Running in Cold Weather

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It’s that time of year again! I didn’t think that we would see temps in the 30s for another few weeks but winter seems to have crashed the party early.

I tweeted this out before my run Saturday morning as a way to convince myself to dress the way I knew I should and I got a lot of feedback from others that they needed to hear this as well…so I decided to share it here:

photo (19)

It was 35 degrees at the start of my long run Saturday morning and I was having a hard time deciding what to wear. I always have the urge to overdress…it’s hard not to when you sitting inside, in a heated house, sipping on a warm cup of coffee, dressed in long pants and a comfy sweater. Who wants to strip down to shorts and a long-sleeved shirt at that point and brave the cold? Umm. NOT me.

I wanted to share some things I {try to} keep in mind when running in cold weather. Keep in mind that each person will have a different threshold for cold tolerance. You may opt for pants, layers, gloves at different temps than I do (and that’s totally fine!). You just need to figure out what works best for you. (Note: I added a few tips that I had discussed in this post last year that are still applicable):

Don’t dress for the start of the run: This is especially true if you are planning on running for a few hours OR if you plan to run as the sun comes up/temps rise. It’s okay to feel a bit chilly for the first 10 minutes as your body is warming up. Your body will generate a lot of heat and keep you warm once it has been given the chance to warm up. Dress for that as opposed to how you feel when you first walk out the door.  If you overdress, you’ll end up sweating and could become dehydrated.

– Protect the extremities:  These are the areas where heat tends to leave the body.  Protect these and you’ll be amazed at how much warmer you will feel.

  • Hands: My fingers have poor circulation and it wasn’t until I tried mittens that I was able to finish a run without feeling as though my fingers would fall off from the cold. (For temperatures above 32 degrees, I wear my Saucony gloves).  You may need to try a few different gloves/mittens before you find the ones that work best for you.  The mittens I wear are not running mittens – but they do the trick!!
  • Head: For years I would only wear a light headband to cover my ears.  My ears were warm but my entire head was freezing.  Last year, I started wearing a hat when temps dropped below freezing and I felt exponentially warmer.
  • Feet:  If you feel as though your feet are cold in the chilly temps, wear thicker/warmer socks.  I have a pair of hiking socks that I wear when it’s really cold out (15 and below).
  • Neck: I always try to keep my neck covered when it’s below 40 degrees. Some of my cold weather running gear has a higher neckline so my neck stays protected.

– Layer: Opt for lighter, comfortable, and breathable clothing as opposed to something bulky and constricting.  I also love zippered or half-zippered clothing (on the outer layers) because it gives me the option of unzipping if I get warm during the run.  For Saturday’s run, I wore a fitted tank top with a long-sleeved half-zip shirt.

  • Bottom layer: base layer – something fitted (usually short sleeved) – that will keep my core warm.
  • Middle layer: slightly thicker long-sleeved shirt (The Saucony DryLete SportTop is my favorite)
  • Outer layerlight jacket or thicker/heavier long-sleeved shirt.  This can also be a wind resistant vest if it’s going to be a windy day.  Look for something that fits higher on your neck for warmth.

cold weather

 – Type of run / exertion: My cold weather clothing scale slides to the left or right depending on the type of workout I have. If I’m racing I wear the minimum I could handle (I wore a skirt, tank, and arm warmers for the NYC Half last year – with the windchill it was in the upper teens). If I’m running long or doing a speed or tempo run, I’ll wear a bit more than race day (but nothing bulky or too many layers). And then for easy or recovery runs I often wear an extra layer or bulkier clothing (I don’t want to spend a few miles cold so that a few miles are comfortable). I’m okay with being a bit warm on these runs since they are mean to be enjoyable.

< 20 degrees for 2012 NYC Half

< 20 degrees for 2012 NYC Half

– Wind Chill/Wind: I pay much more attention to the “feels like” temperature (wind chill) and the wind when I am checking the weather than the basic temperature . A 35 degree calm morning will feel a ton warmer than a 40 degree morning with 20 mph winds.  I opt for an outer shell (vest or light jacket) on really windy days to try to break the wind.

– Ditch as you go: This is a great alternative if you feel chilly and don’t want to be freezing for the first few miles but know that you will warm up.  Plan your route so you loop back past your house/car/friend’s home/etc.   I’ve done this several times over the last few weeks. I’m lucky because my sister’s home is about 1.5 miles away from mine – so about 10-13 minutes into my run – perfect timing for me to be fully warmed up. She knows that she should take the running clothes in to her house for me if she happens to find them on the hood of her car.

– Be ready to go:  Lay out your clothes, gear, have the coffee ready.  Don’t let anything stop you from getting out the door!

cold weather2

– Go early:  If I sit inside for even a few hours, I am much more likely to opt for the treadmill.  I do best when I get up and go – with little to no time to dwell on the fact that I’ll be out running in freezing temps.

– Start low: Don’t make your first run in the cold be a 20 miler.  Just like the heat, it’s a good idea to acclimatize yourself AND get comfortable wearing more layers / gear.  Start with an easy low mileage day and build from there.

My running clothes chart (based on windchill temps):

  • >50: shorts, s/s shirt/tank
  • 45-50: shorts, long sleeve shirt, gloves
  • 40-45: shorts, long sleeve shirt, gloves, hat/earwarmer
  • 25-40: capris, bottom layer, l/s shirt, gloves, hat
  • <25: capris, bottom layer, l/shirt, outer layer, gloves, hat

*Note: there are some days where I feel a bit chillier in the mornings and opt for capris or another layer even though it’s warmer than the chart indicates. The above chart is generally the way I dress!

How do you decide to wear when the weather gets cold?

Are you a capri, long pants or shorts runner? 


I don’t post here every day, but I post all of my workouts (and other happenings) on Instagram on a daily basis {NYCRunningMama}.

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    47 thoughts on “Running in Cold Weather

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    5. Thank you for posting this helps me a lot. Recently started running and now that its winter in New England I have been having a hard time finding a good balance between staying warm and over heating during my runs outside. Your suggestions are awesome and I’m going to try them tonight!

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    7. This is the most helpful cold weather running blog I’ve found! Thank you! I typically don’t have to run in weather colder than 30s-40s, because of where I live but I’m doing an 8K on Thanksgiving day where it will be in the upper 20s and possibly wet! Been going into panic mode trying to figure out what to wear. Thanks for the tips.

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    9. Ahhh! I don’t know how you ladies do it! Down here in FL we dont get much cold weather which is good for me because I don’t do so well in it. I have the worst circulation in my hands and feet (i think being 6ft tall will do that to you) and so anything below 60’s is pretty awful for me. lol.
      Marissa recently posted..Race views and a Sweaty ReviewMy Profile

    10. Thank you for this post! It was my go-to when I started thinking about what to wear for my half this Sunday. It’s supposed to be in the 40’s, windy, and mostly sunny w/ clouds. I am always cold running so I am really struggling with this one. My last half was in the high 50’s so I know I will need more!

    11. I’m a skirt/dress runner who thrives in cold weather! Typically, above 40 I just wear a skirt/shirt or dress, under I add ear warmers and gloves, under 30 I slip on tights!
      Emily recently posted..Hello NovemberMy Profile

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    13. I love your ‘how to dress/temperature’ chart. I also ‘ditch’ layers by peeling off a layer and circling by my house. I usually end up tossing it onto the hood of my car, lol.

    14. I love the temperature/how I dress chart! What a great way to spell it out. I also do the ‘ditching’ with layers I don’t need by circling by my house. Often times I’ll peel off a layer, or gloves and toss them onto the hood of my car…lol.

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    16. I typically wear capris for my runs, but I’m ALWAYS cold! When it gets closer to 30, I wear full length tights. Sometimes when it’s super hot, I’ll wear shorts, but they just don’t ever seem to fit me correctly.

    17. Ever since I switched to capris I have been in *heaven.* Shorts always seem to bunch up on me for whatever reason, and I feel to stuffy trying to run in long pants. So it’s capris all year, except for the six hottest weeks of summer when I go back to shorts and trade off bunching for being able to feel the tiniest hint of a breeze 😉

      Also, I agree: gloves for cold weather running= life changing.
      Sam recently posted..Five Down, Four to Go: Poland Spring Marathon Kick-Off!My Profile

    18. Such great tips! I always have the urge to overdress but I know that I will regret is about 15 minutes into my run. I too pay more attention to the feels like temperature and if there’s wind! I will run in shorts or capris. I don’t mind my legs being cold but I can’t stand if I’m too cold in my torso. And I’ve recently embraced the hat too :-)
      Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Plantar Fasciitis CuredMy Profile

    19. I can’t believe you wore that in such frigid conditions. I wear longer, mid-calf capris for anything under 55 really. But then again, I live in Houston, where its above 70 for approximately 2/3 or more of the year! I absolutely LOVE running in full tights and a hat/gloves when it is in the 20’s! It is so invigorating!
      Crystal@TheFastFitRunner recently posted..Houston Half Marathon Race Report: Rain, A Delayed Start, and a new Half PR!!!My Profile

    20. Do you have any advice for racing in the rain? I’ve heard that you should wear shorts (even if it’s a bit chilly) because the water will obviously not soak your skin like it would with capris/pants.
      Amy recently posted..Happy National Everything DayMy Profile

      • Hmmm…I usually wear more fitted clothes when it is raining. I find that looser clothing feels SO heavy when it’s pouring – feels like I’m wearing clothes that are 10x heavier. I also typically wear less clothing when it’s raining to avoid the extra weight. But it’s a fine line b/c you don’t want to be too cold and risk hypothermia!
        nycrunningmama recently posted..Running in Cold WeatherMy Profile

    21. Oh boy, I still don’t know what to wear on Sunday for NYCM! It’s supposed to be cooler and breezy. I’d rather be on the cold side rather than be too warm during a race, but I don’t want to turn into a piece of ice! I might just go the same way you went for the NYC Half: short sleeves shirt, arm warmers, shorts (last Sat was actually the first time I wore Capris in ages-I’m a shorts kind of girl), and gloves…
      MartinaNYC@runtomakeadifference recently posted..Eating your way to the marathon: getting ready for the NYC Marathon part IMy Profile

      • I think that is what I would do…I wore arm warmers for NYC Marathon a couple of years ago and tossed them at mile 14. I also wore gloves and tossed those at mile 3. So maybe wear things that you aren’t so connected to in case you feel warm?
        nycrunningmama recently posted..Running in Cold WeatherMy Profile

    22. when the temps/wind chill fall below freezing i can’t let my legs be exposed or I get so red and itchy. I wear capris through the fall and then when it’s really freezing I switch to long compression tights or more of a yoga pant style. I also wear a lightweight gaiter for my neck and thin gloves. I sweat so much year round! In the winter my layers get so heavy from all the sweating. I am going to try and wear less layers this year. It’s quite a science experiment to get to the right happy medium.
      Sally @ sweat out the small stuff recently posted..aches, pains and nervesMy Profile

    23. So funny, I was writing a similar post for later this week… I’ll have to link back to yours with all the great tips! Mine wasn’t tips, it’s more about how clueless I am back in the northeast again, trying to remember how to dress properly for running!! Texas made me a baby with the cold, I think. :)
      Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted..A bump in the road + wiawMy Profile

    24. Great tips all! 2 that I’d add from upstate NY:

      – Especially on a windy day, use a lightweight gaiter (or a convertible balaclava) on your neck. If you can only find heavy fleecy ones in the stores, you can make your own with a bit of tech fabric– cut a strip wide enough for your neck/chin length, long enough to go around your neck, and sew two ends together.

      – If wearing bulky socks changes the fit of your shoes too much, put Vaseline (or a similar barrier) on your feet before your regular socks. Smartwool also makes some thin-but-warm “active wear” socks.

    25. Thank you for sharing! I’ve been battling on what to wear when the temps go below 50 degrees. I just froze my gym membership so that I’ll get my booty outside to run instead. Gloves are a great idea. I’ll look into this for sure.

    26. I’m the girl dressed opposite of all the other runners I see: I favor long & layered on bottom & short sleeves on top. My legs get so cold and my arms get so hot!

    27. This is awesome – thanks, Michelle! I guess I need to run longer and faster – I’m already in pants and we’re only in the 30s here! (Though my legs are pretty forgiving of heat; I wore capris all summer.) Considering signing up for a January race to force myself to keep running as the temps keep dropping… Is it insane to run in snow for my first half marathon?

    28. SO interesting to read this as I transition to cold weather running too! I am determined to run more outside this winter than in, because I loathe the treadmill and run better outside anyway. Your tolerance for cold is higher than mine! I DO wear pants now (it was 30s this AM when I ran, but was only a 5K) and a long sleeved warm shirt, however, I agree with you on not dressing for the start of a run and keeping your head warm! I need to do that when it gets colder! (and I laugh reading this because I can imagine southerners and Californians will balk at wearing shorts in the 40s hehe, but I am with you! Rather have warm arms and let my legs go free!)
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    29. I generally follow the same guidelines as you, although I don’t use gloves until the lower temps (my hands get tingly with gloves and it is distracting though I have no idea why this is). I love an outer layer with thumb holes that doubles as long sleeve and gloves if it’s chilly at the start!
      Annie recently posted..Tuesday RamblesMy Profile

    30. These are great tips. I try to stay in shorts as long as possible but Toronto winters are brutal. I have a Sugo light weight jacket that does the trick for me until January. When I get too hot, it can easily wrap around my waist (but I hate doing this). I also have about 4 types of gloves/mittens to I switch between them depending on the temps. Mid-winter is definitely gloves with mittens over top. I hate cold hands!

    31. i run in capris most often because i dislike my legs–however i idid run in shorty shorts and a tutu for the nike womens half :) i usually do my warm ups inside (planks/pilates stomach series) and agree with Victoria about letting my gps find satellites!! :)

    32. I stay in shorts until it is absolutely necessary to cover up! I was training for Miami marathon (end of January) last year as my first and oooohhhh those long freezing training runs (and we had a milder winter…I am a baby with running in the cold!)
      So true about just getting out there or you will talk yourself into the treadmill. I am famous for that! I will sit around waiting for it to “warm up” on the weekend and then oops I am on the treadmill instead.
      Gianna @ Run, Lift, Repeat recently posted..Training LatelyMy Profile

    33. The first few cold runs of the year I am really bad about not dressing for the start of the run. But slowly I remember that I need to be chilly first few miles and I know that I will warm up. When it’s this fall in between weather I typically follow my personal rule of balance. If I wear leggings, pants or capris it’s usually short sleeve or light long sleeve. If I am wearing something warmer on top I might go with shorts. I don’t get completely covered until dead of winter.
      Laura @losingrace recently posted..Pumpkins in the Park 5kMy Profile

    34. I’m so with you on this post on the NOT overdressing! I honestly fear being too hot more than too cold, even in the dead of winter. I will only pull out a shell in really, really cold weather. My favorite is a jacket with detachable sleeves for the really cold temps. That way, if I heat up, off come the sleeves and I’m good to go!
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