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Ask The Coach: Any Tips For Running Outside When It’s Below Freezing?

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published Jan. 10, 2014
  • Updated Jan. 10, 2014 at 1:44 PM UTC
With the right gear, winter runs can be just as enjoyable as running during warmer parts of the year. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Q.

Hey Mario,

I really hate running on the treadmill all the time in the winter, but I know it’s probably my safest option most of the time. Do you have any tips for running outside when the temperature is below freezing?

Thanks!

Sam

A.

Sam,

Great question given the recent cold snap that took over most of the country. The cold winter months can often dissuade runners from heading outside to run, especially when the mercury dips below 32 degrees, but with a little planning and the proper equipment, it is possible to avoid running all of your miles indoors.

If you are planning to head out for your workout when it’s below freezing, here are a few important things to keep in mind:

Watch Your step!
Freezing temps can often mean icy roads, so plan your route ahead of time and be wary of black ice and slippery conditions. If you’ll be running over snow or uncertain footing, look into studded soles you can slip over your running shoes to provide you with better traction, or spend a couple bucks and stud an old pair of shoes yourself!

RELATED: Winterize Your Training

Learn To layer
When it’s below freezing, layer from the inside out. Get a moisture-wicking, tight-fitting base layer that will serve as your primary layer of insulation over your legs as well as your upper torso. Above the waist, wear another thick long-sleeved shirt and/or a wind- and water-resistant jacket. Same goes for the legs: Start with long tights and if necessary layer over them with a wind-resistant pair of pants. Make sure your clothes — even your socks — are made from moisture-wicking, technical materials so they don’t freeze when they get wet. Wool blends are becoming more and more popular and will do a great job keeping you warm in the winter months. As for footwear, your everyday trainers might be OK, but arctic air can cut through thin mesh and cause your feet to be cold. Many brands now make all-weather versions of many of their popular trainers which feature a more weather-resistant upper (and outsole), which can help your feet stay a little warmer in the winter months. Keep in mind: Once you start moving, you will warm up! Experiment with various layering options and find the combo that keeps you most comfortable in whatever conditions you are running in.

Cover Up
Your chances of getting windburn and/or frostbite go up in the winter, so try and cover as much of your skin as possible when it gets really cold or windy. Extremities such as ears and fingers are the most important, but also make sure your neck and face are protected from the cold air. Also, get a hat! It will help hold in a lot of heat and keep your noggin from turning into a snow cone. Lastly, break out your sunglasses, especially if there’s a lot of snow on the ground. It’s important to protect your eyes from the reflection of the winter sun.

Adjust Your Effort
With more layers of clothes on, it can be difficult to move freely and run fast. Also, the cold, dry air can make breathing difficult for many people. Similar to when you’re training in hot, humid conditions, focus on effort or heart rate rather than a specific pace when the temperatures are below freezing.

Good luck, and happy running!

Mario

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Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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