Winter Running


Get off the indoor hamster wheel

Story and Illustration by Colin Hayes

You’re a runner. Winter is approaching. Looks like you’ll be spending a few months on the indoor treadmill.

The heck with that. Get off the hamster wheel and get outdoors. While the cold, wet, dark months here in the Pacific Northwest can make outdoor activities challenging, proper planning and preparation will make al fresco winter running a snap.

Here are a few tips for dealing with winter challenges:


Ideally, you want to start your run feeling a tad cold. Allow time for your body to warm up. At the beginning of your run, your muscles will be tight and stiff in the cold weather. Give yourself a mile or two of slower than normal running before settling into your planned pace. Warming up your muscles with calisthenics and jumping jacks even before you head outdoors will help with that process

Dress in layers. These days, cotton is taboo (it doesn’t breathe and holds in moisture). Synthetic ‘technical’ fabrics (i.e. polyester, Spandex and Lycra) are ideal. Don’t forget gloves and a stocking cap (or balaclava). These items can be found at most running stores. Remove layers, as needed, as you warm up during your run.


I’m reminded of a 20-mile run during my marathon training cycle from a couple of years ago. Potentially unpleasant weather was in the forecast, but no such thing had materialized as I parked and got ready to run. I chose to forego the additional clothing that would protect me from such threats.

What started out as a mild, overcast jaunt turned into a slog through a bitter, horizontal hailstorm after mile 11. I returned to my truck colder and wetter than I have ever been, numb and semi-delirious, barely able to unlock and open my truck door. I still haven’t decided whether or not the singing unicorn sitting next to me in the passenger seat was real. Either way, he had an amazing voice.

The moral? Best to go with the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach when weather conditions are questionable. Again, layer your clothing. There are many lightweight, water-resistant running jackets to choose from. If not needed, tie it around your waist during your run.


Fact: All drivers are extremely attentive and cognizant of runners sharing the roads with them at night and early morning. Yes, and Montezuma’s Revengesicle is a great name for a treat.

Much to the dismay of many a runner (and cyclist, for that matter), drivers aren’t always looking for us. While it’s safer to run in daylight hours, investing in a headlamp and reflective gear is highly recommended if you plan on running in the dark. Even if you do choose to run during daylight hours, wear highly visible colors, including a reflective vest, in order to stand out.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, even the winter daylight hours can be relatively dark, thanks to the persistent cloud layer. Always err on the side of too much visibility. Be obnoxious!


Shorten your stride and slow your pace. Running surfaces can be deceiving. Black ice is hard to spot and can land you on your posterior before you have a chance to react. It’s actually safer to run in fresh snow, assuming there isn’t a layer of ice underneath it.

Avoid lightweight racing flats and shoes with little traction and excessive mesh. Consider using YakTrax or hex head sheet metal screws in the bottoms of your shoes. Make sure they’re short enough to not go through the soles of your shoes and poke the bottoms of your feet. Although if they do and you feel them, chances are you don’t have frostbite. I’m here to help.

See? Winter running isn’t that scary. Besides, how many times have you seen a singing unicorn while running on your boring, indoor treadmill? I rest my case.

Colin Hayes is a writer, illustrator and runner who lives in Everett, Wash. with his wife, two daughters and a goofy yellow lab. He honestly doesn’t obsess about unicorns. He’s just over-caffeinated.

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