Sometimes running really sucks. Not that I don’t love it—because I do love it—but there’s almost nothing worse than trying to crank out miles when it’s dark and cold and windy and miserable and all you really want is to be in your bed snuggled up watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Can you tell I’m not a fan of winter?
But as I’ve been trying to keep up with my training in these freezing New York winter temps, what’s truly kept me going has been my network of badass runners who motivate me to get my butt out the door. And because I’m all about sharing the love, I’m bringing their tips to all of you. Here’s what the pros have to say about running when your nose, toes, and entire body feel like they might freeze off.
1. Layer up.
Hollis Tuttle, an instructor at Mile High Run Club, suggests choosing gear that is specifically designed for winter weather. “Thin, moisture-wicking layers are best worn against the skin,” she says. “They will pull sweat away from the body and dry quicker.” Depending on the temps, you may need a mid-layer as well, but regardless, you’ll want to make sure to wear wind- and rain-resistant outerwear. “Your top layer should be made of breathable nylon or Gore-tex to help protect you from wind and possible precipitation,” Tuttle says.
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2. … but don’t overdo it.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, you actually want to feel the cold when you first step outside. “You should be chilly in that first mile—I know it sounds awful, but you’re going to heat up,” says Mike Keohane, head coach of Front Runners NYC. Especially in the rain, extra layers might actually work against you. “If you’re too warm going out, everything’s going to get wet and you’ll be shivering by the time you get home,” Keohane warns. Instead, opt for lightweight layers that are built for harsh weather conditions—we love anything with Merino wool, like this waffle long sleeve from Tracksmith or this base layer from Smartwool.
3. Cover up your extremities.
“You can quickly lose heat via your hands and feet,” Tuttle says. Gloves are a must, and a hat is also helpful to cover your ears. Your legs are where most of the work is happening, so they won’t need as much coverage as parts of your body that don’t move during the run. Keohane loves Uniqlo heat tech gloves, which he finds just as effective as name-brand athletic styles. And for socks, make sure they’re thick—especially because your shoes likely won’t provide much warmth. Keohane typically sticks to hiking socks from brands like Darn Tough to keep his feet warm and dry.
4. Find a buddy.
Kelly Roberts, marathoner and running blogger at She Can & She Did, swears that making plans to run with a friend before work is the secret weapon for accountability. “If my friend is freezing while waiting on a street corner because I invited them to run, I would never stand them up,” she says. “Suffering is always more fun when you don’t have to do it alone.” And if you can convince a friend to sign up for a race with you, that’s even better—get on the same training plan and keep each other on task.
5. Sign up for a race.
There’s nothing more motivating than throwing down money toward a winter race that forces you to train. Keohane recommends choosing short races in January, February, and March to give you a reason to run. The more people you tell about your plans, the better! You’ll feel the self-imposed pressure to get your training done even when your brain (and that warm, cozy couch) is telling you otherwise.
6. Keep the end in sight.
Roberts says that during the winter, it’s especially important to remind herself of why she’s running. “Before and during a run, I might question my life choices—but 97 percent of the time, I love how I feel afterward,” she says. “Taking the time to stop guilting myself into feeling like I ‘have to’ go for a run changed my life. We never have to go for a run, we get to. It’s a choice.” Framing your run as a gift, a celebration of your healthy body and mind, will make it so much more bearable.
Next time you’re dreading those cold winter miles, keep these tips close at hand. And remember: No matter how miserable it feels now, spring is right around the corner. If you keep up your training when the weather is less than ideal, you’ll be in tip-top shape when the sunshine returns.
Sarah Ellis is a grad student, runner, writer, and very bad dancer. Right this very second, she’s probably drinking kombucha and pretending chocolate is a health food (because it is, duh).