Cold weather running

Brrrr. It’s suddenly turned cold. This week has been the first week this autumn that I’ve had to layer up, and extra warmth was very welcome! As we hit temperatures near freezing, here’s some advice on making the most of the colder days…. It’s not all bad, you know, this morning was a lovely crisp cold morning with a beautiful sunrise! Please note – this advice is aimed at UK runners, running in more extreme temperatures requires specialist advice for your local area.

Dress differently.

Layer up – long sleeves and tights are a must when it gets colder, and you may want consider several layers (easy to remove if you get too warm), gloves and a hat. Don’t forget though, dress for 5 mins into your run, not the start, or you’ll be too hot.

The following are particularly useful (if not essential) to own as a winter runner:

  • Long sleeved technical base layer (thumb holes are great too!)
  • Running tights
  • Running gloves
  • Headband or hat
  • Windproof running jacket
  • Running socks (waterproof can be useful)
  • Running head torch or chest torch. An absolute essential for this time of year if you don’t always have pavements to run on and/or you run in the dark. Ask on the forums for advice here if you are in the market for a new one.
  • Reflective clothing. If you are running in the dark make sure at least some of your clothing is reflective. Not high vis – that’s great on dingy days but for night running, reflective is more important.
  • You may still need sun cream or sunblock if its very sunny out, despite the low temperature (unlikely in the UK, but just in case…)


Warm up well pre-run
It is definitely worth mobilising inside before your run to get your blood flowing. Try running up and down stairs (please be careful), running on the spot, skipping, leg swings, lunges, body weight squats etc. And if you are meeting friends to run, try not to warm up and then stand around in the cold waiting for them!



Be prepared for wind / rain / ice / snow etc….
If there’s a nasty chill on the wind, run into the wind on your way out, and with the wind behind you on the way back if that is possible. That way, the wind doesn’t blast you when you’re all sweaty. Or run behind someone bigger than you as a wind-break! If you are prone to dry skin, put some extra moisturiser, body glide or Vaseline on your cheeks and nose to prevent skin irritation.
If it is wet as well as cold out, make sure you have an immediate change of clothes, be prepared to shorten your run if you get cold. Consider waterproof jackets and waterproof socks to protect your feet.
Fortunately we only usually have a few days of ice or snow in the UK, so it may be time to consider using a treadmill – it’s often just not worth the injury risk (or consider investing in some Yaktrax which provide grip if you’re keen).



Be flexible with your pace and mileage
You may want to do two shorter runs rather than one longer one if you don’t want to be out too long in the cold weather. You may want to extend your warm up or run more miles at an easy pace. You may even want to resort to a treadmill in the warm! If you don’t have access to a treadmill and it’s too dangerous to run, you can substitute with other aerobic exercise – indoor cycling, the cross trainer, an aerobics class or YouTube HIIT workout for example



Stay hydrated.
It’s really easy to drink too little in the cold, you may feel like you’re not sweating and you don’t crave water like you do in the heat. But you can still dehydrate. Sip little and often.



Stay warm afterwards.
It is common for body temperature to plummet after you stop running and shivering to start. Reward yourself with a with a hot chocolate (great recovery drink) or a bowl of soup. Driving to your run? Take a thermos. A hot shower or bath will help, or if you are out and about, at very least, make sure you have a fresh change of clothes to hand. One of my clients has a heated throw she jumps under after a long run in the cold.



Finally, if cold weather running isn’t your thing… book a winter sun holiday and run somewhere warm!


Here’s some of the questions my clients have asked in the past:


Is it ever too cold to run?
No. Well, not according to James Cracknell who took part in the media dubbed “Coldest Race On Earth”, the Yukon Arctic Ultra (430 miles in temperatures below -50 degrees). But certainly, you shouldn’t face major issues in the UK. Although the coldest ever recorded temperature -27.2 degrees (recorded in 1995) may be a tad too chilly for your everyday runner, generally you’ll be fine as long as you dress appropriately (which means don’t overheat because you’re too bundled up either!), and it’s not icy. Ice and snow bring a much higher risk of injury than running in our usual winter cold.


What’s good about running in the cold?
You generally run faster! Less heat stress can often lower your perceived exertion. Your metabolism can be higher and you tend to burn more calories, and as we tend to eat more in the winter, that’s no bad thing! Some research suggests that running in the cold can boost your immune system, and it can also boost your mood, and help combat seasonal affective disorder (SAD). And it makes you feel like a badass!


Why do my lungs feel like they’re burning when I run in the cold?
The burning sensation actually comes from dry air. When you breathe in, your mouth, nasal cavity and windpipe work to warm up the air, so that cold air doesn’t actually reach your lungs. But if the air is particularly dry, it has to be humidified and that means taking moisture from your nose and throat. This makes them feel irritated. You can help reduce this feeling by putting a scarf or mask over your mouth to help moisten the air as its inhaled. Focus on taking longer more relaxed breaths and running easier. Make sure you have a good warm up to minimise the stress on your respiratory system.


I have exercise-induced asthma – is running in the cold a problem?
If you have asthma or other related breathing conditions, it isn’t ideal to breath in cold air, and definitely the switch between temperatures when you come indoors from the cold can make you feel worse. Make sure you have your inhaler to hand and consider wearing a neck scarf / buff over your mouth when you run so that the air is slightly warmer and moister when you inhale. Seek a doctors advice if this is a problem for you.

Do you enjoy running in the cold or are you a summer runner? Do you have any top tips for facing the colder weather? Please do share below!


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Martin Hulbert

Running Coach & Personal Trainer Leicestershire

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