Running in the cold: be fully prepared to avoid injury

Running is great exercise and can boost your mental health too. However, running in the cold Ontario winter can be considerably less enticing that in the spring sunshine or summer shade!

The secret to successful and safe winter running is to be prepared in five key areas:

  • motivation and reward
  • clothing
  • footwear
  • route planning and duration
  • appropriate warm-ups

Motivation and reward: Getting out of the house

Number 1 on your preparation list should be your motivation and reward! You may have all the gear, but if you run no further than the end of your drive before turning back, it’s a total waste of time and money.

If you are thinking twice about running outside in the winter months, planning a little treat at the end of your run can be enough to tip the balance between staying on the sofa or hitting the road. Make that treat hot and edible, and you’ll be warming up and refuelling at the same time.

As one Runner’s World reader in Colorado suggested, you could also buddy up for your first few runs.

“Set a date to meet someone for a run – there’s no wimping out when someone is waiting.”

You can end that run at a cafe or restaurant for brunch or just a steaming mug of something hot.

Clothing: layers and warmth

Before starting your run, you need to know both the air temperature and the wind chill, and dress accordingly. Wind chill can lower body temperature remarkably quickly, so minimize exposure of bare skin (nose, face, hands). Also wear layers of technical sports fabric clothing that wick away sweat and vent hot air. Needless to say, wear a close-fitting thermal beanie hat or similar, and invest in runner’s thermal gloves.

Experts agree that you should dress for 10-20 degrees warmer than the outdoor conditions, including the wind chill. Running heats you up fast, and if you seat too much, the rapid cooling produced can give you a chill. Wearing less layers for 10-20 degrees higher will inevitably means you will be cool when you first start off, but comfortably cozy when you get back.

So the second part of the clothing rule is – get changed out of wet clothing as soon as possible after a run. The easiest way is to start and end your run at your own front door. Or if you’re doing the post-run motivational brunch, have a warm coat and complete change of dry clothes in the car. Wear the coat the moment you stop running, rack up the car heating, and change in that brunch restaurant restroom as soon as possible.

Footwear: the right shoes and socks

Whether you’re running in snow, rain, slush or on wet roads, your feet can get remarkably wet in a very short time in standard running trainers. Aim for footwear with the minimum of mesh, and preferably with Gore-Tex uppers that repel wet, dirt and mud.

Winter runs can be slippery with rain, snow and ice. So plan your route for the best road conditions (see below), and make sure your running shoes have good traction and grip. Many winter running shoes have specially designed soles to help you grip the surface and prevent slips, slides and potential tumbles.

Probably the most essential part of a winter runner’s kit are their socks. Wet socks are a nightmare – they make your feet cold, clammy, slippery and vulnerable to frostnip and frostbite.

Always buy the best sock you can afford, to wick away moisture and keep your feet warm. Buy lots of them too, so you always have a clean, dry pair to change into. (See our last blog for more information on avoiding frostbite.)

If your footwear gets wet, dry your running shoes completely at the end of a run before wearing again. Wash off any mud and salt, then stuff shoes with newspaper to absorb water, and leave to dry on a sheet of newspaper or on a shelf in a well-ventilated, gently heated area.

Route planning and duration

Most coaches recommend that winter runs are used more for “maintenance miles” and enjoyment rather than setting times or taking on longer distances. Cold conditions can sap your energy remarkably quickly, so think carefully before running for more than an hour in cold temperatures. Instead, break that longer run into two shorter runs. This technique has the advantage of making the most of limited daylight by allowing you to run twice during the day. So if you can’t run around midday, two runs can be done in daylight (just) rather than risking running your entire distance at dusk when temperatures start to plummet.

Plan your route to make sure:

  • a) It’s not too long
  • b) You’re running on the best surface possible (avoiding ice, for example)
  • c) Your run ends somewhere warm (see above)
  • d) You end your run with the wind at your back. Running home into a chilly wind is hard work and will cool you down quickly, not good news if you’re sweating.

Warm-ups: take longer to prevent injury

Preparing to run in the cold requires a comprehensive warm-up before you start. As an article in Esquire magazine says:

“If you usually rush through a quick, five-minute warmup before going outside, make it 15 minutes. Spend extra time to really loosen your muscles and joints, and raise your body temperature to a light sweat. That way, when you step into the cold, it won’t feel as bad, and your muscles won’t get so tight.”

Triatholon website TriRadar explains more:

“Muscles are like chewing gum, and when they’re cold, they’re stiff rather than supple… Traditional static stretches don’t help much either. Leaning against a wall, stretching out your calves or thighs might do you some good after a run, but before they won’t do you any real favours.


The best solution is to start out with some dynamic stretching. This is because when we run our active muscles have to overcome a certain amount of resistance from our non-active muscles.”

Need to see how to do the stretches? Check out coach Holly in this YouTube cold weather running warmup video:

Why run in the snow?

Listen to this guy, Hellah Good, “the first black man to run across America from LA to NYC, 3,061 miles in 84 days” according to his YouTube biography. Check out his snowman look at 1min 27 secs!

Tips for beginner runners

Caty Culp ’s video on “5 Things I Wish I Knew about Running from the Beginning” has been viewed over 12 million times. Some good advice on buying running shoes at the start!

Running injuries treatment and rehabilitation

At our three local foot care clinics, we treat all kinds of running injuries from minor sprains to torn ligaments, all year round. Our team specialize in creating injury rehabilitation plans that work to bring you back to strength efficiently and effectively. but without rushing. If you sustain an injury running, call us to book an appointment:

• Stratford foot clinic
Ingersoll footcare clinic
London footcare clinic

Published On: December 22, 2021