Running in the cold

winter running jen is green

Jen during one of her winter races.

By Jen Masa

We're always inspired when we read about the races Jen is running. And as self-described "winter runner," she runs all year round. So we thought we'd ask her for a few ideas about how to make running outside more comfortable and fun during the cold weather months.

Yes, winter is here! But that doesn't mean we have to stay indoors and on our couches. I like to stay active throughout the whole year, especially during the winter. Even when my couch seems more inviting, sometimes exercising outside in the cold can be invigorating! And there's nothing better than feeling the sunshine on your face! When exercising, I'll take cold weather over humidity any day. Within the past few years, I've made a habit of running outside in the winter and I really enjoy it.

Here are a few suggestions to help make your winter running experience more tolerable!

Invest in some good coldgear
There is nothing worse than freezing during a run outside. With the proper winter gear that won't happen! Most brands, like Nike and Under Armor, have specific lines for cold weather running, and they are a great investment if you are a serious runner. Look for a moisture wicking fabric that keeps sweat away from the body -- and stay away from cotton. A good pair of compression leggings are great for cold weather running.

Layer, but not too much
I hate feeling weighed down by too many clothes on a run, so sometimes less is more. The running "rule" is to dress like it's 20 degrees warmer than it really is. So, if it's actually 15 degrees out, dress like it's 35. You will warm up fast since you're moving, and you don't want to get overheated.

Here is what I wear: a pair of ColdGear running tights, tank top, a long sleeve ColdGear shirt, a running jacket, gloves, and a fleece headband.

And another tip: if you are racing in the winter, wear a throw-away sweatshirt or jacket you can ditch after the first mile or so. Race volunteers will go around after the race, pick up the clothes, and donate them!

Run in the sunlight
Coming home from work in the dark does not give me motivation to run outside in the evening. However, I am lucky that I get a long enough lunch break to squeeze in a short run during the day. Even if it is cold, when the sun is shining I enjoy my run a lot more so I make sure that if I know its going to be sunny to get my run in at lunch, and it's so worth it. After a while, you can't even feel the cold.

Sign up for a winter race
Racing is one of my favorite things about running! You might think the road race season is dead in winter, but there are a few here and there you can participate in.

The Hudson Mohawk Road Runners Club hosts a winter series at UAlbany every year and there is something for everyone. The series begins in December and goes until March, with a race every few weeks. There are a range of distances, from 5ks to the Winter Marathon. The good part about the series is that every race is completely free for HMRRC members, and for non-members the cost is only $5 per race. They are race day registration only, which is good when those pesky snow storms show up and ruin our plans!

In February 2011 I ran the Winter Marathon Relay and I just ran the 2012 Hangover Half Marathon on New Year's Day. I find that the idea of training for a winter race is great motivation to keep myself running toward a goal during the cold months.

Try snowshoeing
I bought a used pair of snowshoes for pretty cheap last winter. I love walking through the woods wearing them after a snowfall and its quite a workout! You can even buy special racing snowshoes and run in actual snowshoe races that are held during the winter. I haven't run in snowshoes, but it seems like it would be a lot of fun, especially if you want to get a great workout when there is a lot of snow on the ground and the sidewalks aren't clear enough for running. I think a snowshoe race may be in my near future this winter! I'm eyeing Brave the Blizzard on January 12... if we have snow by then.

I hope these tips make winter a little more tolerable. I know running and staying active definitely helps get me through the colder months. Happy cold weather running!

Jen Masa blogs about running and healthy living at Jen is Green.

More Owning Winter:
+ Cooking out the cold
+ Winter stuff for your car, your house, and you

Earlier on AOA:
+ Snowshoeing in the Capital Region
+ Cross country skiing at Lapland Lake: a bit of Finland in the Adirondacks


Haiku for frozen snot:

The thin cold air rings
with snow creak, the crunch of steps,
Crackle of nose hairs!

You go Jen.

If you want to try one of these thin, flexible soles that are contoured to the shape of the human foot, a co-worker of mine recommended the Vibram Flow, which has a extra neoprene insulation. He ran 6 miles yesterday morning before work, it was 14 outside.

Thanks for the tips! I've been looking for ways to get motivated about winter running, so this is definitely helpful.

I highly recommend investing in some SmartWool products. SmartWool is made from merino wool, so it won't itch and resists odors well. I wear SmartWool socks and a SmartWool sock hat. If it's really cold/windy, I use a merino wool Buff to keep my neck warm/pull over my face.

Last year, in the depths of winter, I noticed that the city routinely kept 1.25 miles (from the parking lot under the highway) of the Corning Preserve Trail plowed. It was a great reason to get out of the house and avoid tip-toeing on semi-shoveled sidewalks.

I do winter night runs in the City of Albany fairly often. Its a great place for night runs because there are lots of sidewalks and the traffic is minimal after 6 when rush hour ends. 2 things I'd add to the other info here:

1) Stop by Lodge's on N. Pearl St and pick up a detached hood / neck warmer. Its great for winter runs and dealing with the wind. You can lower the hood if you get too warm on a run.

2) Get a reflector vest if you are running at night. The street lighting is good in Albany but you still want a reflector vest so vehicles can see and recognize you quicker. This one online is only 15 bucks-

These are good tips for cycling in the winter, too. I'll second Rob's suggestion about visibility.

@ Stanford Steph

SmartWool products are made in China.

Buy Darn Tough, it's made in Vermont. Same exact product and you can find them at EMS as well.

I don't want to sound like Crabby McCrankypants here, but isn't this no-brainer stuff? If you're like me and feel like shooting yourself in the head after a mere 30 minutes on a treadmill because it would be slightly more exciting, then winter running is a must.

Two points not emphasized here which has continued to help me drag my warm ass out of bed before dawn to run in the cold: 1) find yourself a group of folks to run with who are just as nuts as you. Believe me, if you're human, not being accountable to others when it's -10F and dark outside just sets you up to sleep in. And 2) it is not safe to run alone in the dark. Double that if you can't run without ear buds in. And in the winter, it's dark. A lot.

Get out there in the cold darkness with your crazy running friends. Your neighbors will delight in discussing just how many screws you have loose.

It may be "no brainer" for those of us who are used to doing it on a regular basis, but it took me a few tries to finally figure out how to dress properly in the cold when I first started running.

Perfect timing for me. Actually finally have run in the winter and on New Year's Day, though the temperatures were actually warmer than the last race I ran in October :) Anyway, is the gear/layering you mention an example to use on the 15 degree day? And the "running jacket", what material?

And for those who don't mind loosening a few more screws, the Saratoga YMCA has an indoor track. Any other indoor tracks in the Capital District?

@Frank - East Greenbush Y, the Cicotti Center and ABC sports also have raised tracks above their gyms.

The picture of me above is during a race last year where it was 15 degrees. I actually wore a pair of running tights, a long sleeve thermal layer, a thin zip up jacket, and my running jacket on top of that. I also had a "throwaway" windbreaker that I discarded at mile 3. So, a total of 4 (and then 3) layers on top. It was COLD that day. Brrr. I had the throwaway mostly because it was a relay and we had to spend a decent amount of time outside waiting for our team members to come in.

This is the closet version of the jacket I can find, since I don't think Nike makes mine anymore:

Its made of like a polyester windbreaker material and its kept me warm on my runs so far. Although, I did find out its NOT waterproof ;-) but would probably be fine in light snow.

As a first-winter runner, I could add a word or two about visibility. I ran 100 miles in December, almost all of it early in the morning, and I have several times got amazingly close to other runners and dog-walkers without seeing them when they were out with dark clothing in the dark.

I wear a high-visibility bib from Fleet Feet (good because I can wear it over a running shirt on 40 degree mornings and over my thermal layer on 18 degree mornings) and my top tip is that I bought an Energizer headlight that turned out to be too heavy to wear on my head for running, but it is perfect around my waist - great for extra visibility and for spotting obstacles (such as the aforementioned dark-clothed walkers!)

Agree wholeheartedly with comments above that remind you to WEAR SOMETHING REFLETIVE. You can get a "safety patrol"esque getup that doesn't inflict on your typical layering (mine includes base layer tank, ColdGear long sleeve or Nike fleece-lined uberwarm longsleeve, then a fleece outer layer). I have a Petzl head lamp, but if you're in a place with no streetlamps (neighborhoods in Delmar, for example), it won't light your way, but it will keep you visible to others.

Our snowlessness makes sidewalk running a lot easier, but I did like stashing a water bottle in a pile of snow for some long run loops on weekends. @Rob I ran in the City of Albany all last winter and found the sidewalk shoveling to be very inconsistent. Indeed, the weather was particularly bad, but many people just let inches of ice remain on their walks for months, resulting in a lot of hop-on hop-off into the street behavior. If you need to resort to running loops around a well-plowed school parking lot, do it.

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For a decade All Over Albany was a place for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. It was kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who could help you find out what's up. AOA stopped publishing at the end of 2018.

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