Running in the Cold Without Killing Yourself

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Cold weather can be depressing if you’re stuck inside all the time.

Running can be a great way to get out of the house, boost your mood, increase your energy level, and stay in shape.

However, you need to be more careful to have a safe and enjoyable running experience in cold weather.

Here are some things to consider before hitting the road.

Make Sure You’re Healthy
Frigid air can cause problems for some people with asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and those with chest pain. If you are dealing with a chest cold the frosty air can delay your healing and cause bouts of violent coughing. Running in cold weather is more stressful to your body and this is not a good combination with sickness.

Check the Temperature
If the wind is blowing, it’s not going feel like the temp registering on your thermometer. The temperature plus the wind chill is going to be what your exposed flesh actually experiences. See the following chart (all degrees in Farenheit).

Wind Chill Factorization Table (temps in Fahrenheit)

Temp 40 30 20 10 0 -10
5 mph wind= 36 25 13 1 -11 -22
10 mph wind= 34 21 9 -4 -16 -28
15 mph wind= 32 19 6 -7 -19 -32
20 mph wind= 30 17 4 -9 -22 -35
25 mph wind= 29 16 3 -11 -24 -37
30 mph wind= 28 15 1 -12 -26 -39
35 mph wind= 28 14 0 -14 -27 -41

Source: National Weather Service 

Dress for Success
A good general rule is to dress as though it is 20 degrees warmer outside. Start with a thin, sweat wicking layer like polypropylene. Avoid cotton as it will trap the moisture on your body. Use a breathable nylon or Goretex outer layer, and if it’s really cold consider a middle layer of fleece. See my running clothes/gear for more ideas.

Protect your hands, feet, and head. 40% of body heat can be lost this way.  Wear a stocking cap with ear protection and consider a mask or scarf to warm the air on extra cold days.

Watch for These Danger Signs:

  • Frostnip- ends of fingers, toes, ears, and nose can be chilled, the skin will feel cold and somewhat stiff; get inside and warm the area slowly.
  • Frostbite- monitor fingers, toes, ears, and nose for numbness, a pale color, and hard or stiff skin.  Get inside and slowly warm the area in a bath of 100 degrees.  Do not rub the area.   If numbness persists seek medical attention immediately.
  • Hypothermia- dangerously decreased body temperature.  Signs include increased shivering, decreased coordination, slurred speech, and fatigue.  Get out of wet or damp clothes immediately after running and seek medical attention.

Just do it!
Don’t fall off the running wagon just because it’s winter. With planning and preparation you can have some great cold weather experiences.

Running will help the winter to pass more quickly than if you stay cooped up inside. You’ll also feel so much more hardcore for venturing out on those day when everyone else stays inside. Motorists will definitely comment, “that guy/girl must be crazy.”

Also Mentioned in This Episode

Angie’s New Running Watch
The Garmin Forerunner 110 is a minimalistic running watch with GPS and optional HRM. It doesn’t give you an in depth analysis of your performance like lap splits, but does provide easy to use features.

The GPS locates a satellite quickly and it gives you a clear readout of distance, pace, heart rate, and duration. Great for the distance runner who doesn’t want to fuss with their watch. Click the link below to see what the watch looks like.

Garmin Forerunner 110 GPS-Enabled Sport Watch with Heart Rate Monitor (Pink)

22 Responses to Running in the Cold Without Killing Yourself

  1. Trevor December 16, 2010 at 11:05 pm #

    I always have the tendancy to over-dress when running in the cold. The tip about dressing as if it were 20 degrees hotter is a big help.

  2. Danielle December 17, 2010 at 12:43 am #

    Love my Garmin 110!! I have the pink/gray one, too – cute, and functional!

  3. Autum December 17, 2010 at 7:32 am #

    Running makes the winter days more bearable and helps give me a mood and energy boost! It’s harder to get out the door but once I do, I’m always glad I did. Last run, I tied a bandanna around my face and that helped me breath and warm my face. I would move it up and down as needed.

  4. Paula December 21, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    Angie & Trevor-
    love your podcast, everyone of them is so helpful! we’re getting some cold weather in OK so your tips are great.

    I was planning on running Little Rock Marathon but I learned that the next year (2012) is their 10 year anniversary and their medal is going to be 10 in in diameter so I decided to wait for 2012. you know, it’s all about the bling and theirs is HUGE!

    Maybe you’ll come to OK sometime and run the R66 in Tulsa or Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.

    Keep up the great podcasts!

    Merry Chirstmas to you and your kiddos!

  5. Ari December 28, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    I just found your podcasts and web-site. Thank you from both.
    I live in Kitee, Finland. Winters are quite cold here. The temperature outside is now -4 degrees Fahrenheit. My running limit is 5 degree Fahrenheit, I don’t run outside colder than that.
    I’ve noticed, that H.A.D. or Buff is good protection to face. They are thin and elastic, but keep away cold and wind from your face.
    Keep on running!

    • Trevor December 31, 2010 at 10:22 pm #


      -4 degrees! That reminds me of living in Northern Montana. I don’t fault you for not going out in that extreem cold.

      Thanks for the recomendation on the headwear.

  6. Angie December 28, 2010 at 8:14 pm #

    Danielle, I’m glad that you love your Garmin 110 too! Autum, Keep up the good work with the winter running! Your tip about the bandana is good. It’s probably very effective on mildly cold days.

  7. Angie December 28, 2010 at 8:16 pm #

    Hi Paula. Hope you had a wonderful holiday season! I’m glad that you’re enjoying the podcast. We’d love to come to OK someday and run a marathon. It’s not too far from where we live. Happy running!

  8. Brandon Reasoner December 31, 2010 at 7:25 pm #

    Mittens aren’t just for kittens! I live in Washington State won’t go out in the winter with out my gloves. You guys are the best and I am hoping to use my Dave Ramsey Blow money envelope to pay for MTA member. Have a great new year Angie and Trevor.

  9. Angie December 31, 2010 at 9:02 pm #

    Hey Brandon, mittens are the way to go in really cold weather! We’ve really benefited from being on Dave Ramsey’s budgeting system too. Hope to see you inside MTA Member. Have an awesome New Year!

  10. Don January 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    I finally just got to this podcast. Just too busy with the holidays and work.

    For me, the one thing that I must have at 30 and below is a cotton like neck gaiter. I wear it over my mouth, nose, and ears. The benefit of this is that as I exhale, it moistens the gaiter and that in turn helps to moisten the air as I inhale. This does seem to assist in running in the cold dry air of winter.
    I started this years ago because I read (some 20 years ago) that part of the pain that people feel in their lungs in cold weather was because the dry air is not moistened when flowing through the mouth like it is when inhaled through the nose.
    Just my tip for those of us who can’t stand running on a treadmill.

    Love the podcast and I am signed up for my first half marathon in early March.

    • Angie January 4, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

      Hi Don. The neck gaiter is an excellent suggestion. I’ve definitely experienced those coughing fits from cold air hitting my lungs. It’s exciting to hear that you’ll be doing your first half marathon in March. Keep up the great work and happy cold weather running!

  11. Nate January 4, 2011 at 6:13 am #

    I remember listening to one of your previous podcasts and you mentioned wearing mittens. I bought some before winter set in (I live in Utah) and couldn’t imagine making it through my runs, which, unfortunately, are fewer than I would like, without them.

    I can’t exactly agree with Trevor–I haven’t slept in a sleeping bag with 3 other people–they definitely make a huge difference to my comfort level.

    Thanks for the tip!

    • Angie January 4, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

      You’re right Nate, mittens make a cold weather run much more enjoyable. I’ve read that around 30% of your body heat can be lost through the hands. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  12. Lara January 11, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    I have just gotten back into running- a few weeks ago after many years off. I found your podcast a few days ago and listened to this one about the cold after my first run in real cold. Of course, I am in Alabama, so “cold” has a different definition! But I followed your advice about what to layer, ans head and hand covering. We have just had the worst ice/snow storm in about 20 years, and are snowed in. I finally grew brave enough today to put your advice to the test and ran on an icy road in 25 degree temp. I was dressed perfectly! I am happy report I had a great run! Now I believe I can run in this miserable weather!!
    And look forward to learning more from your podcasts!
    Thank you!!

    • Angie January 13, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

      I’m glad that you’re enjoying the podcast Lara. It’s so encouraging to know that you are taking action and braving the cold weather. Happy running!

  13. Annette January 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    I’m a relatively new runner and haven’t run outside in temperatures below 45 degrees yet. Since I live in Wisconsin that means a lot of months being confined to indoor exercise.

    I listened to this podcast walking home from work last week, and was inspired. Instead of getting in my car and driving to the gym, I layered up and went for a run. It was exhilarating.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Angie!

  14. Angie January 19, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    Annette, I’m excited that you braved the cold and ran outside. Some days it can be hard to get out the door, but it is a wonderfully exhilarating experience. Keep up the great work!

  15. bobbi February 17, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    I was listening to this podcast on really cold weather and thought ha! I will never need this living in AZ. well, guess what? It dropped to below freezing at night for a coupla weeks-one think I am not sure you addressed is the constantly running nose-or if you did, I don’t remember it. I had to pack my pockets and spibelt with kleenex on my runs because I just can’t stand it! at least there is no snow! 🙂

    • Angie February 17, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

      Bobbi, I’m sorry that the cold weather has reached you in AZ. Cold weather can make the sinuses go crazy! I’m glad to hear that you braved the cold and runny nose. Keep up the great work!

  16. Keith November 29, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    I have trained and run in minus 25 degree many years in Northern Alberta. Dress in layers with mitts and warm hat and go for it. If you can ski in it you can run in it.

    • Angie December 1, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

      Hi Keith,

      I totally agree. If you acclimate and dress for the weather there’s no reason why winter has to slow you down. Thanks for the reminder that the cold here really isn’t that cold 🙂

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