5 Tips for Running During the Winter

How to Keep Training Through a Harsh Winter

If you live in a climate where the conditions get chilly during the winter, you know the wrenches the weather can throw into your running routine. Not only is it physically harder to run in cold, icy, wet, conditions, it is also tremendously harder to motivate yourself to run in these conditions. However, if you are looking to take your running to the next level, if you are looking to chase down that Boston qualifier next year, or if you are just trying to keep off the holiday weight, winter training can be crucial to your success. Here are a few ways to keep your training alive during a harsh winter.

1. Schedule a Race Early in the Year

If you have nothing firm on the race schedule, you have no reason to put in the miles. If your mindset is, “I’ll see what comes up,” you’re going to miss a day because it’s cold. Then you are going to miss a week because it is Thanksgiving. Then you are going to miss days because you are busy AND it is cold. Then you are going to miss 2 weeks for Christmas and New Years. When January comes, and the REAL cold hits, what is going to make you want to get out the door, a New Years Resolution? Let’s not fool ourselves. Anybody who has a regular gym membership knows that lasts about 1 week for 80% of people.

I don’t want to make it seem like I am super intense and I frown on all who take time off during the winter. I understand that not everyone is a competitive runner. Furthermore, I understand that the time off helps many recover from some Fall Marathons and Half Marathons.

What I am saying is this. If you want to keep your running alive through the winter, I can tell you how. If you want to put in some base mileage in the winter months, or if you have running goals that are at a level that is slightly higher than where you are at now, I can tell you how to keep your legs moving.

The answer is quite simple really. You have to MAKE yourself. How do you make yourself? Race early, race often. Find races in January. A good way to motivate yourself to sign up for these races is to put yourself into an early Marathon. If you are running a Marathon early in the spring, you know you will need to be in some races before, if you are signed up for some races before . . . you see where I am going with this, in short, forced motivation.

I would like to state up front that these early year races will, most likely not yield PR’s, that’s OK. Even with the motivation of early season racing, it is likely that your training will not be as good as it is when the weather warms up. You want to care about these races, but remember the purpose of them is to keep you running through the cold months.

2. Make Friends with the Treadmill

I understand that running on the dreadmill can be akin to sliding pins under your fingernails. I understand that, I have the same feelings as you about the treadmill. However, I have worse feelings about running 13.1 miles cold turkey with no training (see point 1.)

The first step to running on the treadmill is making a plan. decide what runs you are going to try and get in a week in advance, or even longer (although if it is longer, you may want to be willing to reassess based on how you feel, injuries, etc.) Once you have a plan etch it in stone and adopt the mindset that you will get those runs in, they may be slower than you hope, but they will happen.

The way to overcome the treadmill is to stop seeing the training and racing as the optional part, and start seeing indoors or outdoors as the option. If you hate the treadmill so much that you would rather brave the snow and cold than go on the treadmill, then go ahead and do that. What you should not do is skip runs in your plan because the weather is bad, when running is something that can be done inside.

3. Find Like Minded Runners

So now you have signed up for some races early in the year. You have made your peace with the treadmill. You are getting in your runs but it is still hard, and you are starting to dislike running. I am a firm believer that group training is almost always better than individual training. It is social and fun, which makes it more appealing. It is also a good way to push yourself.

In this case it is a matter of misery loves company. If you signed up for some January races, find someone else in your area who also signed up for some January races. You can search for running groups in your area, or contact running stores to see if they know anyone training for races similar to you.

4. Spend Some Money On Good Running Gear

“Running is a cheap sport.” That is what every runner is told. That may even be the reason many people get into the sport. Then they had to spend at least $75 on shoes, and 4 pairs of nice socks for $15 socks, and inserts, and a moisture wicking shirt, maybe a good bra, suddenly the sport does’t seem so cheap anymore. Certainly there must be some money in it if there are entire stores and multi-million dollar companies devoted to it right? It’s true there is some cost. However keep in mind it is a much cheaper sport than some out there like Golf, or Tennis.

That being said your winter gear is not where you cut corners in your running spend. If you do try and save money on your winter running gear, you will likely end up spending more because you will have to buy more items, and the durability of what you buy at discounted rates will be poor.

I am personally a big fan of Merino Wool during the winter months. It regulates moisture and heat, and it is anti-microbial so you should be able to wear it more than once without it smelling bad (imagine being able to wear your base layer shirt 3 times a week instead of having to buy 3 different shirts.) Brands like Icebreaker, Smartwool, and Darn Tough, Pettet Endurance Project, and Ashmei make some great products for running in general, but the winter gear market is where they really set themselves apart from other brands.

The best person to talk to about your winter running gear is the sales associate at your local running store. While I can make recommendations, I do not know what your particular climate is like. Your local running store knows your climate and your needs, and is ready to answer any questions you have on the subject.

5. Run Toward the Light

The winter is a dark time – Literally. Most Americans don’t have the luxury of being able to schedule their run during the brightest and warmest time of day, People have responsibilities; jobs, kids, school. That stuff takes time. Many people run early in the morning, or late in the afternoon/evening.

During the winter the sun doesn’t come out until later, and it sets earlier. This increases the likelihood that the early birds and late afternooners will be running in the dark. While running in the dark could be an entire article in itself, the important part is that it immensely increases the danger of running. If you are finding yourself on a run in the dark you should plan a run on a will lit path, or find yourself a good headlamp and some reflective gear.

Most importantly, stay positive. The winter can be a depressing time in general, and it can certainly be a depressing time to run. Remember that you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to get out the door as much as you can.

John Coyle is a recent Graduate of Weber State University where he ran Cross Country and Track. He  now runs professionally. He also manages Teton Running Company in Idaho Falls, ID and is the Marketing Manger for RunnersOnTheGo.com. 


14 thoughts on “How to Keep Training Through a Harsh Winter”

  1. I live in the tropics, but can I just say…I’ve scheduled early races to keep me running through the miserable tropical summer. If you do it…well, just don’t let it be a goal race. Training is harder during harsh weather conditions…while I trained, I find I do better to schedule those A races when I can get the most outdoor training miles… Happy new Year!


  2. Thanks for stopping by and deciding to follow Self-help Health. I always appreciate when someone does that, plus it helps me find out what they’re up to, like this running focused blog of yours. Good information here!

    And best wishes for making it through the rest of the winter!


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