(Fitness)

My Running Skills Are *Finally* Improving, & I Attribute My Success To The Cold Weather

Plus, the winter essentials I swear by before lacing up.

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My interest in running has ebbed and flowed, mostly because I have knee sensitivity due to ballet training from a young age. The thing is, I really like running. But my abilities, well, they’re far from exceptional. I’m pretty dang slow, not only due to low stamina but because I try to avoid straining my knees too much (I do wear braces and only run on dirt to lessen the impact). Most of the time, I feel exhausted so quickly despite being super active in other modalities (I’m a pilates, yoga, and sculpt class fanatic). However, I’ve stumbled upon what I believe to be the secret sauce to my jogging journey over the past few months: winter running.

The pandemic made an outdoor athlete out of many of us, but for me, it took crisp winter air and a need for layers to rev up my running engine (I’m also a sun phobe who takes drastic measures to shield my skin from UV rays, hence appreciating layers). I’m not exactly sure why I waited until December in NYC to start striding again — in fact, it was more or less a fluke. One frosty morning, my fiancé (who used to be a big-time runner) and I suddenly felt the urge to lace up for a loop around the reservoir in Central Park. After a brisk 1.58-miles, I was stunned by how good I felt. My stamina? Remarkably improved (especially considering it was my first time running in a mask). My knees? Not the least bit pained. My energy level? Soaring high, I felt amazing!

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I’ve never been one to work out in the winter elements, but since that chilly December morning, I’ve consistently enjoyed a brisk run or two per week. I’ve wondered, though, why has winter running seemingly been easier for me than in warmer weather? So, I brought my theory of whether winter running is ideal for novice runners like myself to three pros to learn more.

Additionally, since my activewear collection mostly consists of bra-and-legging sets best suited to the studio or my living room, I sought the expert’s advice for essential gear. Things like a warm but not-overly-bulky jacket, the best base layers and accessories like hats and gloves, and sneakers that can withstand snow and ice on the ground — all are incredibly crucial! I even picked their brains about helpful running apps and recovery methods. Keep scrolling for all the winter running insight.

The Advantages Of Winter Running

Misty Walker, general manager and a coach for STRIDE running studio, tells me there are, indeed, several advantages to running in the winter. “Depending on the conditions, snow running can be a great strength workout,” she explains. Adding, “Other elements like wind, rain, and snow can also add resistance and overall can be a great workout!”

Even simpler, Walker says getting outside in the winter can be peaceful and great for managing stress levels. If you live in a snowy climate, it can also be beautiful and scenic, helping many like myself find a little more calm during the day.

Brittany Watts, a certified personal trainer, tells me another benefit to running in the winter: “Cold weather is good for inflammation,” she says. “Think of the effect of ice baths. The cold air causes blood vessels to tighten, which can reduce inflammation.” Though the trainer personally prefers running in fall’s not-too-cold and dry conditions, she says running in winter is more refreshing than doing it in summer’s intense heat. “Running in hot air makes me feel drained, but running in cold air gives me extra energy,” she says. Same!

Echoing Watts, Walker says spring and fall are the best times to start running. However, any time a new runner is motivated to start running is a perfect time. “Winter has its challenges, but so does summer. The most important thing is getting started and staying consistent,” Watts tells me.

The Disadvantages of Winter Running

The biggest downside to winter running? “It’s cold and can just be uncomfortable,” Walker explains. “Even with the right gear, the wind and cold can still sting a little on parts of the body that are not covered like your face. It gets dark earlier, and there are also concerns with footing as roads can tend to get icy. A good headlamp and some reflective items can be extremely helpful.”

Watts says winter running brings on a higher risk of injury. “The snow and ice increase the chance of falling,” she says. “Also, when muscles are cold, they are tighter in efforts to preserve heat, and this can lead to tears in the muscles or tendons. Make sure you properly warm up and lightly stretch.”

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Get Winter-Specific Running Sneakers

Something I learned real quick after NYC’s first snowfall? A winter-specific sneaker is essential. Though I’ve been fitted at running stores several times and equipped with a rotation of supportive, cushioned sneakers, it didn’t occur to me how paramount a slip-resistant sole is in the cold. Paul Lang, a footwear merchandising manager at ASICS America, tells me that a sneaker made with breathable and waterproof GORETEX is ideal for wet and slippery winter conditions. The outsoles are a little more aggressive, but they’re made with extra traction to help runners avoid slips or falls. “Two of my favorites are the GT-2000 9 G-TX and the GEL-Cumulus 22 G-TX,” Lang shares. The sneaker pro says many trail running shoes come with waterproofing options and are another great option this time of year.

He adds, “Finding the right shoe with the proper amount of protection can help by stabilizing the foot and the rest of the body. Shoes like the GEL-Kayano 27 and the GT-2000 9 are great examples of tried-and-tested stability running shoes that offer a protective run experience, but still run smooth and cushioned on the roads.”

Highlighting the Nike Pegasus Trail 2 as her favorite, Watts agrees that a sneaker with excellent grip is critical in the cold, as does Walker. A sneaker made with merino wool can also help to keep feet warm.

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Moisture-Wicking Socks For The Win

In addition to slip-free sneakers, there’s another foot factor to consider in the cold — warmth! “Socks can be the cherry on top for a perfect run,” Lang tells me. “While thickness is a matter of personal preference, this is an opportunity to gain added warmth for the foot.” Per the ASICS expert, the ideal winter running sock is one with wicking properties to help keep the foot warm. Walker says, “Smartwool socks are the best for winter running. They keep you warm and dry!”

All three experts agree that tall socks are best in the winter to avoid exposed skin. “I like Nike Drifit socks,” Watts shares. “They’re good at wicking moisture, and the check looks cool on the calves.”

The number one no-go in the sock department? Cotton. “Cotton is rotten,” Walker tells me, reiterating the importance of a moisture-wicking design.

Winter Running Essentials

In addition to grippy, waterproof sneakers and moisture-wicking socks, all three pros recommend various activewear pieces for winter runs. Walker says, “Wicking apparel is key — it pulls moisture away from your skin, which helps prevent chafing and blisters,” suggesting tighter-fitting tops and bottoms which are less likely to chafe. Lang says reflective apparel is vital in winter conditions with low visibility, like ASICS Lite-Show apparel featuring 3M reflectivity and super-warm constructions.

For Watts, it’s all about heattech layers during cold winter runs. “I wear a sports bra, a long sleeve heattech undershirt, a T-shirt, and a sweater on top,” she says. In ultra-cold conditions, the trainer layers heattech leggings under stretchy running tights. “It’s better to have to take layers off than to feel like you’re freezing,” she says.

Cotton remains a big no-no in the clothing department. “Cotton sticks to you once you start sweating, unlike synthetic fabrics, which draw the sweat away from your body and keep you more comfortable,” Walker explains. “Dressing for the cold can be tricky, so try and develop a flexible running wardrobe that will cover you during various conditions.”

Here’s a checklist of winter activewear essentials recommended by the pros:

A Long-Sleeve Shirt

For women, a sports bra is the baseline for a run, no matter what. Then, in winter weather, form-fitting moisture-wicking base layers are next. “A long-sleeve shirt made of high-tech polyester will pull moisture away from your skin, keeping you from getting clammy and cold on a cooler day,” Walker explains. “I’m a big fan of wool base layers,” she adds. “Wool is a naturally moisture-wicking fabric and resists odor. They’re costly but well worth the investment if you live in cold climates.”

A Jacket Or Vest

A windproof jacket or vest, usually in a polyester blend, will keep you warm and manage sweat while warding off wind, rain, and snow. Walker tells me. “It’s an essential piece of equipment on cold, windy, or rainy days.” Another pro-tip from the STRIDE coach: “Use the zipper as a ‘thermostat.’ Zip up or down on the run, as needed, to stay comfortable.”

A Sweatshirt

If you’re not a fan of running in jackets or vests, like Watts, the trainer recommends a sweatshirt. “A nice hoodie is always great because it keeps you warm until you feel your body temperature increase from the run,” she tells me. Citing this Training Camp Crop Hoodie as her favorite, she says a cropped design allows for more airflow, so you don’t overheat while keeping your arms warm. “Since limbs are further away from your core, they tend to get cold fast, so you want a hoodie to keep them cozy,” she explains.

Tights

According to Walker, the first level of insulation for your legs should be a pair of classic running tights, ideally made from a polyester and spandex blend. “Looser running pants are another option here,” she says. Adding, “In extreme cold, tights under pants is a good layering strategy. Fleece-lined leggings are a great idea in temps colder than 30 degrees Fahrenheit.” Don’t forget a pair of skivvies! Though, per Walker, try to avoid cotton.

A Mid-Layer

In the chilliest of conditions, Walker suggests a fleece mid-layer of the form-fitting but not tight variety for added warmth on top of a fitted base layer.

A Hat Or Headband

It’s easy for newbie winter runners like myself to forget about the remaining areas of exposed skin like your neck, ears, and hands before heading out for a run. But let me tell you, you’ll quickly realize just how essential accessories are for shielding said spots.

“For cold, rainy, or snowy runs, consider adding a light beanie or headband for warmth,” Walker tells me. “A waterproof fleece or wind-resistant cap will help keep your head warm and dry(er).” Watts adds, “A sweat collecting headband is good for keeping sweat out of your eyes and keeping your ears warm.”

Mittens Or Gloves

A pair of windproof or resistant gloves or mittens are a must for keeping hands and fingertips from freezing off — Walker says both are an excellent option for winter runs. “Mittens are a lot warmer in very cold temps,” she explains. “If the temps are below 25 degrees Farenheight, I highly recommend a mitten vs. glove.”

Watts’ pick is North Face’s new Etip™ Recycled Gloves, while Lang advocates for convertible glove designs with built-in mittens for extra protection.

Winter Run Recovery Tips

Proper hydration, nutrition, and post-run stretching is always crucial, no matter the time of year. According to Walker, 15 to 20 minutes of static stretching will support your muscles and helps with flexibility. However, after logging winter miles specifically, the STRIDE coach says, “I highly recommend adding in some indoor cycling or general strength training during the winter months. It’s a great time to focus on building strength for higher mileage days in the spring and summer.”

Walker also recommends adding supplements, like BSN Amino x Endurance & Recovery to your post-run routine. “With a lower calorie content and ingredients like amino acids and Vitamin D, it’s beneficial for winter months,” she explains.

A warm shower is perhaps the simplest — and the most relaxing — way to recover after a winter run. Watts says, “A nice hot shower will help to relax your muscles.” Adding, “If you can take a hot bath with Epsom salt, it releases magnesium and sulfates which can reduce stress, muscle soreness, and inflammation.”

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Level-Up Your Winter Run With An App Or Tracker

Fitness trackers and running apps are a great way to keep you going in the winter, whether you’re looking for new challenges or seeking out beginner guidance. Walker says, “There are lots of great treadmill workout apps available. My favorite is the STRIDE Go app, which is a component of the STRIDE Treadmill Studios.” Adding, “Running on a treadmill can be a little boring, so adding in some coached workouts can keep people motivated and making progress.”

Watts highlights the Nike Training Club App and Run With Meg as two of her favorites for running. “They both have detailed programs for new runners,” she says. “The Nike training app tracks the distance of your run to estimate the number of calories you burned during the workout. Run with Meg has running specific resistance workouts to supplement your running training to make sure you have the proper strength in your running muscles.”

Celebrate Your Accomplishments

It might seem small, but Walker says it’s important to celebrate every running accomplishment, big or small, especially in the winter. “Keep a journal of your workouts and stay consistent,” she suggests. “If you don’t feel like running on any given day, just tell yourself that you will run ten minutes and decide if you want to call it quits. Nine times out of ten, you will complete the workout and be proud of yourself!”

Another pro tip: “Start running in the direction of the headwind,” Walker says. “On the way back, the tailwind will feel much warmer. Coming back into a cold headwind is a lot colder when you are sweaty and wet.”