FAQ........COLD WEATHER AND WINTER RUNNING - Couch to 5K

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FAQ........COLD WEATHER AND WINTER RUNNING

IannodaTruffe profile image

Photo by Isaac Wendland on Unsplash

We have runners from all around the world on this forum, so one runner’s hot weather is another’s cold…….and vice versa. Therefore cold is a relative matter, but if you are beginning to feel the cooler air, the following may help you prepare.

Whatever you wear in hot weather…...for me it is as little as I can decently get away with….it may not suffice as temperatures drop. My summer kit is a singlet and shorts. As it cools a tee shirt replaces the singlet and then a long sleeve tee shirt. That will be perfectly adequate for me for about nine months of the year, with long running trousers being worn the rest of the time.

Dressing for five degrees Celsius above the outdoor temperature is often stated as a guide for runners and over the years I have learned what I will likely need to wear according to the weather forecast, or sticking my head out of the door. Layers are definitely the way to go. You will only find out what works for you by experimentation. Note the actual temperature for future reference.

I have rarely run in temperatures much below freezing and can only remember one run when I was uncomfortably cold and that was because I forgot my gloves……...an essential in my book. I use running gloves which have conductive finger tips, making the use of touch screens possible.

My full winter clothing set up consists of a base layer of short sleeved compression top and compression shorts, long sleeved tee shirt, full length running trousers (similar to Ron Hills), gloves and at least one buff (one for head and one for neck). In the most extreme conditions (very rarely) I have been known to wear a light weight windproof jacket and a beanie hat. My wife always wears at least one more layer than me and is happy to strip off the top layers as she goes. I hate running with anything hanging around my waist, so tend to wear less. You may find it cool as you set off, but will always warm up.

The only times I will do a dynamic warm up before leaving the house are when the temperatures are heading down. This gets the circulation going and warms up muscles before you hit the cold air, which can have a contracting effect on muscles meaning it takes longer to warm up. My prerun pint of very dilute apple juice is also made with warm water, to prevent any cooling of my core.

With colder weather we usually have shorter days, meaning that running in the dark becomes inevitable for the committed runner. You need to be able to be seen clearly, even on pavements, so hi viz is recommended and is essential if running on roads. Body lights or headtorches are also useful and if you are either on the road or going off road, a must have. Many have front and back lights to ensure you can be seen all round. I have only ever used head torches and these have the advantage of illuminating where your head is pointing, whereas body lights only shine in front of you. My first head torch was embarrassingly powerful, enabling me to see across fields and alarm distant sheep. It also sat forward on my head, so tended to wobble annoyingly. Close fitting headtorches are preferable. You can also get illuminated running shoes, but I would not have wanted to negotiate my muddy cross country routes wearing those.

We all get used to running in, and enjoying, rain, but winter rain, snow and ice can be different beasts. Getting soaking wet in cold winds can not only be unpleasant, it can reduce your body temperature rapidly possibly leading to hypothermia, so look at forecasts and the sky and take a waterproof if it might be needed. Wind chill needs to be factored in. If you are only out for a short run, it might not matter, but best to be prepared. Snow is usually fine and a great experience, especially if you have well studded trail shoes, but ice requires planning. Both snow and ice can reduce the amount of ground you will cover in a given time, so plan your routes accordingly. Icy pavements and roads are not a good running surface, but if you can get onto grass, generally you will have plenty of grip, but do be cautious. Black ice, where rain has frozen onto very cold ground is best avoided.

Cold air can constrict the airways, making breathing difficult and sometimes painful. This can often be overcome by wearing a buff or facemask over your mouth and nose, which helps to prewarm the air.

Winter running can provide some memorable and beautiful experiences and becoming familiar with your running routes through all the seasons is part of the joy of being a runner. Being prepared is the key thing. Protect extremities (head and hands), warm up, layer up and make sure you can see and be seen………...then the winter wonderland is yours for the taking.

Keep running, keep smiling.

There are more FAQ posts giving general information here healthunlocked.com/couchto5...

27 Replies
AlMorr profile image
AlMorrGraduate

Good post from you IannodaTruffe, the coldest run that I have ran was at a Saturday morning parkrun, the temperature was - 6C /21F, that was very cold, the only proper running gear I had was my running shoes, despite the cold it was at that time my second best, only 1 seconds slower than my PB at 30.56.I did wore gloves, several thin layers of jumpers and a zip up jacket with a thick bonnet over my head.

I have never ran in the dark or when it's snowing, your head torch was so bright to scare sheep in a field, ha, sounds more like a search light, it Could also blind someone walking or running in the opposite direction.

Yes, that very cold parkrun did have its beauty, hoar frost hanging from the trees and bushes in the park made it as the song says "Running* in a Winter Wonderland"

*Walking

IannodaTruffe profile image
IannodaTruffeGraduate in reply to AlMorr

Knowing that our members would add their recommendations and experiences to this post, I expect the responses to be as valuable as my post.

I don't recall ever seeing anyone on my cross country, torchlit, winter morning runs, with my feet stuck in mud and my breath filling the air...........sensible folk were still in bed.

AlMorr profile image
AlMorrGraduate in reply to IannodaTruffe

I would not recommend anyone running in a - 6C temperature in the UK, but in countries such as Canada or Russia - 6C is mild compared to - 16C or below when they still run. Yakutsk in North East Siberia has a parkrun, there they run regularly in temperatures as low as - 48C, although a more normal - 30C is more acceptable to run in.

IannodaTruffe profile image
IannodaTruffeGraduate in reply to AlMorr

Maybe they can offer us specialist advice...........and scoff at our "cold"

I'm in the Toronto/Canada area, anything below - 30C, I'll think twice/reconsider.

It isn't the temperature that's the problem, but the wind/windchill temperature.

For cold and windy days, I stick to the trails with the trees to block the wind.

IannodaTruffe profile image
IannodaTruffeGraduate in reply to bailliab

You guys are tough over there.........I mentioned wind-chill but your point about running routes sheltered from wind is definitely worth taking on board.Thanks.

Madge50 profile image
Madge50Graduate

You are quite right IT, there are great joys to be had running all year round, experiencing the change of seasons. I enjoy it when we get past the soggy beginning of winter months into the the crispy frosty mornings, trail running is a joy!

In winter (6 degrees or less) my kit is usually, base layer long sleeve top, with a normal running shirt or vest over the top, full length leggings - I have some ‘proper’ winter ones that are quite cosy, gloves (occasionally), buffs - for my neck/head/ears and very rarely a woolly hat and/or jacket - has to be very, very cold for that.....🥶....probably near freezing with wind chill.....

I too am one who goes for layers, but do tend to warm up quickly, most of the time any gloves or hat are off within about 5k, apart from one exception when the ‘beast from the east’ came a calling, with snow and an added howling windchill of -3...... one of my most enjoyable runs ever, snowy landscape, cross country, through woodland.....

My one piece of advice, would be, make sure you don’t get too cold once you’re back from your run, you’ll cool down very quickly, nice hot shower/bath and keep warm layers on...

Most important, enjoy! 🏃‍♂️🏃‍♀️

Mx

IannodaTruffe profile image
IannodaTruffeGraduate in reply to Madge50

It sounds like we are similar in what we wear and I agree about warming up afterwards, but then a hot shower is the first thing I do after every run.

I’m based on the edge of the Highlands. The coldest I’ve run in was around -10C in the strath on an almost windless morning. Trail shoes plus snow-chain grippers made staying upright relatively straightforward. In icy Scottish hills you definitely need either grippers or specialist spiked trail shoes.

The worst winter runs have been in either deep fresh snow or worse still slushy thawing snow. For a run of 10k plus those conditions are energy sapping in the extreme, experience has taught me always to carry plenty of easily digested snacks. There’s been times I’ve eaten everything!

With clothing the secret is layering and carrying a decent running pack with extra layers and wind and waterproof body covering. There have been times when every bit of additional clothing has been worn. It might be 2 -3C in the Glen but higher up wind chill can pull that down to something that feels more like -15 or less.

One thing I always do when heading out in winter conditions is tell someone where I’m going and not deviating from it unless it’s to retrace my steps. So map and compass are in the pack too, they don’t run out of battery. I’ll also give an eta and tell someone when to treat me as overdue. Fortunately that’s never happened yet.

I always carry a head torch and whistle.

Yes it sounds like a lot of faffing around to go out for a run but it beats going out and not coming back. That’s happened to very experienced runners because they underestimated the conditions and how quickly it can get dark up here in winter.

It’s worth it though, I’ve had some wonderful runs, crisp snow underfoot and blue skies. Or the first footprints up the glen after a light fall of snow. There’s sometimes an almost magical deep silence and you’re running through a world in black and white.

IannodaTruffe profile image
IannodaTruffeGraduate in reply to NotPrime

You make some excellent points and a winter in balmy Devon is definitely not the same as a winter in the Scottish hills. As a long time hill walker, I totally concur about the need to be prepared for conditions you might meet, rather than the ones you set off in.

Most of our population live in urban areas, so perhaps don't need quite such extreme preparedness as you, but winter does provide magical moments, so it is no time to retreat indoors, wherever you live.

Imc50 profile image
Imc50Moderator

Great and invaluable information for a lot of us as winter approaches 👍, my buff is a godsend and definitely the running gloves as finger tips really do ache when exposed to the winter wind chill, I guess like many I've had those running attire disasters, and overheating due to many layers is a nightmare and so draining, but five me autumn/winter running anytime over the summer heat, nice post Tim

IannodaTruffe profile image
IannodaTruffeGraduate in reply to Imc50

My son gave me my first buff (the real, original Buff in this case) and I skeptically thought it was an overpriced tube of cloth. Now mine is never far away as temperatures drop and you can wrap it around your wrist if you don't need to wear it. They are wonderful and versatile and some of the much cheaper ones are equally good.

Imc50 profile image
Imc50Moderator in reply to IannodaTruffe

Yep hats off to the son, star purchase 👍, my three ladies in the house generally opt for the safety of the running shop gift vouchers ☺️, but like yourself my buffs wriggling towards the top of my running drawer as the nights draw in. My "buff" is a favourite, but I've an Aldi one and it's still a pretty good backup

Alan99 profile image
Alan99Graduate

Great Post and fantastic tips. One question and apologies for being a bit dim. What is a buff please?

IannodaTruffe profile image
IannodaTruffeGraduate in reply to Alan99

I knew this would be asked.......you are not alone......it is a tube of thin stretchy material that can worn around your neck in place of a scarf or around your face like a balaclava, on your head as a hat. Lightweight, versatile and priceless to runners, cyclists, walkers.........you need one......or even two. You won't regret it ..........and I am not even on commission!

Alan99 profile image
Alan99Graduate

Thank you. I will take a look. I assume these buffs would be in somewhere like Decathlon etc?

IannodaTruffe profile image
IannodaTruffeGraduate in reply to Alan99

Yes, any outdoor pursuits outlet. Look at the Buff site to see how many ways to use them.

nowster profile image
nowsterGraduate in reply to IannodaTruffe

There are also fleecy variants (often with drawstrings) which aren't as good against the lower face, tending to accumulate moisture from your breath.

Poppdog profile image
PoppdogGraduate

Fantastic post great tips I have probably gone for more layers too soon but psychologically it’s seems wrong to go out on a dark damp morning with so few clothes on. Haven’t used the hat or the gloves yet though so still more layers to go. I really don’t want to have too many descriptions to my routine because of the weather.

Roxdog profile image
RoxdogGraduate

Interesting post, thanks! I find a buff around my mouth on cold days really useful. It comes off usually after I've warmed up, but is essential to stop that sharp intake of cold air for the first few minutes. I use fingerless gloves and as long as my wrists are warm, I stay warm, often not really needing a jacket, as long as I have a warm long sleeve running top on. Keeping wrists warm is important and warming your wrists by rubbing them is a key part of QiGong, a kind of TaiChi which I do. The same principle as running cold water on wrists to cool down!I've tried various beanies but find them all too hot, so guess what, my old trusty beret comes out! It probably looks a bit weird running in a beret, but it works for me! I live in the south east of England, so temperatures are rarely brutal.

IannodaTruffe profile image
IannodaTruffeGraduate in reply to Roxdog

Fingerless gloves do not work for me. My fingers get colder than anything else. I often start with a buff around my neck but is usually removed by ten minutes into a run.

Newbie59 profile image
Newbie59Graduate in reply to Roxdog

Wrists, ankles and neck are the key points for me. If they are warm, the rest of me is fine :)

Frenc profile image
FrencGraduate

A very good post, thank you. I’m really looking forward to having the chilly weather back, but won’t make the same newbie mistake as last year - running without gloves. I just pulled my sleeves down over my hands! This year I’ll invest in something decent to keep my hands warm. I got a head torch fairly recently which is brilliant, although it’s not quite up to scaring faraway sheep 🤣.

IannodaTruffe profile image
IannodaTruffeGraduate in reply to Frenc

I did go and give the sheep some counselling afterwards...........

Frenc profile image
FrencGraduate in reply to IannodaTruffe

🐑🤣

Mummycav profile image
MummycavModerator

Great post IannodaTruffe as usual…I much prefer running in the cold…Autumn is my fav but I’m mostly still in shorts and T-shirt until Nov…my inner thermostat has always been on the high side so sometimes when I set off I feel a little chill and might wear a buff and maybe an extremely thin jacket but within 10 mins they’re off, the thing I most worry about is falling or sliding on the ice…I had quite a fall last year on some black ice in the cemetery, falling backwards and banging my head on the concrete…after a quick shake of the head & a moment to see if anything hurt I was off again…so now, when the ice makes an appearance this year, I shall be investing in some trail shoes and heading for the nearest patches of grass x

IannodaTruffe profile image
IannodaTruffeGraduate in reply to Mummycav

It is all a matter of finding what suits you. I see people running with hoodies and track suit bottoms in the hottest weather and just think how uncomfortable that must be............but perhaps it is not for them.

Just take care Mummycav and try to avoid the ice and headbutting the ground.

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