This winter running guide is not necessarily specific to Vermont, but over the past winter, I have run nearly every day, and I’ve become somewhat of an expert on winter running. I was really anxious after moving to Vermont as to how it would affect my running, I consider myself an athlete and I run about 40 miles a week, so I’m an expert runner, but I was afraid of how the temperature and conditions would affect me.
It turns out I really had nothing at all to fear, I did a lot of research and talked to people, but mostly this post is just from my own personal experience (which is best I find).
First of all, time of day is key for winter running. A lot of people will disagree with me and say you should wait till later in the day to run, when it’s warmer (and you might have to because of work), but for me, sunrise is the absolute best time to run. The reason? The air is very still at sunrise. Wind is NOT a runner’s friend, and for some reason early in the morning is when the air is the most still. Trust me, it made a world of difference.
I was more worried about conditions than temperature, and rightly so. But for me, I found that 10 degrees felt about the same as 30 degrees, but there is a world of difference between 10 degrees and 5 degrees. So I determined that 5 degrees was my cutoff, I will not go out at 5 or below. Reason being, I had a hypothermia scare at about -1 (you can read – and laugh – sort of – about it here). Fortunately this winter there weren’t too many subzero days, so combined with going out early, I was fine.
The other thing with temperatures that are this extreme, you cannot stop. In my experience, you need to be prepared to run your full mileage, you can’t stop to tie a shoelace, take a photo, or fool with your phone because you really start sweating fast, and then you’re stuck with that cold, clammy sweat and it’s dangerous and uncomfortable. So make sure your shoes are tied, your playlist is set, and everything is ready to go when you walk out the door. My thing too is taking off my gloves, I learned that lesson fast on a few bitter days, once I had my glove off, my hand was so numb but yet sweaty that I had a lot of difficulty getting it back on. And no gloves is no joke up here.
There are a million posts and guides about cold weather running gear, obviously. A lot of them are sponsored and ads and attempts to get you to spend money, so I’ll just tell you, short and simple, what I wear.
Socks of course are key, I made the mistake one day of going out in my regular short socks, everything else was totally covered but I had about a half-inch strip of ankle showing, and I actually turned around and went back home to change socks, truly no extremity skin should be exposed. I was burning after about 5 minutes. I have been absolutely fine with these SmartWool socks, yes I know they’re wool, yes I know they’re not made for running but I swear, I have had zero issues.
And most days I don’t even wear 2 pairs of leggings, but I do have the UnderArmour 2.0 Base Layers top and bottom (I would have preferred the warmer ones but this was what they had on sale at Cabela’s lol, and also I found they run small so maybe order one size up), but to be honest, most days I just wear the cheap Cuddle Duds leggings that you can get for like $10 at Walmart and they are more than fine. On a cold day I might wear 2 pairs, or if it’s extreme, the UnderArmours or I also have Reebok PlayWarm that are good, but for the most part the Cuddle Duds were fine.
And then nothing special on top, I actually did not even wear the UnderArmour base top once, I save that for like snowshoeing or something where I’m not doing hardcore cardio, I just wear a long sleeve cotton t-shirt, and then a fleece over that (mine is Rossignol but any basic fleece is fine I think), the key for me was a lightweight down parka. I actually have a hooded one I got at Saks when we went to Paris in the winter, I bought it to go under my nice wool coat, but it turns out, that thing has kept me so warm all winter! Down is just key, I know there are tons of performance fabrics out there, but my light down parka that hits at the hip was absolutely wonderful. Feathers are falling out of it at this point but I’ll wear it till it falls apart it worked so great.
And then I’ll be honest, because I really do think they try to scare you into buying stuff, I bought a fleece-lined hat at Walmart in the men’s construction worker section that I love! I deduced (correctly) that obviously construction workers in Vermont are out in all temperatures so the stuff they wear must be warm, and it totally is. And it was a mere $6! And I also got some gloves ALSO AT WALMART that have been fine but for the coldest days. For super cold days I bought these on Amazon, but I’m not really happy with them, they’re bulky and the touch finger doesn’t even work, so I only wear them if it’s like 10 or below. I don’t know, I can do better on the gloves and I’m still looking for some, next year I might try the hunting mittens where you can just slide your fingers out, someone on instagram recommended them, but you can definitely search around and find gloves.
My key, key thing that saved me this winter was my balaclava, or face cover. I was also very worried about this, should I buy a fancy one, etc., but it turns out I got one on Amazon that was like $11.99 and it worked great! I highly recommend this one, the key to the balaclava is that even though your eyes are exposed, you blow hot air up into them because of the way it is engineered, and my face was not cold for one minute. I honestly only wear it if it’s 10 or below, maybe 15, otherwise I didn’t need it (and it’s a gross, snotty mess, as Nordic skiers know, your nose WILL run in the cold, and there WILL be snot all over your face. It’s the price you pay, folks, lol).
Now, let’s talk conditions. I was very worried about road conditions, I live in the town of Bennington, Vermont, right in the town itself, so let me make it clear, I am not a trail runner or a snowshoe runner because of the mileage I run, I just don’t have time to like, get in the car and drive to a trail or field, etc., I want to get out the door and hit the bricks. So my other key, key item is my Yaktrax Running Cleats. These are specifically for running, not walking. I wear a women’s size 10 shoe and the Mediums worked great. I put them over one pair of shoes and then I have another pair that I wear when I don’t need them because they’re kind of a pain to get on and off. My fear with the Yaktrax was that I was going to slip on the cleats and coils in spots where the roads were clear, but absolutely not, they are fine on asphalt and concrete that is bare of snow and ice too. Just remember to take them off as soon as you get in the house, you can slip on a regular floor. My biggest fear of course is like falling and spraining an ankle (or worse) and I really felt so much more confident in the Yaktrax. They were snug, worked great, and I even felt like I had a little cushion in my stride from the coils. They took about 15 minutes to get used to.
So in short, for gear, my must-haves are the wool socks, down parka, balaclava and ice cleats. The other stuff I’m not married too but I would not try to winter run without each of these items.
Our sidewalks in Bennington are not always as clear as our roads, so I did a lot of bike lane running, which isn’t necessarily legal, but any street surface that is plowed, I used. Also, we’re a small town and traffic is super light, especially early in the morning, so sticking to plowed streets with the ice cleats, I was really able to manuever okay. The thing with winter street running is you need to be super aware of cars, they can slide out of control and skid so I was hyper aware of who was coming, how fast and from what direction. I also often did not listen to music in the winter, for safety.
Winter running requires a lot of concentration, I watched every footfall (which means I missed out on some glorious winter wonderland vistas), but safety first. Also being very aware of your surroundings and traffic around you. Headlamps and/or reflector vests are obviously very prudent. Cold-weather running is not a time for the fashion police, lol.
The other thing I was worried about because obviously part of the reason I run is health and weight, was that I would burn fewer calories in winter than in summer when you’re sweating. Omg! Cold weather running is a hardcore calorie burn! I really think I expended more calories in winter (and my husband who is a chemist not a physicist but close enough lol) pointed out that obviously you would burn more calories because your body is also using extra energy to keep warm. So I felt way more tired all winter, and to be honest, the runs were harder some days. So eat up! Running 6 miles or more in 10 degrees is going to take it out of you, I promise.
If you’re reading this and you’re NOT a runner, you probably think I’m crazy. True it does take about 10 minutes to get all suited up to get out, and true, it’s a lot more of a pain in the winter. But what I found out was I absolutely love winter running. It’s the best running I’ve ever done, the air is so fresh and clear, it is incredibly invigorating and peaceful. I just, I wouldn’t miss a day of running if you paid me, and trust me nothing tops getting in a hot shower after 6 miles in 5 degrees, I felt mentally alert, relaxed, and just super healthy.
So as I run up a mountain at 7 a.m. in 5 degree cold, I always think to myself, this is the worst it’s going to get today ha ha. I’ve heard of people who start the day with a cold shower for that same reason, but a cold-weather run has the health benefits too! And my other final takeaway is this, don’t listen to the haters who tell you your lungs will freeze, if you’re alive and breathing, it’s physically impossible for your lungs to freeze (I know, I researched it lol), but you can get hypothermia. The first signs of hypothermia include confusion, which doesn’t really help you if you’re out there on your own, so what I do is run in town, in a populated area so if I need help, people are close by. I don’t stop so I don’t have time to cool down, and I do a mental check along the way as I go: “Where am I? What am I doing? What day is it? What do I have to do today?” I just try to keep a check on my mental clarity if I have any doubt. If you have concern by all means call 911, let someone help you, extreme cold is truly no joke, but if you are prudent and prepared, you don’t have to be limited to smelly gyms and indoor exercise during the cold months, you can get out and enjoy the fresh air and crisp beauty of winter! I know I do!