If you love running, there’s not much that will stop you from getting outdoors to pound the pavement — except the cold winter weather. Yes, you could stay toasty and get some miles in on the treadmill, but it’s just never as satisfying as breathing in fresh air and feeling the wind against you. But all that changes once sub-20-degree temps roll in. Suddenly, the love for a nice jog is crushed by the elements — not to mention the inevitable runny nose, numbness in your toes, and an overall stiffness within your body and joints. So how do you combat these cold weather annoyances in order to train outdoors? Follow these tips for better winter runs.
1. The complaint: I wear layers because it’s so cold, but quickly into my run I’m sweating and overheating.
The Reason: Whenever you begin an activity in cold weather, you’re bound to be cold because you don’t have any blood flowing yet, so it’s normal to dress warm. But once you start moving, your body temperature rises and you begin to sweat. Location also plays a part in what to wear. “Dressing for winter running can be tricky depending on where you live,” says Stephanie Rothstein Bruce, pro-runner and marathoner. “If it’s a 30-degree day in the humid east coast climate, dressing for 30 degrees makes sense because the sun isn’t out to warm you up and humidity keeps cold trapped in. By contrast, a 30-degree day in sunny, dry Colorado would suggest dressing for a 50-degree day because you’ll warm up much quicker on your run,” Rothstein Bruce says.
The Fix: Take into account where you’re planning to run. If it’s a low temperature outside, but very sunny, consider wearing a few less layers. If you’re running at night, an extra long sleeve shirt might not be a bad idea. Also, if you can, warm up inside and get your blood flowing. If you can manage to break a sweat before you head out the door, you won’t be as chilly on your run.
2. The complaint: I find it difficult to breathe in the cold.
The Reason: If you have actual shortness of breath, you may want to consult with your doctor, recommends Dr. Alan Cohen, an Otolaryngologist with Ear, Nose and Throat Associates of New York, as it could be exercise-induced asthma. If that is the case, a doctor can prescribe an inhaler. If you don’t have asthma, it’s best to breathe in through the nose so that it can be filtered and warmed. However, between a runny nose and the need for more air, many people begin mouth breathing, which means freezing cold air will be hitting your lungs, says Cohen.
The Fix: Try to breathe through your nose when you can. Even wearing a ski mask won’t always warm up the air breathed in through your mouth. Cohen says it becomes an individual sensitivity issue. “Some people don’t mind it, and others hate the cold hitting their chest.” If you have serious problems breathing, see your doctor.
3. The complaint: My ears get so cold and start to ache.
The Reason: Ears, like your fingertips, are made of thin cartilage, which makes them very sensitive to the cold. “Any pain is just a protective response your body automatically makes,” says Cohen.
The Fix: If wearing a hat or ski cap feels overwhelming, Cohen recommends wearing a piece of gear that covers the ears, like muffs or a headband. Finding one that has rubber grips or that is lined to wick sweat are both great options.
4. The complaint: My toes go completely numb.
The Reason: Unfortunately, cold weather has a way of making body parts go numb after a while. This happens due to the lack of blood flow to certain limbs, especially the hands and feet. Having your shoes tied too tight, or wearing shoes that are too small, can also cause a feeling of numbness.
The Fix: Avoid socks that separate your toes, which will only make them colder. Instead, simply layer up on regular socks. “Whenever I look at the weather and see that it is going to be below a certain temperature, say 20 degrees, I double layer my socks,” says Rothstein Bruce. If that doesn’t work, try running with foot warmers.
5. The complaint: My nose won’t stop running.
The Reason: “Every time you take a sniff of outside air, it’s the nose’s job to filter, warm and humidify it to body temperature in a fraction of second, before it hits the lungs,” says Cohen. “Especially in the winter, when you’re outside your nose is trying to over-moisturize the super dry air, and the extra moisture causes it to run.”
The Fix: While there are some prescription sprays that slow down nose running, they are not recommended for this type of situation (these are mostly for allergies). The best thing you can do is to carry tissues with you. Cohen also recommends putting some Vaseline around your nose to prevent chapping.
6. The complaint: My joints feel really tight, which makes running uncomfortable.
The Reason: Cold winter weather causes the body to slow down a bit and adjust to the colder weather. “Things just aren’t working as quickly and efficiently as they do when it’s warm,” says Rothstein Bruce. “Therefore, joints can feel stiffer and more locked up.”
The Fix: Allow you body extra time before heading out for a run. Get your joints and muscles moving before you put them through the paces — don’t just run out the door, says Rothstein Bruce. Give yourself at least 10 minutes to adequately warm up, including walking, foam rolling and dynamic stretching, she says. This will ultimately help best prepare your body to train and prevent possible injuries.
How do you combat outdoor fitness during the winter months? Tell us your cold weather remedies below!
Originally published January 2014. Updated January 2017.