Between bitterly cold temperatures, the seemingly endless hours of darkness, and the sleet, snow, and slippery roads, running in the winter is not for the meek. Just getting out the door can take a tremendous amount of motivation.
Even the most dedicated runners often find themselves flirting with the idea of skipping a run. But getting in the miles doesn’t have to be a struggle. Sure, you might dread that first mile, but once your body has warmed up, a winter run can be glorious. The key is hyping yourself up enough to actually make it that far.
As a longtime running coach and certified personal trainer who’s run through many New England winters, I’ve got a few expert tips that can help boost your motivation to get out there even when Netflix and fuzzy slippers are calling your name.
1. Warm up inside first
Getting your blood flowing before you head out can help to ease the transition so you’re not suddenly freezing as soon as you hit the sidewalk. Of course, warming up is always important, but if you’re starting off with slow jogging in the cold, bitter temperatures can feel that much more brutal. So build up some heat and knock the warmup off your list indoors so you can hit the roads running at a faster pace. Try some jumping jacks, jogging in place, running up and down the stairs, or burpees. Just don’t get so sweaty indoors that you’re already wet when you head outside.
Try this pre-run warmup with trainer Traci Copeland:
2. Use hand warmers
Freezing fingers and toes are never enjoyable, and in extreme weather, the risk of frostbite is something to be taken seriously. If your digits can’t seem to keep warm, add disposable or reusable hand warmers and toe warmers to your gloves and running shoes.
3. Prepare a warm drink to look forward to
Getting out the door can be easier when you know that you have a post-workout treat waiting for you once you get home. Consider buying some gourmet hot chocolate, mulled apple cider, your favorite coffee beans, or herbal tea blends and having a special hot drink ready to sip. Not only will the warm liquid warm you up and start rehydrating you, but treating yourself to something that you don’t normally have can make it more enticing to get your winter mileage in.
4. Do short loops
It can feel daunting to go for a long run that takes you miles away from the house when you’re not sure how the weather is going to behave, or how your body is going to handle the conditions. Keeping your loops short and circling back near home will allow you to drop off extra layers, grab a quick sip of warm tea, and can reduce the mental hurdle of a long run. Instead of telling yourself that you’re going to run for an hour or 6 miles, just plan a 10- to 15-minute loop or a one- to two-mile route, see how it goes, and then try to repeat it another time or two.
5. Run with a group
Data shows that working out with others makes us more likely to stick to a fitness routine–and we typically find it more satisfying. Whether you join a running group, form one of your own, or just recruit a friend or neighbor to be your running buddy, consider partnering up for winter runs so that you don’t have to brave the cold and darkness alone.
6. Gamify your runs
Using apps like Zombies, Run!, Aaptiv, or Nike Run Club with guided runs or running games can make your miles more fun. Or, you can invent your own winter running games. For example, if you run in the evening, before you head out the door, guess how many houses you’ll see with Christmas lights, and then count them on your run to see how close you can get. Or tell yourself you’ll pick up the pace every time you see a dog.
7 Get the right gear
Light layers are ideal because you can remove them as you get too hot. While a general rule of thumb is to dress as though it’s 10 degrees warmer outside since you’ll quickly heat up, if you find that too intimidating, just make a plan for how you’ll store extra layers once you don’t need them.
For your extremities, slip on wool socks, an ear warmer or beanie, a neck gaiter or face mask, and gloves or mittens. And remember that running shoes with good traction will help prevent slipping on snowy and icy roads, and a GORE-TEX upper can help keep your tootsies dry when it’s wet out.
8. Adjust your goals
Runners tend to be goal-driven people, but you might want to adjust your expectations for winter running. When there are dicey (and icy!) conditions and challenging temperatures, it can be a good idea to run for time instead of mileage and effort instead of pace. Always prioritize safety. Give yourself permission to cut runs short if you are getting too cold or feel that the running is unsafe–or just miserable. Any run is a win, even if it’s not exactly what your training schedule dictates.
9. Train for a race
It may sound unappealing to train for a race in the winter, but having an event on the calendar can give your training some direction and purpose. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a local race series, a virtual run, or a special destination race, as long as it’s meaningful to you, it can give you a reason to push through the temptation to hibernate.
10. Hit the treadmill
Admittedly, it’s not really the same as running outdoors, but sometimes the best option is to use the treadmill. If the roads are slippery, if it’s sleeting or snowing, or if you just cannot face the darkness and cold, there’s nothing wrong with taking your workout indoors. In fact, the treadmill can be a great training tool to help you work on your speed. Embrace the challenging weather as a smart reason to switch things up.
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