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Tips for running a winter race

Just like any other race, you need to warm up correctly for a race in the winter

Winterlude Triathlon
Winterlude Triathlon
Photo: Kevin Mackinnon.

Within the next few weeks there will be some winter races starting up. The approach to racing during the winter can be a lot different than racing when it’s warmer out, but it can still be a great experience if you’re prepared. Here’s a few quick tips for racing in sub-zero temperatures.

Don’t overdress

It’s winter, so temperatures can get pretty low, but it’s still possible to overdress and overheat during a hard effort. Don’t wear too much clothing. A good rule of thumb is often to dress as if it’s 10 degrees (celsius) warmer.

Don’t underdress

Yes, we just told you the opposite, but it’s important to find the right balance of warm and cold clothing. Not wearing enough can really make for a miserable race, in terms of enjoyment and performance. A good idea is to bring old clothing you’re not worried about parting with. A paint-stained sweater that can be left at the start line or an extra pair of old gloves that can be tossed aside mid-race will go a long way in keeping you the right temperature as you heat up.

Mind the wind

The wind chill effect is a real thing, so dress for it. No amount of clothing will help if big gusts aren’t deflected by a decent wind jacket, and a thin shell won’t go very far in keeping you any warmer if it’s not windy outside. Dress for the wind as well as the temperature.

Warm up correctly

Just like any other race, you need to warm up correctly for a race in the winter. It’s a lot easier to injure a muscle during the winter because your body won’t get warmed up as quickly. A slower, longer jog before the race will help you gauge if you’re wearing the right clothing. Also, try and time your warm up so it ends only shortly before the race. Standing around in the corral for ten or fifteen minutes will cool you right down again.


Hydration, just like during the hottest days of summer, is very important when it’s cold. You might not notice at first, but you will still sweat a lot racing even if it’s very cold out so you need to be prepared and avoid dehydration.


If it’s a clear day out and there’s snow on the ground it will be brighter than a lot of sunny summer days. The reflection of the sun off a course covered in snow is bright and very much can be damaging to your eyes. Sunglasses should not be overlooked just because you aren’t at the beach. Pack them.

Get inside after the race

However cold it is, if you run hard and dressed correctly you will be warm when the race is over. Don’t be fooled and think you will stay warm. Try to get inside and, if you can, change your clothes. Once you stop moving your body temperature will plummet again and you don’t want damp, sweaty race clothes freezing in the cold temperatures.

Adjust your expectations

Just like when it’s really hot, you can’t perform as well as in ideal temperatures. Your body needs to work harder in extreme temperatures, so adjust your expectations for a race if it’s really cold or windy. An average result could well have been great result in better conditions and may mean good things come spring.

Thank the volunteers

There may be fun and redeeming aspects to racing in the cold — that’s why you’re out there — but the race volunteers are the ones who make the event possible and they don’t get the benefit of competing. Thank the volunteers for coming out in crummy weather and standing in the cold so that you have the chance to race.

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