Leaving the cozy confines of your couch to go for a run may feel like the last thing you want to do in the winter, but lacing up for a cold-weather run has perks that make the initial chill worth it.
It’s true: Brave Body Project founders Amber Rees and Lindsey Clayton used to avoid running outside in the winter, but when training for a spring half marathon forced them off the treadmill during the coldest months of the year, winter soon became their favorite running season.
"The cold weather is on your side," Rees says. "It might feel cold before you start moving, but once your body warms up you feel surprisingly invincible. I've PRed at more winter races than I have during the warmer months." Clayton adds: "Once you master dressing for the cold (no cotton!), the weather really isn’t an issue."
More importantly, it’s worth the effort. Read on for all the ways winter running can help you run further, faster and feel like a badass while you're at it.
1. You'll Run Faster
It might not be easy to leave the house, but once you get started, cold-weather running is way easier on your body than those humid summer sprints. "As long as it isn’t snowy or icy, it’s easier to run in the cold because your body doesn’t need to work to cool itself," says Roberto Mandje, Olympic distance runner and manager of runner training at New York Road Runners in New York City.
In fact, people decrease their mile time by a full minute in the winter, on average, according to a 2016 paper published in Temperature. This means faster spring and summer runs, too: "Come spring, you’ll not only be fitter, but you’ll feel lighter and freer when you suddenly find yourself running with fewer layers of clothing than during the winter months," Mandje says. "The speed and overall training benefits will stay with you for the upcoming seasons."
2. You'll Take Fewer Breaks
If you’re used to shifting between running and walking, the winter is a great time to increase the "run" part of that ratio. "I’m more efficient with my time in the winter," says Dorothy Beal, Virginia-based RRCA certified running coach and creator of I Run This Body. "During intervals, I slow jog instead of walk, and I don’t hang around after my run is over. I keep moving."
3. You'll Feel Invincible
USA boxer and EverybodyFights trainer Arnold Gonzalez strategically runs in uncomfortable conditions — i.e. the dead of winter — to boost his grit. "No one wants to run in freezing weather, but that’s why I do it," he says. "I sacrifice my mood and comfort in the moment to become mentally stronger when I step in the ring."
Mandje agrees: "You’ll feel more accomplished than your competitors anytime you successfully train in what others would consider tough or adverse conditions," he says. "And you’ll become tougher as your body and mind acclimate to a certain level of hardship and discomfort."
This kind of mental toughness will come in handy when you hit other challenges later: "The gained experiences during cold-weather running will serve you well if (or when) you come across a rough patch in future races." Watch out, Mile 20.
4. It Prepares You for Adverse Race Day Conditions
Wouldn’t it be great if every race day was mild and sunny? Good luck with that (maybe if you living in San Diego, lucky you!). "Every race I ran last year was either in the pouring rain or freezing cold wind," Clayton says.
Those who train in similar conditions have an advantage: a crappy-weather day is a great opportunity to test your gear, boost your grit and help you prepare for less-than-ideal race conditions.
5. You'll Combat Seasonal Depression
It’s true that darker days and colder nights can make you feel low. Mild seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that surfaces at the end of fall, affects a whopping 20 percent of people, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Running during sunrise may help: "A study in the ’80s showed that getting light and getting exercise both have good antidepressant effects, so it’s ‘two birds, one stone’ to get both light and exercise first thing," says Kelly Rohan, Ph.D., professor of psychological science at the University of Vermont.
Beal has experienced this first-hand: "I suffer from seasonal depression, so going outside and not just relying on the treadmill is important for my mental health." Mandje adds: "Running releases the body’s natural endorphins, which make you feel good." Been there, felt that.
6. Fresh Snow Feels Super Peaceful
Beal especially loves running when it's snowing. "Some people make sure they squeeze their run in before the snow starts, but I wait for it," she says. "There’s a beautiful solitude when it's just you and the snow, and I love the crunch of the snow under my feet." Plus, the sidewalks are less crowded!
7. You'll Have a Better Overall Workout
You don’t burn additional calories in the cold unless you’re shivering (and if you’re shivering while running, you’re doing something wrong). That said, there’s an additional calorie burn in moving more, stopping less and generally being a beast during your workout — and winter running certainly burns more calories than hibernation, right?