Our legs are shaking from a combination of nerves and the cold. But we are geared up and ready to go. That’s because it is race day and not even a little snowfall stops us from lining up at the starting line at our next race. And while standing—then running—outside in the early, freezing morning is the last thing many people want to do, it’s something us runners enjoy. Even if we are braving the cold, nothing stops us from our love of the run—and the race.
And racing in the winter is actually really fun with lots of pros opposed to the warmer summer races. All runners need is the right tips to be able to successfully run winter races.
For those running a race—or few—for this first time during the winter season there are a few things to know. First off is that running in the winter is absolutely possible even though the weather might be close to frightful. The good news is that the runner will feel delightful since running outdoors in the winter helps to reduce those winter blues.
When running the brain releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones. And running out the cold winter means a boost in mood. Running in the winter means a more positive mindset while building up mental grit since it takes dedication to rise out of bed when it’s cold or dark out.
People gain 5 to 10 pounds on average during the winter thanks to holiday feasting and lack of motivation. Exercising in the winter has various health benefits. This includes strengthening the immune system—which is important during cold and flu season. Plus running in the winter burns fat. The body naturally turns stomach and thigh fat, called white fat, into brown, fat burning fat. Brown fat is known for insulating us, burning calories to create heat to keep up warm. So consider that winter run a double fat burning session.
Pick And Choose Wisely
It should go unsaid that winter races typically mean cold weather depending on where the runner lives. Let’s assume winters are full of snow and blustery cold days. While we cannot predict the weather (although our weather apps can), it’s best to pick races that are held earlier in December or later in February to try to avoid as much as the severe cold (and piles of snow) as possible. Plus no one wants to race too close to the holidays for missing out of family festivities.
Look at your options and how each fits into a race calendar. Winter races generally are shorter distances, which means it shouldn’t be a problem to brave out a quick 3.1-mile event. However, there are plenty of half and full marathons later into November, early December and throughout the winter. Consider if it’s best to do long distance races in the fall, spring and summer.
Don’t take on to many winter races. Limit them so the runner isn’t overwhelmed with training, which can be harder to get done in the winter.
Best Winter Racing Tips
Get The Gear
To beat the cold, the first tip is to make sure the runner has the right winter gear. This includes layers of moisture-wicking clothing and might even include fleece-lined pants depending on how low the temperature is. Colder runs require accessories like gloves or mitten, an ear warmer, and a neck gaiter. Many items are base on preference such as if the runner prefers merino wool socks or warmer wool socks, a running vest vs. a running jacket, etc.
Make sure to have the proper gear before race day. And make sure to try it on in a practice run before the big day. This prevents discomfort that can throw the runner off their game.
Pro Tip #1: Wear layers the runner doesn’t mind getting rid of. That means if they get too warm mid-race, they can take off and toss out a long-sleeve or old running pull-over jacket.
Pro Tip #2: Run the race with a running backpack or belt that can store items like gloves or arm warmers for once the body is warmed up.
It’s tempting to stay in the car when arriving at the race early. But it’s best to get the cold out of the bones by properly warming up. Start by doing a dynamic warmup with lunges, leg swings, squats, and jumping jackets. Get the blood flowing and heart rate up. This will start to warm the body up. If possible, jog a little bit to further warm the body up. This prevents injury when taking off in the cold.
Pro Tip: Practice a routine of a feel warm-up moves during training runs so it becomes second nature. That way the runner isn’t left feeling like they can’t remember exercises when nerves hit.
Don’t Hit The Gas
Many runners prefer running in the winter opposed to the hot and humid summer because they can breathe better. It’s tempting to shoot out fast from the start line, but don’t gas it too soon. Allow the body time to continue to warm up as the heart rate increases. Then when feeling toasty and mentally on fire, speed it up and race with your heart.
Pro Tip: Try not to over think the cold before the gun goes off. In a few minutes, the body will be plenty warm.
It’s easy to suck down water at aid stations in the summer. But during a winter race, we often don’t feel the urge to reach for those tiny paper cups. While water isn’t needed for shorter distances, it’s still a good idea to properly hydrate. This is especially so for long distance races.
We are still working just as hard during a winter race for hydrate before, during and after.
Pro Tip: If you can see your breath you are losing water. Drink up!
Change Your Clothes
After crossing that finish line we often linger around, taking post-race photos and waiting for other friends to finish. That’s fine, but make sure to have a warm and dry change of clothes to change into after. Use those port-a-potties for an outfit change or swap shirts in the car. Those going to post-race afterparties can change at the venue location.
Just try to get cold and damp clothes off as soon as possible to prevent catching a cold.
Pro Tip: Keep the race t-shirt in your car along with a spare pair of leggings and socks to always have a spare outfit on hand.
- Skip the gym this season: Why exercising in cold weather is so beneficial for your health, Amanda Schmidt, Accuweather
- Winter Training Tips, ASHLEY TALEBI, Front Range Freeze