In spite of my obvious aversion to cold temperatures, I have trained for years all winter long. In Texas, this means crazy temperature swings. As a teen, in Rhode Island, it meant bitter cold and snow. In fact, I can remember as a high school cross country runner racing in snow and ice and wearing shorts (like an idiot). Training in the cold can make you tougher, but take some advice and dress for the elements. Thank God they finally invented cold weather gear that does not weigh a ton and make you look like you are ready for skiing, not running!
The real goal of cold weather running is to maintain motivation, not get too cold and not get too hot. Easier said then done! One solution to this is to just head indoors and stick to the treadmill. I absolutely despise running on treadmills much more than running in the cold, so unless it’s raining; I’m outside. In addition to the boredom, the repetitive motion of the treadmill can put you at risk for other injuries such as stress fractures. It’s best to have some variety.
The key to staying comfortable and cold weather condition is to be prepared for changing temperatures. Dress in layers and don’t be afraid to overdress. Wear a hat and gloves. I even pull out chemical finger warmers if it’s really cold. If it all possible try to run small loops somewhere near your car or a place where you can discard layers if you start to get hot. You don’t want to be ten miles from home and running with a virtual clothe hamper tied around your waist.
If you are overloaded with too many layers, you can just as easily overheat when it’s 30° outside. This will make you nuts because you will lose the energy needed to finish your run, just like a hot day, and you may become soaked with sweat be more prone to thermal injury such as frostbite. As soon as your run is over, do not stand around outside. Immediately change into dry clothing. Your core body temperature drops rapidly after a run. This is why they always shroud you in a blanket at the finish of a marathon, even when it’s hot outside.
Aside for making sure that your temperature is regulated, there are special environmental considerations when running outside in winter. If it happens to snow where you run, you obviously have to watch your step. Be very careful running on ice. Running on snow seems like a breeze, but watch out for ice. If you’re lucky it’ll just be a funniest home videos fall, but you can get seriously injured this way.
Always wear a hat to keep your head warm. This can be a baseball-style cap, but once it gets colder than about 40° however, you will likely have to switch to a hat that covers your ears and does a better job of keeping your head warm. It likely goes without saying that you should avoid natural materials such as cotton, that retain moisture and can put your risk of getting too cold. Always use synthetic materials.
As a general rule, you can get away with shorts or tights and a long sleeve T-shirt when it’s in the 50s. If it drops down into the 40s, you need to add a hat, gloves and an additional layer on top. A vest is a nice addition. Once it gets down into the 30s, it’s better to stick with tights or pants and wear three layers on top, as well as hat and gloves. If you’re brave enough to run when it’s in the 20s, get the jacket out and add layers. Unless you really like to torture yourself, or live in Alaska, it’s probably better to just stay inside when the temperature drops into the teens.
Keep in mind, your body can become acclimatized to colder temperatures if exposed to them often. Most people are a poor judge of frostbite and cold injuries due to lack of experience with frigid weather. Use common sense. Texas weather is nutty, so the layered look is a must this time of year!