January “Thaw” and Six Safe Winter Weather Running Tips

At a balmy 34º Fahrenheit this morning, I laced up my running shoes, piled on some layers and headed out the door to enjoy a winter run outside. I just feel like I have to take advantage of the “January Thaw” that we are currently experiencing in Wisconsin. Sometimes, this time of year the weather is absolutely miserable, especially in northern areas. The days are short, cold, and downright dreary. That’s why I try to get out of the house when the weather is a little more cooperative (and tolerable — meaning above 0º) and get a run in, even if it’s just a quick one. 


I find that getting out of the house to run during the winter helps reduce the cabin fever that so often sets in this time of year. Sometimes I just need to get my CRAZY out! The chilly temps and crisp air entering my lungs helps bring me back to reality. The ice, snow, and temperature create new obstacles and hazards that you don’t have to deal with throughout the other seasons, but sometimes, the beauty is worth getting out there.

What is a runner to do?

Obviously joining a gym or running on a treadmill is also a winter running option that doesn’t require precautions, but for some people treadmill running is dreadful — and joining a gym just isn’t an option. 

Here is a list of Winter Running Safety Tips for those Runners who go out and brave the elements. This list is in no way comprehensive. Each tip is something that I have utilized in my winter running adventures in order to keep me safe and able to run another day. Some may work for you, others may not. Either way, stay safe if you choose to run outside and maybe some of these tips will help!

  • Layers are extremely important when the weather is freezing (or below freezing). I typically find myself wearing long underwear underneath “swishy pants” (AKA windbreaker pants). I also wear a sweat-wicking long sleeve under a t-shirt or cotton long sleeve, topped by a hooded sweatshirt. My mom hates running in hooded sweatshirts, she doesn’t like all that bulk around her neck, but I like to run in them because it’s extra warmth and covering for your head if needed during the run.
  • I also usually wear two pairs of socks — a thin pair under a thicker pair. I do this for two reasons. If you are running in near freezing weather, the probability of you running through melting snow or slush is high. Two layers of socks keeps your feet from getting uncomfortably wet. If you are running in colder weather or on clear roads/sidewalks, the double layered socks also keep your feet from getting too cold. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t like to run with numb, cold feet!
  • Cover your head, ears, and fingers! I usually head out for a winter run with a pair of thin gloves (like those dollar ones that you can find in any store during the winter). I usually end up taking my gloves off halfway through my run as I warm up and I tend to stick them in my pocket. I like these type of gloves because 1. they are inexpensive 2. they are thin 3. they are making them touchscreen compatible now to be able to work your music player without removing your gloves! Covering your head is also important because it is where you lose most of your body heat from. I’m not a big hat fan, but I will wear one during a run to keep my from getting too cold and quitting early. Otherwise, headbands are a great option, especially for those of us with lots of hair. They are also making hats with holes in them for ponytails to come out of! I haven’t tried these yet, but I might!



Take Your Phone
  • Taking your phone with you on winter runs is a must! Imagine if you are 2 miles into your run and all of a sudden you hit a patch of black ice! After hitting the ground hard, you try to get back up but you just can’t stand to put weight on your ankle. What are you going to do? Crawl back to your house? (Hopefully this will never happen to you, but having your phone will allow you to call for help.)  Another must is to make sure your phone is charged! The cold weather will drain your battery quickly, so keeping it close to your body will help prevent battery drainage.
Let Someone Know
  • This goes for anytime you are running alone, but you should definitely let someone know that you are going for a run and when you expect to be back if you are taking on winter running solo. This won’t prevent an injury from happening on your run, but it will increase your chance of getting help faster if you do hurt yourself (and didn’t bring your phone — please see above tip if that is the case). Along with the potential for needing medical attention, being out in the elements for an extended period of time can lead to frostbite and further injury.
Don’t Get Lost (AKA Know Your Route!)
  • In the summertime, it’s fun to try new routes, explore trails and streets that you have not run before — but in the winter, it’s not the best idea. Running routes that you are familiar with is ideal. You are then aware that there is a pothole underneath that icy patch or that the curb ends abruptly near that snow pile. This reduces your chance of injury while running. Knowing your route also prevents you from getting lost and keeps your 20 minute run from turning into an hour ordeal. This also reduces prolonged unexpected exposure to the elements and allows you to dress appropriately.
Wear Bright Colors
  • One a snowy, winter day, bright colors increase your visibility to drivers and other threats that you may face while out running. Any color other than whites and grays are a good options. I particularly like reds, oranges, and pinks to really clash against the snowy background. Reflective material or even a neon reflective vest is a great addition to your wardrobe as well. The reduced daylight hours limit the time that you are able to run during the day and reflective clothing allows drives to see you at dusk if you are finishing your run close to dark.
Know Your Limits
  • Overall, know what your personal limits are. I have a friend who has had problems with her knees. She does not risk injuring herself to go for a run in the winter weather. Instead, she uses the treadmill or does other forms of exercise in the wintertime. I have been fortunate enough to not suffer any injuries and so I still run outside but I definitely do not run at top speed. I usually slow down my pace and shorten my stride to prevent slipping. If the conditions are extremely hazardous, I will stop running and walk through the questionable area. I definitely do not go out on a winter run with the mindset that I am going to do speed work, run intervals, or set a new PR. And sometimes, I just do not go out for a run – if there are Blizzard Warnings, Ice Warnings, or if there are Extreme Cold/Wind Chill Warnings I find other ways to exercise indoors, run on a treadmill, or take a rest day.

Running in the winter can be tough. It takes motivation, planning, and patience. Your runs may not be fast, long, or enjoyable but sometimes a winter run is exactly what you need to cure the cabin fever that starts setting in after the holidays. Personally, sometimes a crisp, cool winter run helps me clear my head and refresh my soul! It renews my motivation to run and helps get a little bit of the craziness out.

  1. How do you find motivation to run or workout in the winter?
  2. Besides running, what other workouts do you do?
  3. Do you have any other cold weather running tips?