Winter Running Doesn’t Have to Be Cold, Dark, and Lonely
Chin up. You don’t have to dread the months ahead. Running through the darker months can have a different vibe and tempo, and that's okay.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The shortest days and the longest nights are upon us. In many parts of the country, it’s getting cold or it will be soon. It’s hibernation season, except that we aren’t bears and most of us know, somewhere deep down inside, that we need to keep running, even at this sub-optimal time of year.
But what’s a runner to do when motivation is low and the chances of wiping out on a patch of ice are high? We do the best we can. And we try to look on the bright side, pun intended: After December 21, it only gets lighter from here.
Readers Chime In
And listen, we’re all in this together. So we asked readers to tell us how they muddle through, what mind tricks they’ve come up with, what pieces of advice keep them moving, even when Old Man Winter deals the harshest conditions and the alarm goes off at the darkest hour. We solicited almost 150 responses from the Twitter mindhive to come up with this collective advice, from our beloved community of winter runners:
Let there be light
Even if you are starting an early morning run before the sun comes up, several people suggested that using a light therapy box or lamp as soon as the alarm goes off can help.
“[I] stare my eyeballs right into it while getting dressed and filling my water bottle,” said Lori Dierig.“I swear it works really well for me!”
They might be on to something. Research has shown that bright light exposure for 30 minutes before 8 a.m. every day can improve symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is depression related to the change in seasons. If you want to give it a try, Yale School of Medicine has done all the research on which kinds of lamps and boxes have the best results.
Even just going for a 30-minute walk or run at daybreak can help offset that feeling of sluggishness or listlessness, no matter what time of year, Dr. Richard S. Schwartz, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School told Harvard Health.
Embrace the peace
Life at this time of year can be hectic. Holidays, school activities, work, travel—it all piles up. For many runners, getting outside before or after work is a moment to take a deep breath and relish a little quiet time. For Erica Sara, jewelry designer, small business owner, and mother of two, running is simply a coping strategy for life: “It’s the only me-time I get lately.”
For others, it’s nice to exist in the outdoors when most people are inside.
“I don’t mind running in the dark. Streets are empty, quiet, and peaceful,” said George Woodward, adding, “I know I am privileged as a man to be able to do that.”
Maggie Stewart added: “Each winter [I] treat myself to a new reflective item like hat or gloves.”
Remember that to everything, there is a season
Amanda Parrish Morgan, author of the newly released Stroller: Object Lessons, winter is the season to maintain fitness and release herself from rigid training schedules. She prefers to accept the limitations of the season and just do what she can.
“Thirty minutes on the treadmill, turtle-like pace on snowy roads, ad-hoc fartlek on random clear patches of road,” she said.
Don’t measure success by how far or fast you run right now. Just get out there and give yourself credit for what you do. “You can still be consistent even if you only get out for a few minutes,” Jana Sesow said. “It can give you some nice down time for your body to recover and reset between training cycles, too.”
For those who are blessed with flexible work schedules, it’s a good time of year to sleep in, wait for temperatures to rise a little bit, and run mid-morning, at lunchtime, or during the later afternoon.
“About this time of year, I start granting myself as much flexibility as possible,” said Alex Fox. “Wake up at usual run time (5 a.m.) and check the weather. If it’s reasonable, I’ll go. Sometimes hit the tread. Sometimes go early evening.. Adaptive, flexible, and fun are key.”
Find company for the misery
Almost everybody agrees that running is better with friends, whether it’s winter or not. It’s especially helpful to have people to meet when it’s dark outside and it makes it less likely you’ll skip a run if at least one other person is waiting for you.
“I can be more accountable to others than myself sometimes,” said Dana Giordano, host of the “More Than Running” podcast.
Don’t call it the dreadmill
Sometimes the only way to run safely is doing so inside. Many people enjoy the indoor season and entice themselves by streaming shows or listening to podcasts that they will only turn on while running on the treadmill.
“I don’t call it the dreadmill,” said ColleenRunsPA. “It’s a training tool that I’m blessed to have. It helps me build endurance and speed during the cold months. I still run outside on the weekends.”
Call it when you need to
When all else fails, remember to give yourself some grace when you just can’t make it happen. You can always try again tomorrow.
“Care less about outcomes—embrace being sluggish and careful on icy sidewalks. Don’t be precious about it,” said Julie Hieggelke. “Be kind when your soul says, ‘not today.’ Try again.”
And possibly the best advice of all came from Paul Hopkins, who simply said: “Move to Hawaii!”
We’re on our way, Paul.