When I woke up yesterday morning the thermometer read 8 degrees outside. For those keeping track at home, that’s a week straight of single-digit temps. If my dear friends at NOAA are right about their forecasts, we’re in this for the long haul. By my judgement, winter is here.
This gives us all a couple options – hibernate, drink hot toddies, and binge Netflix or, dare I say it, embrace the cold. Sure, the idea of running before work is and will never be sexy. It’s dark, cold, and often slippery. Hiding under your plush comforter represents the opposite–a warm, peaceful, and happy alternative to a jog that incurs the risk of losing digits. At least, that’s what it feels like when the 6AM alarm goes off.
The battle to run in winter is as much mental as physical. Gravity is pulling us back under the covers. Getting up, putting on warm clothes, and getting out the door feels like a monumental chore. At the same time, the mind and body rewards of getting an early morning sweat and some brisk air in your lungs cannot be overstated.
So to help you get out the door, we asked some friends for their cheat codes. Each of the six ultra runners below is an established pro, winning some of the biggest races across the world and training in a seasonally frigid environment. If anyone knows how to get going when the going gets tough, it’s these folks.
US Olympian, Western States and Leadville 100 Winner
Pro tip: Sip hot drinks
“A hot cup of tea or coffee before a run in cold conditions can be mentally boosting. I love a cup of GU Roctane Energy Drink Summit Tea and a Stroopwafel before and even during long cold runs to stay warm and well fueled. Many people associate dehydration only with exercise in hot environments, but dehydration is also a common concern during exercise in the cold. Our bodies have a decreased perception of thirst [when it's cold], so be extra aware of good hydration habits.”
“Also, before I head out the door I’ll perform three quick exercises to get the blood flowing, but without breaking a sweat. Jumping jacks, air squats and push-ups are my go-tos to make cold seem less severe.”
Javelina Jundred and Lavaredo Ultra Winner
Pro tip: Keep extremities warm
“If your extremities begin to freeze, all the dominos will fall. Your pandemic mask doubles as a fantastic face covering from the elements, warms each breath on freezing mornings, and signals that you care about your community. For really cold days, I’ll rock fleece-lined tights, a warm long sleeve with a moderately warm wind jacket and puffy vest, gloves with wind protection mitten overlay, buff face covering, and pom pom beanie.”
“It’s important to keep your head, toes, and fingers warm, not just your core. Doing so takes practice. Finding the right layers may take time. You don’t want to be cold, but overdressing is often worse than being cold for a few miles. It’s a fine balance. This winter I’ve been using HOKA’s Gore-Tex Shake Dry Jacket a lot and because the roads and trails are icy, I almost always run in the Challenger ATR 6 Gore-Tex, which has great grip and support and keeps my feet dry.”
Western States and UTMB Winner
Pro tip: Get your mind right
“When I'm prepping for a winter run, I always go with layers! Bulkier clothing doesn't necessarily mean it will be warmer. Adding multiple layers of quality gear is more effective in keeping you warm. Focusing on a warm core, dry feet and hands, and a toasty head are key in making the run as enjoyable as possible. I think that our mindset in less-than-ideal conditions is also important. It's cold, and that makes it a great adventure! I try to keep that in mind and have fun with it.”
“One of my favorite pieces of winter gear is the Salomon Bonatti Mitten. They work awesome as an extra wind protection layer over gloves, pack down really small and provide versatility as you warm up over the miles. Similarly, the Salomon Bonatti Waterproof Jacket is my go-to winter running choice as a light yet wind- and water-resistant outer layer.”
Wasatch 100 Runner-up and Ski Mountaineering National Champ
Pro tip: Travel light
“One of the most useful tips for running in really cold conditions is not overdressing. Our tendency is to dress so we feel comfortable standing around before we run. This will result in overheating within minutes of starting, the sweat produced during that time can be really difficult to manage and can lead to being very cold. Therefore, my number one tip is to wear one layer less than you think you need when you start. You’ll be cold for a few minutes but then just right.”
“In the winter I almost always carry a small pack — like the Patagonia Slope Runner Endurance Vest — on trail runs with that extra layer and maybe one more in the case of something going wrong and needing extra insulation. I also really love starting off drinking a warm electrolyte drink, and finishing with a warm recovery drink after really cold sessions.”
Western States and Leadville 100 Winner
Pro tip: Chase the sun
“I try to find ways to get out in sunlight hours as much as possible. If my schedule can swing it, I’ll choose to run at noon versus 7 a.m. in the darkest of months. That may not be possible for everyone, but I’d suggest a lunch run or something like that if you can. At the same time I encourage others to think small. Think only of the next run. Don’t over-stress the ten-day forecast, just get out the door. If I just think about tackling one hour-long run in freezing conditions, I can handle that. I can handle just one, right?”
“This is especially true with good gear. Good winter tights, a warm top (my favorite is Patagonia’s Thermal Airshed Jacket) and mittens, hat and thick socks. These will help you feel comfortable. With COVID I doubt I’ll get to a treadmill all winter, so bundling up for cold days will be my only option!”
Black Canyon, Broken Arrow and Lavaredo Winner
Pro tip: Focus on form — and safety
“Running in the cold is all about trying to stay warm and stay safe. A fall on the ice could cause a season-ending injury and running on snow can alter your form and biomechanics causing tight hips, glutes, hamstrings, and other muscles. Make sure to wear shoes with good traction when braving the elements, like the Hoka One One Speedgoat with its Vibram sole.”
“Another tip is to keep your form as normal as possible and focus on maintaining it throughout the run. To do so, find routes and trails that are clearer and packed down, and run in the middle of the day in warmer temperatures and better visibility, when possible. To protect your muscles, make sure to always get a good warmup in before you run, and [remember] it’s always okay to take that first mile or two easier so the muscles get warmed up properly.”