Coach Mike Mead

Cold Weather Running - January 2007

Winter weather is upon us and boy is it hard to get motivated to go out to run in the cold. It’s particularly tough to run on cold and windy or cold and wet days. With shorter daylight hours you’re even more limited. Fear not!

The year 2007 is starting off unseasonably warm, but we still have many weeks ahead of likely winter weather and need to plan ahead. Many folks do not like getting out in the cold weather, let alone run in it. I grew up in a cold winter weather climate and spent a few winters running in all kinds of harsh conditions. I must admit that I did spend two winters running most of the time through the halls of my high school, but I was a softie back then.

Many folks opt these days for a treadmill to log in their miles. Gosh how boring! Give me some fresh air and the elements any day.

This isn’t scientific, but I truly believe that if you want to be a better, tougher runner, than running in winter is going to give you a mental edge. The more you train in all varieties of weather, the better you will be able to handle the challenges should you face similar conditions on race day. My junior college coach, Ron Gunn, preached to us about NOT being “fair weather runners.”

If you only train in ideal conditions, is that going to prepare you on race day? I don’t think so, Tim! You only set yourself up for racing well in ideal conditions and ideal conditions are rare. I’ve explained to my college runners the importance about being able to handle any kind of weather during the outdoor track season. Not just cold, but also windy, warm and wet conditions.

Now, here are some tips to battle the winter elements so that you may make progress in your training and be ready to race when springtime arrives:


By timing, I mean pick the optimum time of the day to run when the temperatures are tolerable. It is tough for those of us who like running first thing in the morning when it is usually the coldest part of the day. Most of us do not have a work schedule that allows us the flexibility to run in the afternoons. However, if running is important to you and your work schedule allows, run at the warmest time of the day on those cold days of winter.

Dress for Success

This is one tricky area when it comes to running in the winter -- wearing appropriate clothing. I tend to think that distance runners overdress. One needs to consider weather conditions and how long you’ll be out running. I’ve always tried to factor in about a 20-degree difference. That is, what ever the temperature is when starting, plan that it will feel about 20-degrees warmer before finishing runs longer than 30 minutes. On runs less than 30 minutes, you can be overdressed and it will not greatly affect your run.

The biggest factor is the wind. It can affect this plan if you spend half your time running into it. If you know you’ll be running the last half with the wind, you’ll need to dress lighter or you’ll “burn up” at the end. If you finish up running into the wind, you may want to run with an extra layer. The general rule of winter running is layering up and going out with more clothing because you can always take it off. However, if you get out without enough clothing you may just end up having a miserable run.

I recommend that on days when the temperatures are below 40 degrees, begin your run wearing a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and either a hat or earmuffs to have a comfortable run. However, when it comes to racing in cold weather conditions, you need to experiment a little. Everyone is different, but be cautious when the temperatures are below 30-degrees. I’ve seen knuckleheads racing in below-freezing conditions wearing only shorts and a large trash bag as a shirt! Not smart if you’re racing over a 5K in windy conditions. Wearing sweat pants or running tights when the weather is below freezing is wise, but I’ve observed over the years that inexperienced racers overdo it regarding tights when the weather is above freezing.

Pick Your Poison

Finally, when it comes to running in wintry conditions, some common sense needs to be applied. Since snow and ice are rare in the South, many of us tend to go overboard when those weather conditions are present. Running in snow can be fun and dangerous at the same time. Significant snow (more than 3 inches) can hide ruts, potholes, or icy patches that could tweak an ankle or break a bone and put you out of commission for a while. If there are extreme icy conditions, you need to skip your run, hit the (dreaded) treadmill, or cross train until the ice is gone. If cars have trouble staying on the road in icy weather, what are a runner’s chances? Also, in extreme icy conditions, falling tree limbs or downed power lines can be deadly for runners.

Winter running has its challenges, but if you dress properly and stick with your training goals, the running you get in the next 8-10 weeks will pay off for you this spring. Stay the course!

Good luck!