Running in winter

Don't let cold weather put you off running. Use these tips to stay on track in winter.

With the shorter and colder days, lacing up for a run might be the last thing you feel like doing.

But don't let the winter weather stop you from being physically active and keeping fit.

Try the following tips to help you stay safe and motivated when you're running in colder weather.

What to wear

Dressing appropriately for the weather conditions will help ensure you enjoy your run.

Consider wearing lightweight layers of breathable clothing, known as the layer system.

The layer system works well for keeping you warm and any layer can be removed as conditions change during your run. 

When choosing your layers, remember your body heats up during exercise. You should be slightly cool when you start your run.

For example, depending on the weather, a layer system could consist of:

  1. A base layer: the first layer, such as a breathable synthetic fabric to draw the sweat away from your skin.
  2. A mid layer: such as a fleece to keep the warmth in and remove any moisture from the base layer.
  3. An outer layer: such as a light water-resistant jacket: to expel moisture and protect you from the wind and rain.     

Use any zips and air vents to help regulate your body temperature to stay comfortable during your run.

Avoid running in cotton tops. Cotton soaks up moisture and takes time to dry and may make you feel cold.

A pair of leggings or running tights underneath a pair of shorts, or some tracksuit bottoms will keep your legs warm.

A pair of gloves and a hat or fleece headband are a good idea to stop you losing heat from your head and hands.

For more tips for beginners on how to start running, see Getting started: running.

Stay safe – be seen

If you go running before or after work during the winter, it's likely you'll be running in the dark.

When running after dark, it's essential that you're visible to other people, particularly motorists.

Your clothes should be reflective or a bright, light colour, such as white or fluorescent yellow. Don't wear dark clothes as drivers may not see you.

Most good running brands make clothes that feature reflective strips.

A fluorescent bib that can be worn over your running clothes is also perfect for running after dark. 

Stick to well-lit areas and avoid running anywhere you don't feel completely safe.

Warm up and cool down

Easing into your run is a good way to warm-up, especially in cold weather.

Start slowly with some very gentle running or even walking to ready the muscles for exercise. 

Gradually increase your pace until, after around 10 minutes, you get to the pace you're going to maintain for most of the run.

Don't stop after your warm-up to stretch. That will cool your muscles down again.

To cool down, reduce your pace or walk for five to ten minutes. This will help your body recover after your run.

Don't stop and stretch outside or you could get too cold. Do some stretches indoors instead.

For more information on warming up and cooling down, see Training tips.

Running with a cold or asthma

Colds are more common in winter, but you don't necessarily have to stop running if you're feeling under the weather.

According to Dr Keith Hopcroft, a GP from Basildon in Essex, use common sense and listen to your body.

"If your symptoms are not severe and you generally feel OK, then you can go running. If you feel absolutely rotten, then it's best not to go."

However, it's important not to run if you have a fever. A fever is when your body's temperature is 38C (100.4F) or above and is rarely a symptom of a cold. "If you run with a fever," says Dr Hopcroft, "It'll make you feel worse. In very rare cases, running with a fever can lead to the virus affecting your heart, which can be dangerous."

If you have asthma, take extra care when running in winter as cold air can trigger symptoms. Dr Hopcroft recommends using your inhaler before you go running and taking it with you when you run.

Staying motivated

If you need extra motivation to go running during the winter, why not go running with a friend and make your runs a regular fixture?

You could also join a local running club or group. Check the British Athletics website for running clubs or RunTogether for local groups.

A good way to avoid getting bored is to vary your route. Even running the same route in the opposite direction is a break from your routine.

Having a realistic goal to gradually work towards is also a great motivator. The Couch to 5K plan is perfect for beginners. You could sign up for a 5K race in 12 weeks' time, for example, or simply aim to run non-stop for 20 minutes.

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