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Tips for running outside in the winter

Danila Botha

Running is one of the most exhilarating and rewarding forms of exercise. From the amazing solo thinking time it provides to the exhilarating high you feel in your entire body when you achieve your speed or distance goals, to its meditative nature, running is so much more than a good workout.

More: How working out in winter actually makes it easier to lose weight

Running is all about connecting our minds with our bodies, connecting our goals with the amazing legs and feet that carry us.

Unlike working out at a gym, which comes with expensive membership fees, scheduled times and an artificial setting, running is all about freedom. It can be done anywhere, anytime. It can be a great way to work out independently or a fun social experience with a running partner or group.

But what about running in the winter, when it’s freezing and there’s ice and snow on the ground? Instead of running indoors on a treadmill, or worse yet, forgoing workouts altogether in favour of three months of Netflix on the couch, experts actually recommend running outside.

For one thing, it connects us to the winter wonderland that we often don’t experience from the insides of our cars and houses, and it keeps us present in the moment. For another, it’s an even more intense workout. Our bodies actually burn double the calories, because on top of our running, our bodies are working hard to keep us warm

According to Maya Anderson of Black Toe Running, an independent running specialty store in downtown Toronto, winter is one of the best times to run.

“It’s true that runners have to tread carefully when the footing is bad,” she says. “But it’s important to get out there and enjoy running in the winter, because the experience is so rewarding.” 

Anderson provided some great tips for maximizing every opportunity to get out and run when the weather is cold.

Join a running group

Anderson recommended finding a group to train with, because unlike running solo, where runners compete only with themselves, the social aspect can be much more motivating.

Black Toe has groups that meet several times a week, depending on the distance runners are training for and their running experience. The groups range from beginner to intermediate runners, from 5-10-kilometer practices to 12-30-kilometer-long runs on Sundays.

And if you’re feeling adventurous, there are great outdoor winter marathons (that range from 5-10-kilometer races to half and full marathons), including February’s Winterman Marathon in Ottawa, Sarnia’s Hypothermic Half Marathon and March’s Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington.

Dress appropriately

Whenever you’re ready to give it a shot, it’s important to dress appropriately. Dressing warmly is essential, and it’s important to choose clothing and accessories that are functional but stylish.

Anderson gave us a list of the five most essential items for any outdoor runner in winter.

1. Trail shoes

Instead of the road shoes people typically use for outdoor running, Anderson recommends trail shoes, because they provide much more support underneath.

She particularly likes “Nike’s Wildhorse GTX because they’re lightweight and have Goretex fabric on the upper part of the shoe, which is great for keeping feet dry.” Lightweight shoes are particularly useful for runners who are looking to increase their speed.

Winter Running: Nike Zoom Wildhorse

(Nike, $165) 

2. Extra tread

For times when the roads are covered in a lot of snow or ice, Anderson recommended Yaktrax, an attachment that clips on underneath your running shoes and provides a significant amount of extra tread.


(Yaktrax, $45) 

More: 8 Surprising benefits of running

3. Reflective clothing

Given the fewer hours of light we have in the early morning and early evening, it’s important to wear reflective clothing. Anderson also strongly recommends wearing lights and warm hats with reflective strips or brims.

ICNY jacket

(ICNY, $90) 

4. Tights

It is also essential to wear warm tights. Anderson especially recommends Mizuno’s Breath Thermo Layered Long Tights, which has a heat-generating fabric. “Sweat actually warms them up.” 

Mizuno Breath Thermo Layered Long Tights

(Mizuno, $90) 

5. Headgear

Lastly, when it’s especially cold, she suggests the Saskatchewan-based company Watuko Headgear. “Their headgear is multifunctional and is similar to what they wore on the TV show Survivor. They’re really soft because they’re made of bamboo, and they can function as a neck or head scarf or can also be used to protect your face. They’re really fashion-forward and they come in a variety of unique prints.” 

Watuko Headscarf

(Watuko $22) 

Anderson also recommends wearing warm gloves or mittens.

Take care of your body

Other important tips include drinking lots of water, wearing lip balm and using specialized runner moisturizers like Body Glide to prevent chafing or blisters.

Running outdoors in the winter can be so poetic, from smelling the crisp winter air as you blast through it to hearing the snow crunch under your feet. It can also be incredibly gratifying.

Challenge yourself this winter to start a regular routine of outdoor running. You’d be amazed at what your body and feet are capable of and how incredible you feel afterwards.

More: 9 Safety tips for running at night

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