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How to run outside in the winter and enjoy it!

When winter sets in, many runners move inside to a treadmill. But running outside has benefits the basement can’t offer!

Fresh air. Just filling your lungs with clean, fresh air can be therapeutic.

Change of scene. This stimulates the mind and keeps your run interesting.

Appreciation of nature. You can enjoy the unique winter landscape.

Five Things to Consider for Winter Running

1) Clothing is key:

what to wear for inner layer when winter running

You will need:

  • Warm tights and/or pants that are wind-proofed in front.
  • One or two lighter-weight tops, depending on the outdoor temperature. On top, wear a windproof, lightweight jacket.
  • Avoid wearing heavy jackets. They can be restrictive and you may become too hot.
  • Wear a warm toque and mitts.


Remember, there is no bad weather,
just bad clothing!

what to wear for outer layer when winter running

2) Footwear:

Some things to consider:

  • Your regular running shoes are suitable, even in winter. Be sure the treads are in good condition.
  • Thin merino wool socks (not thick wool socks like your Granddad wore!) will keep your feet warm even if they get wet.
  • Check that your laces still slide through the holes and aren’t seized up with salt. This can cause the shoe to be less flexible and may lead to foot injuries.

3) Weather:

For most of the winter, you can run in weather that is fine. But:

  • Wear a face covering on extremely cold days (that is, when the windchill is minus 20 degrees Celsius or lower), especially if it’s windy. This will ensure you don’t arrive home with frostbite.
hat and face mask to wear when winter running
  • If there is freezing rain, you should take the day off to avoid risk of a fall and injury.
runner falling on ice

4) Adapt:

  • Stay alert and ready to change your gait/speed as you come to slippery sections. Take shorter strides and run more flat footed until you get across the icy patch.
  • Slow down when cornering or you may find your feet go out from underneath you.
  • If it is very windy, change direction frequently to avoid running long stretches into the wind. Your face will thank you.
  • Be prepared to have the run be a little repetitious if the footing is poor. If you find a sidewalk or quiet road that is better cleared, you may end up running back and forth or in circles to get your miles in.  Remember, it will always be better than plodding out the miles on the treadmill!
  • If you time your run or wear a GPS watch, wear it on the outside of your jacket sleeve so you can see it easily without having to constantly trying to push your sleeve back.
  • Do not worry about your speed in winter. You will run slower.  That is a given so don’t stress about it.
running on ice

5) Warm up / Cool Down

Remember to warm up before you start.

Remember to stretch after you finish.

cool down exercises after running in the winter

The hard part of winter running is getting out the door!

going out for a run

The rest is easy.

So, whenever you can, skip the treadmill and go outside for your run.

You will feel more refreshed, more stimulated and have an improved sense of well being.

 I have never come back from a winter run wishing I had not gone out!

coming back after a winter run


Q. Can cold winter air damage your lungs?

A. Even in very cold temperatures, the air you breath is warmed by your body before it reaches your lungs. A face covering can help pre-warm the air, but it is not an essential item. Nevertheless, on cold winter days, I recommend that you avoid vigorous speed workouts that require you to inhale sharply.

Q. Do I need to wear gripping devices on my shoes?

A. I recommend traction devices only if your entire run will be on snow or ice. Sometimes, your run will be on bare sidewalk with only occasional icy or snowy sections. But most often, your run will be on dry pavement. When there is no snow and/or ice underfoot, gripping devices are a hindrance rather than a help.

Q. Do I need to use sunscreen in the winter?

A. If your face is uncovered, the ultraviolet rays in sunlight can still damage your skin.

Q. On a winter run, do I need to carry water?

A. Yes. Winter air is generally very dry and you will become dehydrated. Your challenge will be to keep your water supply from freezing. I usually start with hot water and wear the water belt inside my coat. If you follow this practice, by the end of a long run, the water may be partly frozen but you will be able to drink most of it before it freezes.



Cold weather dressing: what to wear at different temperatures


Sherry Carson
Running Coach/Personal Trainer
Sherry has competed in all race distances and has been part of the BC and NS provincial teams competing in the Canadian National 10k Championships. In 1994, she was named BC Master XC Runner of the Year and in 2010 was awarded the Ottawa Lions Road Racer of the Year. Sherry has competed at 2 World Master’s ½ Marathon Championships finishing 2nd in her age category both times. Her career race totals include 50 5k’s, 90 10k’s, 43 ½ marathons and 8 marathons with a marathon PB of 2:54:50.

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