Winter Running Tips

Winter Running Tips

By Rod Koborsi

As a Houston native, I never ran indoors, never ran in pants, and wouldn’t dare be seen in tights. Then again, I had never seen more than three inches of snow. As I ventured into the world  and experienced winter training in Washington, DC and Colorado Springs, I realized that my stubborn ways had to change or I would risk injury or illness that could have been easily prevented.

Below are a few lessons I have learned that were imperative during winter training:

1.  Don’t start off too fast in cold weather during your runs.
Your body needs to warm-up before the machine gets going. Don’t be surprised if you are at least 15 seconds slower during your first mile. Just go with the flow and let yourself warm-up – even if that means not starting your watch until after the first mile to make sure your body is ready.

2.  When running in snow, go by minutes not miles.
If you’re planning on braving the elements, I highly recommend tracking your run by minutes instead of miles. For example, if it typically takes you 80 minutes to run 10 miles in ideal conditions, it may take you significantly longer to complete the distance while trekking in the snow.  As a result, you’ll put more stress on your body and it will take longer to recover.  Your training should have a long-term approach with long-term goals in mind. Some days it is important to get in the miles, but most days should be about effort and time spent running on your legs.

3.  Don’t wear cotton under your running specific gear.
If you’ve ever worn cotton under running specific gear in cold weather, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.  And, if you haven’t, don’t start. Wearing a cotton shirt under dri-fit/running specific gear is a mistake because cotton will soak up the sweat. When running in freezing weather, the sweat will turn into ice and will literally freeze your body. Anything you are wearing outside of the cotton layer proves useless once your base layer is frozen.

4.  Test the treadmill before jumping right into it.
Running on a treadmill places a different type of stress on your body than running outdoors. If you’re planning on running a lot of miles on the treadmill this winter, start with a few recovery runs to see how your body handles it. The only way of knowing how your body will react to the treadmill is to gradually test it out.

5.  Find a running partner.
Sometimes I like the feeling of running alone at 6:00 a.m. in below freezing weather, but there are many times where it is easier to enter the elements with a training partner. You’ll find yourself not thinking about the weather and enjoy the company…even if its so cold you can’t talk. Just don’t make fun of your running partner that they can’t talk because their lips have frozen up!

6.  Finally, realize winter running makes you mentally stronger.
Some of my most memorable training experiences were in Monument, Colorado with former Georgetown teammate Chris Lukezic, a 3:33 1500m runner and World Championships qualifier. Every winter morning we would leave his apartment and embrace the windy five degree weather thinking the same thing, “are we really doing this? At the same time, I believed it gave me a mental and competitive edge over other athletes because I was willing to train through the winter elements.

Rod Koborsi is a private coach for The Run SMART Project. He has run 13:26 for 5k and finished 5th at the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in 2008. He currently lives and trains in Washington, DC.

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5 Responses to “Winter Running Tips”

  1. Gabi says:

    Hi Rod,

    This is great advice! I hail from the South African Highveld where there’s no such thing as snow. This being the first winter I’m training in snow and zero or sub zero temps.

    Getting the gear right was a trial and error but I quickly caught on about layering and no cotton. I also had to get my head around wearing tights, I thought I’d manage without them but after my first run in snowy conditions I was first in line to buy a few pairs!

    Thanks for bringing attention to a few of the other do’s dont’s and benefits of running in cold weather.

  2. Brian says:

    Hi Gabi,

    Glad to hear the article was helpful. I just forwarded your article to Rod.
    We’ll be posting more running advice articles each week so I hope we can continue to help.


  3. Rod says:


    Thanks for the comment and glad you found my suggestions for winter running helpful.

    Happy Holidays and good luck with the rest of your training!


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