's -30°C or colder you don't have to be a hero, jokes Stanton. This could be a great day for cross-training, so find an alternative to running outside like dance cardio or a lower body workout.

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