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Home » How to Run Through the Winter: A Beginner’s Guide

How to Run Through the Winter: A Beginner’s Guide

It’s that time of the year again, the days are getting shorter, and the mercury will be plummeting into the negatives. If you’re lucky enough to be in the southern hemisphere, (or in Toronto where Mother Nature likes to tease us with warm weather in early November), you can skip winter and go straight to my ‘It’s Getting Hot Out There’ guide. For the rest of us who are facing winter head-on, your running shouldn’t suffer because of the weather. By suffering, I am also including the treadmill (or “Dreadmill” as I like to call it). This will be my fourth winter running outside — something I thought I’d never say (especially here in Canada), but something I have benefited greatly from. Winter running gives me those extra three or four months prior to race season that kicks off in early spring. Having that extra time to prepare just helps me as a person in general whether it is running, training, at work, cooking, etc.

Winter is Unpredictable.

I need to run outside. I get cabin fever after a while and need to step outside, even for just fifteen minutes. Maybe it’s the fresh Toronto air, or the sunshine beaming down on my face, but getting outside always improves my mood. The unpredictable nature of the weather in late autumn/early winter will most likely force a lot of people into not lacing up at all. If you wait for perfect conditions every time you run, you won’t get much running done (unless you have access to, and/or actually enjoy the treadmill).

The days are getting shorter, it gets darker sooner, and soon there will be ice and snow on the ground. As I write this, the flurries are starting to fall. Last week, I was running in shorts — see, unpredictable. While we may never get the best of conditions for running, we can still prepare so that you’ll own your winter training.
My Winter Running Secret. It’s all about preparation and dressing according to the weather outside, and no-one said it better than one man: “…there’s no such thing as bad weather – only the wrong clothes…” – Billy Connolly One thing I learnt very quickly when I first moved to Canada was to layer up. This was the case for daily life and not just running. For someone whose coldest experience growing up was maybe -10°C in the north of England, moving to a place where the air hurts your face more times than not required some thinking. Maybe some overthinking as well, but as a boy scout, we’re taught to always “be prepared.”

The same is said for running when it comes to being prepared. To survive the winters, layers are important. No, you don’t have to dress like Joey in the episode “The One Where No One’s Ready” (above), but you do have to be smart about it. Once you’ve determined how cold it is going to be outside, I like to add 10 degrees to it. So, for example, if the mercury is sitting at -5°C (23°F), I typically consider wearing apparel more suited for +5°C (41°F). Sorry America, metric works best here. The reason is pretty simple… It makes me feel better about myself, and talks me into going out in the first place. But in all seriousness, we generate heat while running, and if you’re wearing layers, you’ll only get hotter. Air is one of the best insulators around, and the gaps in between layers will keep the heat in. Too much and you overheat, whereas too little, and you radiate all the heat out and you freeze. The last thing we want is…

Side note: If you live in a place where you’re given the actual temperature and then the temperature with wind chill, I would use the lower of the two numbers. Here in Toronto, at least we have a lot of days where it’s -10°C but the wind chill has it down to feeling like -18°C. I would then apply the 10-degree rule to the lower of the two (in this case -18°C), and dress for -8°C.
So how do I prepare for a run based on temperature? Let’s dive in to what was recommended to me at different temperature ranges, starting from warmest to the coldest to get you through those winter months. The Grey Area: Between 5°C – 10°C (41°F – 50°F) For those who are clinging to the last breaths of the fall months, we can be hopeful for a few of these days before the year is out (early November here was definitely a treat). This is a grey area for a lot of runners and I’ll take myself and my partner as a classic example. At 5°C, I would still consider shorts as an option and a short-sleeved shirt. It would still feel like 15°C, and pants are just not for me when running at that temperature.

Finish line after our first half marathon race in October 2019 (Toronto).I can say the complete opposite about my partner. As soon as the temperature drops below 20°C, she is already in Capri pants with a long-sleeved mid-layer. Take the picture to the left. This was at the finish line of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon in October 2019. It was 11°C. I’m in shorts and a t-shirt, and my partner is wearing pants, a short-sleeved shirt, and a long sleeve sweater. She started with the sweater on, but then as she warmed up, tied it around her waist. The closer we get to 0 °C, then I may consider trading in the shorts for some thin and light tights. For cooler runs, running pants, as well as a long-sleeved shirt or jacket, would suffice.

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