Marathon Runner’s Guide to Running Warm All Winter Long

When it turns cold outside, it get tougher to get out the door and put in the miles. But marathon training doesn’t have to end just because its cold outside. These tips from San Francisco’s foot and ankle expert and marathon runner will help you stay warm and motivated to train this winter.

In spite of that I have trained for marathons in the dead of winter. The most memorable of these was a February marathon that I trained for, all winter long, while living in Salt Lake City, Utah. I can vividly recall an 18 mile long run that I had one afternoon and evening. After about the first two miles, rain began to fall. By the fifth mile, the rain had turned to sleet. It then proceeded to snow for the next 10 miles. By the time I got home. I actually had icicles on the brim of my cap and ice crystals in my mustache. And I was cold.

If you happen to be training for a marathon that will be run in cold weather, this is an obvious advantage. I trained all winter in the sleet, ice and snow of Salt Lake City and expected to be treated to a warm winter marathon in Birmingham Alabama. Unfortunately, a cold snap had created one of the coldest days on record. For me the low 20s was ideal running weather. I think that I took my hat off by the end of the race but otherwise, I didn’t make any changes to my clothing throughout the entire race. For the bulk of the people running the race however, they had trained all winter in balmy conditions in the South. For them, this was intolerably cold. Many of these folks put on several layers that thye could peel off along the way. Then streets of Birmingham looked like a 26 mile rummage sale at the Salvation Army.

The real goal of cold weather running is to maintain motivation, not get too cold and not get too hot. One solution to this is to just head indoors and stick to the treadmill. This really is not a valid plan as running on a treadmill is not the same as running on the road. In addition, the repetitive motion of the treadmill can put you at risk for other injuries such as stress fractures. It’s best to have some variety.

To stay warm when running in the cold you simply have to prepare for sudden fluxuations in temperature. Dress in layers and don’t be afraid to overdress. Wear a hat and gloves. If it all possible try to run small loops somewhere near your car or a place where you can discard layers if you start to get hot. You don’t want to be nine miles from home and running with hat in and two jackets tied around your waist.

If you are overloaded with too many layers, you can just as easily overheat when it’s 30° outside. Not only is it bad, because you will lose the energy needed to finish your training, may become soaked with sweat and much more prone to thermal injury such as frostbite. Don’t just stand around once you finish your run. Immediately change into dry clothing. Your core body temperature will drop precipitously immediately after a run. This is why they always shroud you in a mylar blanket at the finish of a marathon, even when it’s not very cold outside.

Aside for making sure that your temperature is regulated, there are special environmental considerations when running outside in winter. It happens to snow where you run, you obviously have to watch your step. Be very careful running on ice. Running on snow is easy, but ice will put you on your back before you know it. If you’re lucky it’ll just be embarrassing fall, but you can get seriously injured this way. On average, at the University of Utah hospitals and clinics, we would see several serious ankle sprains or fractures each day just from people slipping on ice.

When there is snow on the ground, you should wear sunglasses, even if the light doesn’t seem to bright. Snow blindness is a very real and painful condition that you can get even on cloudy days. Is also a good idea to run with a friend given a much higher risk of injury when running in these conditions. Take your time and warm up extensively on very cold days.

If it’s raining or snowing, a baseball cap will do a great job at keeping the unwanted elements out of your face. Once it gets colder than about 40° however, you will likely have to switch to a knitted cap that will do a better job of keeping your head warm. It likely goes without saying that you should avoid natural materials such as cotton, that retain moisture and can put your risk of getting too cold. Always use synthetic materials.

As a general rule, you can get away with shorts for tight and a long sleeve T-shirt when it’s in the 50s. If it drops down into the 40s, you need to add a hat, gloves and an additional layer on top. Once it gets down into the 30s, it’s better to stick with tights or pants and wear three layers on top, as well as hat and gloves. If you’re brave enough to run when it’s in the 20s, you might also want to wear a Gore-Tex jacket. If you happen to live somewhere where you routinely suffer arctic conditions, you can probably get away with running outside in the teens. For the rest of us, if the temperatures are that low just because of a cold snap, it’s probably better to just stay inside.

Keep in mind, your body can become acclimatized to colder temperatures if exposed to them often. But, for people who almost never run in the cold, it can be more difficult for them to judge when its really too cold. This can put them more at risk of cold relatd injuries such as frostbite. Use common sense.

Dr. Christopher Segler is a multiple Ironman Finisher and award winning foot and ankle surgeon. He is lives and trains in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more about Achilles tendonitis, runner’s heel pain, stress fractures, bunions and other common causes of foot pain, visit or .

Article Source: Marathon Runner’s Guide to Running Warm All Winter Long