When Is It Too Cold To Run Outside?

If you ask an avid runner when it is too cold to run outside, the answers may vary. One very popular answer, however, is to say that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate gear.

Another perspective is that the cold weather threshold for running or other outdoor recreational activities really depends upon the weather that the athlete is acclimated to. For example, for a runner from Anchorage, Alaska, 20 degrees feels like a pretty nice winter running day. If you are a runner from Phoenix, Arizona, however, 20 degrees feels downright frigid.

How Cold Is Too Cold To Run Outside?

Honestly, if you have good enough gear there may not be a “too cold.” Since you can cover your body with layers, exposed skin is something to worry about. Think about the places on your body that are difficult to cover up. You can wear a buff over your nose and mouth. What about the area above that?

Some dedicated runners will advise you that you can cover skin with vaseline or another type of layer to protect skin that might be impacted by wind. You can use a balaclava to cover nearly your entire face while running. One runner we interviewed said on a particularly cold day he used to put on a small pair of ski goggles to be sure nothing was exposed to wind.

Your biggest concern is wind chill and potential for frostbite. There are things you can do to avoid this. In addition to being covered, you can certainly limit your exposure time during really long, cold snaps. If you are mapping out your training week and see upcoming below zero weather, it is a good idea to layout your plan accordingly.

On very cold days, try to stick to shorter runs. It is also smart not to do speed work on a very cold day. Stick to runs at a steady pace on an extremely cold or windy day.

Tips From A Streaker!

Lauren Siegel on cold weather running
Lauren Siegel

While some runners will advise you to jump on a treadmill on very bad weather days, for others that would be a firm no. Lauren Siegel, a streak runner, continues her streak without ever getting on a treadmill or running indoors. “I’m outside every day whatever the weather. I have massive amounts of running gear and clothing for every occasion. I don’t have to alter my training plan for the day until it gets below 15 degrees. If it gets below that I can’t be out more than an hour. The coldest weather I have ever run in was at Lake Placid in a blizzard. It was -15 with 30 mph winds, so felt like -40. I lasted two miles but that was before I had good gear. Maybe I could run longer now!”

No Such Thing As Bad Weather, Only Bad Gear

Tips for running in cold weather, high winds and/or blizzard conditions include:

✓ Cover up! You should be sure to cover as much of your skin as possible, especially when dealing with sub-zero temps and/or windchill.

✓ Dress in layers. Using layering will help to keep you warm. Your outer layer should be something waterproof that will repel snow, sleet or rain in those circumstances. Layering helps to trap heat in, which will in turn keep you warmer.

✓ Double or triple layers! When thinking about dressing in layers, you may wish to triple up. Just be careful because as you add layers, you could find yourself overheating on your run. Sometimes it is a delicate balance as you navigate keeping warm and safe, and adding so many layers that you start to sweat.

✓ Cover your head. One way that heat is quick to escape is through your head. Some runners prefer a headband or just wearing something to cover their ears. However, as it gets colder, you should cover your entire head.

✓ Wool is a great layer. First, it is moisture-wicking. Second, it provides valuable warmth without bulk.

✓ Balaclavas rock! A balaclava is a piece of headwear that also covers the neck. Although the size and shape of the “hole” in this garment vary, most expose the eyes, nose and mouth. Depending on how you wear yours, it can cover more of your face for truly cold weather.

✓ Hand warmers can be placed inside mittens to keep your hands warm in cold weather. Some runners even report using warmers on other parts of the body, such as your core.

Tips From Average Joe And Jane Runners!

Anthony Russel on winter running
Anthony Russel

Anthony Russel took this photo on a 9-degree day in Virginia. He said he had to dress like a ninja and on days like that the choice is simple, “Either keep moving or freeze!”

Tamara Stephany on running when cold outside
Tamara Stephany of Saskatchewan, Canada

Stephany takes her running very seriously and when you inquire about cold-weather gear, she has a lot of great advice. If you are smart about what you wear, including everything from sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun reflecting off snow down to Yak Tracks on your feet, you should be good to run in extreme weather and temperatures.

Is Running In The Cold Bad For Your Lungs?

If you have been running outside as it slowly gets colder and colder, your body is acclimating to the colder temperatures. What we mean is you have time to get used to colder temps if you are consistently running outside.

As someone living in an area where we experience all four seasons with what can be a very harsh winter, I have time to get used to the cold. It is only in very bitter, extreme temps that I feel a quick “bite” from breathing in the air outside. Otherwise, I do not experience any difficulties.

Believe it or not, the human body is extremely adaptable and the air is warm by the time it reaches your lungs. Having said that you may want a mouth cover on very cold days.

Should You Cover Your Mouth When Running In The Cold?

It depends on how cold it is. In extremely cold temperatures you should cover any and all exposed skin. This includes your mouth and nose. When it is just “cold” but not “bitter cold,” people have very different opinions on covering the mouth.

As a runner who will run outside in temps down as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit “real temp,” I usually start out with my mouth covered and pull it down periodically. There really is a lot of personal preference involved. It is just extremely important to be aware of how quickly you could get frostbite if your skin is exposed.

If frostbite is a possibility, cover-up.

Is Running Harder In Cold Weather?

It can certainly feel harder to run in cold weather as your body works harder to keep your vital organs warm.  Cold temps also cause your muscles to tense up, which makes hard efforts more challenging.

Although cold weather running is challenging, one other problem runners face that makes things harder is the slick surfaces that come with winter. In fact, many runners state that they are more likely to be slowed by snow and ice than cold! In addition to protecting your body from cold, think about the surfaces you will be encountering.

If it’s likely to be slippery out you may want to invest in some type of device to increase traction.

If you’re still wondering when is it too cold to run outside, you haven’t read closely enough. The answer is truly up to the individual!

Cover Photo: Featuring Chad Hause, Sub:30 Club

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