Surviving Winter Running

Now that winter weather is upon us, the temperatures are falling and it’s often dark before we leave the office. It’s no wonder that Seasonal Affective Disorder begins to bum out anyone not living in Florida or California (oh hai cranky Megan)!  Luckily, running is a great way to boost endorphins and keep you in a good mood until the Spring thaw.

If your motivation for winter training is lacking, first identify your obstacles. Do you cringe at 20 degree windchill? Are snowy roads scary? Do you skip runs after the sun goes down? Once you know the things that might cause you to bail on a run, it’s time to come up with some solutions.

Before you head out into the elements, make sure you’ve got the necessary gear. A run in spandex tights and proper running gloves will make a winter long run much more bearable. However, you don’t want to overheat. Keep in mind that you should probably dress as though it were 15-20 degrees warmer.

  • 25-35 degrees: insulated running top, pair of spandex running tights, gloves, headband or hat.
  • 15 – 25 degrees: long-sleeve top, running jacket, tights, wind pants, gloves, hat.
  • 0 – 15 degrees: 2 long-sleeve tops, running jacket, tights, wind pants, mittens, hat.
  • Minus 15 to 0 degrees: 2 long-sleeve tops, 2 pairs of tights (and maybe windpants also) hat, gloves AND mittens, scarf wrapped around mouth.
  • Colder than minus 15 degrees: Hit the treadmill or take a rest day!

If you’re prone to cold hands, you might want to consider disposable hand-warmers. You can usually get these at the local hardware store or pharmacy.

Once you’re properly attired, think about the time of day that you’ll be most motivated to run. If you need to get in your miles before breakfast, perhaps a running buddy can be the “kick-in-the-butt” you need to run in the early morning darkness. Or if you need some sunshine, ask your boss if you can take a longer lunch hour to fit in a mid-day jaunt.

When you’re out on the roads, there are certain things you can do to keep yourself more comfortable. For example, begin an out-and-back run facing the wind. When you turn around, the wind will be at your back. Believe me, your sweaty self will appreciate this! When selecting your running route, try to run on the sunny side of the street – it can really make a difference. And good news for trail-lovers: trees block the wind better than the open road!

If you just can’t bear the thought of running in freezing temps, consider investing in a gym membership. Many local YMCA’s offer reasonable rates. You can also investigate the cost for a day pass – most health clubs allow non-members to purchase a one-time pass for $5-10. Even if you prefer to run outside most of the time, a treadmill or indoor track can be a lifesaver (especially if you have an important workout planned mid-blizzard!). A gym membership will also give you access to cross-training machines and weights – this winter could be the perfect opportunity to work on your strength or recover from a nagging injury.

In terms of mental motivation, it helps to have a time-line specific running goal. Are you training for a spring half-marathon? A Shamrock 5k? What kind of miles and workouts will you need to complete? Knowing the purpose of each run will make skipping it a lot harder. Take a look at your calendar for the next few months and mark down key workouts: long runs, tempos, and races. This visual reminder might be all you need to get you out the door and off on your chilly run.

And if all else fails, you could take a rest day and bake something yummy!

Cranberry-Pecan Bars (makes 12)


  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup oats
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1 package of fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup cranberry, apple, or grape juice
  • 1/2 cup craisins
  • 1/3 cup agave nectar (or honey)
  • 3 Tbs sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans


  • Combine flour, oats, and brown sugar in a bowl. Stir in the butter until mixed together. Set aside 2/3 cup and press remaining mixture into a lightly oiled 8″ x 8″ baking pan.
  • Combine fresh cranberries, 7 Tbs juice, craisins, agave (or honey), sugar, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally; berries should burst and break down into a sauce-like consistency.
  • Combine cornsyrup and remaining Tbs of juice until smooth; stir into berry mixture and bring to a boil. Cook for another 2 minutes until sauce is thick.
  • Pour filling over crust, top with pecans, and 2/3 cup of oat-sugar-flour mixture. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees and then allow to cool completely. Cut into squares and enjoy with a dollop of greek yogurt or whipped cream!

**These bars have less than 200 calories per serving and they’re high in fiber and packed with immune system-boosting cranberries. YUM.

Do you have any winter running tips?

  • Great tips, as always. I’ve been overdressed on a few runs lately and this temperature breakdown makes things so much simpler.

    My main tip? For those who live in areas where the roads are constantly icy, snowy, slushy, slippery, poorly maintained, but you still want to put in lots of miles outside… invest in some ice-gripper equipment to pull on over your trainers. For me, this has been paramount to having a productive run in icy conditions, particularly if you’re running in the dark and won’t always spot the worst icy patches before your feet find them.

    Yaktrax are good for when there are a few inches of snow, but my go-to has been ice stud pullovers from DueNorth (best $17 I’ve spent this winter) that are much easier to deal with (and more effective for the conditions I run in).

    A quality headlamp might be an excellent investment, too, but I’ve just been sticking to roads with lots of streetlights instead.

    Also, winter’s probably a good time to make sure you’re wearing your reflective gear for those dark runs.

  • I recently found out that I am in fact, NOT, allergic to pecans wahoo! So I will have to try these bars (made gluten free).

    As for winter running, I can’t really relate. San Francisco doesn’t really ever get THAT cold (and never snows). That said when I did live somewhere snowy, I just put sheet metal screws into an older pair of shoes (for traction) and went out running in the streets. More of an adventure than getting serious miles I think.

  • yummy bars. although i may take awhile to make them because i poured ~1cup of cranberries into my oats yesterday (or the day before i forget) and man i totally forgot how tart cranberries are. it was awful hahah.

    and the cold totally makes me cringe. because i just hate being cold. but i guess i like complaining because i never really take steps to make sure that my fingers retain the sense of touch

  • Ada

    Yum, those bars look great! It was so nice to see you the other day! We should go running together more often:)

  • Kelly

    I was laughing as I red this. I am in Texas and I hit the treadmill when it hits 35 degrees! haha! I can’t imagine running in the conditions that you do. Today’s high was 78…shorts and flip flops! Love my Texas winters!

  • Katie

    Those bars look great! I’ve been looking for something other than bread or cake or sauce to make with cranberries- doing it up. Today it was around 23* and windy in Boston and I went with a turtleneck underarmor, windbreaker, and lined spandex (usually I use them for skiing!). I would say a bit tip for winter running is at least get through that first half mile before you decide you’re too cold!

  • Katie

    A bit tip? Sorry, I shouldn’t comment with wine :). Just a regular tip. Also I had on a headband and gloves!

  • Great tips! Dressing appropriately is definitely key. I find it helpful to leave myself post-its or index cards near my alarm clock to remind me why I’m waking up to run when it’s so cold. Keeping the larger goal in mind is really motivating for me.
    Cranberry + Pecan is an awesome combo – the bars look delicious!

  • perfect timing on this post. i’m having trouble figuring out what i need to continue running outside.

  • Love your tips. I am trying to gear myself up for some good winter running as I train for Boston. It’s not an option, it’s must. Hoping I can motivate tomorrow morning for a cold run. 🙁

  • Those are great tips for clothing, I never know what to wear! I still am just lacking the motivation, it just seems so miserable out there!!

  • Being Southern, I can run outside in sub-freezing temperatures, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried it when it was below 15 or 18 degrees. And I have to dress warmer than the 20-degree rule: 2 long-sleeved tops when it gets into the 30s and a third short-sleeve top if it’s below freezing. One of the biggest things for me is to keep the head warm, since you lose about 40% of your body heat through the head. One of those Thinsulate knit caps you can buy on the streets of NYC under a very thick hoody or hooded running jacket is a good combo when it’s really cold and don’t want more than the face uncovered.

  • This is going to sound snarky, but it’s not: I think about running in the summer. I think about those 100-degree days, the feeling of slogging through horrible humidity, the sense that I AM GOING TO DIE. And more often than not, it motivates me through the cold. There is a point, around late February, when the summer running memories begin to lose potency, and that’s when I know it’s time for winter to end.

    As for nuts and bolts? I have a lot of sweaters, and these nifty mitten-cover-ups that go over gloves.

  • Liz

    Great tips!! I’m having such a hard time running in the cold (or even the treadmil) this post was a great motivation for me to get my butt out there!!

  • Wow you would seriously run outside until it’s -15?! I agree with Kelly in Austin. Below 35 seems crazy to me! But I do wish I could see snow one or two days this year.

  • I quit my gym in a fit of rage last year — I am probably the only person who QUITS a gym for New Years…heh…and so I was forced to run outside all year long but I now I actually love it. I do a lot of trail running and you’re right, hardly any wind at all. People have said to us, “Aren’t you COLD?!” but you really don’t feel it after a couple of miles — as long as you keep moving, you stay warm!

  • I’m with Sarah! I am constantly checking myself – like, I’m only allowed to complain about summer OR winter, not both. And since we all know I’ll be whining to high heaven once the temperature climbs past 70…yeah. I shut it and pull on my tights and go run. 🙂

  • Loved the recipe and the tips for running in the winter!
    Thanks for sharing, girl 🙂

  • yak tracks for the ice! I have had way too many close calls running on icy roads and sidewalks…

  • I love your advice! I have the opposite problem – we are getting ready to head south in our motorcoach for the winter and I find that I miss the convenience of my home treadmill while on the road. Running in new/strange surroundings is not always pleasureable – though the weather is usually lovely. Your cranberry bars look divine… at least I have a full kitchen with me on the road. Thank you for your column and recipes!

  • Those bars look so scrummy! Yummm. These are great tips. I feel like I never wear the right thing when I run outside in the winter. I’ve been hitting up the treadmill recently, but I do miss running outside. I think it’s time to suck it up and DO IT!

  • Thank you SO MUCH for this list! Despite all my marathons, I still can never remember what to wear in different temperature. I’m definitely bookmarking this 🙂 It also makes me feel a lot better about Saturday’s Christmas Marathon – it sounds like 25 degrees won’t be that bad after all.

  • i like your advice.thnks for sharing.

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