Winter Running | Benefits, Gear, and Running with a Cold

Written by
Kathryn Wall @ 8fit
Written by
Kathryn Wall @ 8fit
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If you love to run in nice weather, you may want to transition to cold weather running during the winter months. Running in the cold requires different gear and preparation, but you may find that you can run at a faster pace in the colder temperatures. 

Here we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about cold weather running and give some tips about making running in the winter easier.

What Makes Cold Weather Running Different?

Many people will argue that it’s easier to run in the cold. In fact, long-distance runners have noted that their average pace is one mile per minute faster in the winter months. Running in the cold seems to be easier on the body, which is why distance records occur in 45-degree weather. For example, most marathons, such as the Boston Marathon, occur in the late spring or fall when the temperatures are cooler.

The scientific reason is that overheating is one of the main limitations of physical activity. In warmer temperatures, your body needs to cool itself through sweating. 

This requires large amounts of blood supply at the surface of the skin. In cold weather, your blood supply can be conserved for your muscles and heart. With the same effort, you can reach a faster pace in colder temperatures.

But running in the cold can take its toll on the body. Certain studies have pinpointed that extreme cold impacts exercise performance and endurance. The extreme temperatures exert high stresses on the mechanisms that regulate body temperature. 

Also, the dry air and cold temperatures can cause a burning sensation in your lungs. Therefore, it is important to plan for cold weather running safely and with proper gear.

Benefits of Running in the Cold

There are many benefits to cold weather running. Not only can it help you remain active in the winter months, but it can also help your overall mood and well-being. Here are three big perks to running in the colder months:

1. Increased Glycogen Consumption

When you run in the cold, your body needs both to keep your core temperature up and power your muscles. This requires energy from glycogen, which comes from the carbohydrates consumed. 

With the increased metabolic requirement, your body will use more glycogen and burn more calories. In some cases, this can lead to increased fat loss. Cool temperatures actually change the composition of fat and its metabolism.

2. Improved Strength and Speed

In the cold, your body needs to work harder. This means that you can build strength much quicker. Your heart, lungs, and circulation all work harder to keep your core temperature up and fuel your muscles. Training in the cold can improve your speed and strength overall.

3. Avoiding SAD

Running is not only beneficial for your physical well-being, but also for your mental health. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is common in the winter months because of the lack of sun and colder weather. Getting outside for a run can combat SAD and improve your mood. Running in the winter months can also fight depression and anxiety.

Tips for Making Cold Weather Running Easy and Fun

1. Warm Up Stiff Muscles Inside

Colder temperatures mean that your muscles will feel stiffer and need to work harder. It is important to warm up and stretch properly, but also — and more importantly — to do it in the warmer temperatures inside. Skipping stretching increases your risk of injury.

2. Practice Mindful Running

Resistance to cold weather running is mental. You may try to convince yourself that it is too cold in an attempt to avoid your daily run. By practicing mindfulness, be aware of the mental roadblocks to running in the winter months. Build up to a routine and make a schedule that you can stick to.

Read more about mindful running.

3. Invest in Winter Running Gear

The key to making running in the cold easier is investing in quality gear. The rule of thumb is to dress like it is 20 degrees warmer than it actually is. Here are the things you may want to have on hand:

  • Layers are key. Start with a skintight base layer and build up in layers. Add an extra layer or two depending on temperature. Avoid too many layers since you don't want to overheat.

  • Invest in waterproof shoes. Snow and rain are more likely during winter months, so a quality pair of running shoes is necessary to keep your feet dry. Ensure that they have good traction, especially if you are running in wet weather conditions.

  • Use reflective gear. In the winter, dark morning and evening runs are common, so ensure that you have reflective clothing or outer layers for safety. Vests are common among runners, and headlamps can help you see in the darker hours.

  • Cover up exposed skin. Socks, gloves, a hat, and a neck cover are necessities for running in the cold.

Winter Sickness and Running

Should you run with a cold or sore throat? If you have a common cold without any fever symptoms, running may actually help you feel better by temporarily clearing nasal congestion. One way that runners often determine their ability to run is the "neck check." 

If your signs and symptoms are all above the neck, you can exercise if your body seems up to it. Examples of these types of symptoms are a runny nose, nasal congestion, or a mild sore throat. 

If your symptoms are below the neck, then skip running for the day. These types of symptoms are chest congestion, cough, or upset stomach. If you have a fever or muscle aches, it’s better to rest than run.

If you pass the "neck check," consider reducing the intensity or length of your run. Listen to your body. You can cause serious injury or further illness if you run at your normal pace. Resume your normal workout routine gradually as you begin to feel better. 

Always make sure that you are staying properly hydrated, especially if you have a cold. If you are unsure whether or not you should run, consult a doctor about your illness before exercising.

Will running in the cold cause illness? Contrary to popular belief, simply running in the cold will not cause you to get sick. The common cold is caused by a virus, not by being outside in the cold for extended periods of time. However, if you feel like you are getting sick, you may want to avoid running outside.

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Featured photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

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