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When is it too cold to run outside?

Most running can be done with the proper gear, but there are a few scenarios where it's just too cold

As we enter the middle of December, winter has truly set in. As the temperatures drop, runners can become weary of running outside. In Canada, there are few cities where year-round winter running isn’t an option. For the most part, with the proper clothing and footwear, running outside all winter is feasible. With that being said, there are a few scenarios where running inside is the better option. 

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How to run in the cold 

To run during the coldest days of the year, make sure you have moisture-wicking clothing as a base layer. One of the biggest barriers to running in extreme cold is sweat. It may seem backwards, but sweating a lot when you’re wearing many layers is a bad thing in the cold. If you’ve worn too many layers, especially if they’re not highly breathable, sweat can then freeze and cause frostbite and hypothermia. You shouldn’t feel completely warm when starting your run. Being a little bit chilly at the onset means you’ll warm up to a comfortable temperature and won’t sweat too much. When getting dressed, don’t overlook your first layer. Wearing a pair of shorts under your pants is a good way to keep the muscles around you hips and glutes firing properly. 

winter running

When dressing for cold runs, make sure extremities are well covered. They’re the first to succumb to frostbite, which can become serious quite quickly.

In addition to dressing right, consider sticking to loops that don’t get too far from home. Staying within a few kilometres of warmth means that you can get home easily if you start regretting your outdoor running decision. 

Invest in some winter running shoes. The improved tread, moisture-wicking upper and wind blocking materials will keep your feet warm and moving well. 


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When you shouldn’t run outside

There are several scenarios where either a day on the treadmill or a day off are a a better option than an outdoor run. If you’re doing speed work, move your workout inside. Running a workout in extreme cold when you’re trying to go really fast is a bad plan. This is likely to feel quite terrible and could also result in injury. 

If you feel like you’ve layered so much that you can’t move properly, it’s too cold. Natural movement is key, and if you’re unable to run comfortably, take it to the treadmill. 

Skip the run if it’s icy or slippery. Running on slippery conditions will lead to a sore hamstring or possibly a wipe-out. 

With winter running it’s key to know your body. With the right gear, runners should be able to brave almost any conditions, but if you’re someone who gets cold easily or struggles to warm up, pick your winter running battles. On the coldest days it might be better for your training and more enjoyable to sweat it out on the treadmill, rather than freezing outside.