How Cold Is It Too Cold to Run Outside?

When I signed up for this spring marathon, I pictured myself at the end of an easy day of racing: exhausted, triumphant, and comfortable in weather-matched leggings and a T-shirt. What I didn’t consider then, and what I’m considering now, is the reality of marathon training in freezing temperatures.

Many runners and winter athletes will tell you that running in the cold is not as difficult as it sounds. Sure, the first few minutes suck, but you’ll be surprised at your ability to endure the harsh winter days. Personally, I prefer frostbite to any treadmill run that lasts more than 20 minutes. But is there a moment when winter trails go from difficult to dangerous? How cold is it too cold to run outside?

“Too cold” depends on personal preference

There is no clear line when it gets “too cold” to circle your neighborhood. The American College of Sports Medicine does not recommend running outdoorsif the wind is below minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit, as this increases the risk of frostbite. It’s not a hard and fast rule, though: Katie Butler , head coach at the Run Boulder Athletic Club and two-time Olympian, told Runner’s World that she’s seen her group train well in temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit, though on days when there’s no wind it was, it was sunny, and they were fully dressed.”

For most winter days, when the temperature stays above freezing, “too cold” is a matter of personal preference. “You can definitely train in cold weather if you take the right preventive measures,” Alexis Colvin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine from Mount Sinai , told POPSUGAR . Here are a few things to do if you are a brave soul about to run in the cold.

How to avoid hypothermia-related injuries while running

Here are the American College of Sports Medicine ‘s tips for reducing cold-related injuries during exercise:

  • Cover your head, face, legs, feet and hands. These areas are at greater risk of frostbite.
  • The risk of frostbite is higher in humid conditions (such as snow or rain).
  • Wear appropriate footwear to prevent slipping.
  • Adjust clothing and layers to keep you warm but prevent excessive sweating.
  • Be mindful of wind speed. For example, if the air temperature is 30°F (-1.1°C) and the wind speed is 10 mph, then the actual temperature will be 21°F (-6.1°C). Here is a calculator to help you calculate wind chill .
  • If possible, avoid exercise when temperatures drop below -8°F (-27°C). Under these conditions, tissue damage can occur within 30 minutes or less.

And here are some more tips on how to make the winter workout as effective as possible:

Wear the right running gear

The Key to Cold Weather Survival: Layers. “Getting injured or sick while running in the cold is usually because you’re not wearing the right clothes, and sometimes it’s due to dehydration as you don’t expect it when it’s cold,” Butler told Runner’s World .

( Here’s our complete guide to running in the winter to stay warm. We also have a video guide offering some examples of suitable clothing for running in cold weather.)

Watch your breath

After running a few miles in 0 degrees Fahrenheit last week, I am now battling a severe sore throat. (Apparently the cold air has evaporated some of my precious moisture from my mucous membranes. Meredith’s classic.) Be especially mindful of mouth breathing when running in cold, dry air. Wearing a mask helps, as well as sucking on a cough drop to practice breathing through the nose.

Watch out for the ice

When there is snow on the ground, ice can hide underneath. Lack of traction can result in falls and other injuries. Proceed with caution and choose an indoor workout if you can’t find a securely laid out jogging track.

Don’t be afraid to change your run

I always tell myself that if something goes wrong after the first mile, I can turn around and walk home. Give yourself extra indulgence in extreme weather conditions. If you really can’t skip a single mile, consider a hybrid plan: run half outdoors and half on a treadmill.

It also helps to physically change your route to accommodate the layers. Schedule a run where you can shed the extra layers after the first mile and then pick them up on the way back.

Don’t get cold – keep warm

You will want to get out of the cold immediately and either take a hot shower or put on warm, dry clothes. Treat yourself to a hot drink. You deserved it.

bottom line

You can run outside in fairly cold temperatures before you seriously risk frostbite or any other cold weather consequences. As long as you’re prepared with protective gear, you can listen to your body to acclimatize to cold temperatures as well as you personally can.


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