How to Squeeze More Running into Short Winter Days

Two friends run down the street in the winter.

For many runners, it can be difficult to find the motivation and drive to muster up quality training sessions with the winter’s colder temps and limited sunlight. Sleeping more, feeling blue and having less motivation to work out than usual are completely normal reactions to the winter months. The additional hours of darkness in the winter cause our hypothalamus—the portion of the brain that controls our circadian rhythm—to signal the release of melatonin, triggering us to feel tired.

However, that does not mean all is lost in the winter months. By knowing the causes and understanding how the winter months affect your energy levels, you can be armed and prepared to overcome them. Some simple tweaks to your running routine can allow you to take advantage of the sunlight, reignite your workout ambition and develop new habits that can be carried into the spring and summer months.

A woman runs during her lunch break.

The Lunch Run: Take Advantage of Sunlight

The benefits of a lunch run are abundant. A midday sweat session can reduced stress, improve brain power, improve memory and increase energy. Taking advantage of the sunlight and boosting afternoon productivity by rejuvenating with a lunchtime run seems like a no-brainer.

The lunch run is not feasible for everyone, specifically those in meetings during the lunch hour or those without proper facilities to change and wash up after. However, if there's a way you can swing it, a lunch run can turn the dreary, winter days upside down. As an added bonus, you can encourage coworkers to join so you have some company, and they can also reap the rewards of improved afternoon productivity.

Run Commute to Save Time

If you have ever made the excuse that you don’t have time to run, then the runmute is perfect for you. Runmuting—running as your form of transportation—gives you the best of both worlds in the winter by eliminating wasted commuting time and giving you a chance to enjoy daylight hours.

How to Run Commute to Work

If you have time to sit in traffic or on public transportation, you have time to runmute as long as you live within a reasonable distance of your workplace. Just think about how much better you will feel starting your day with a gratifying run, as opposed to developing road rage sitting in traffic.

Of course, runmuting isn’t possible if you live a significant distance from the office or lack a navigable running route to get there. It also requires some additional logistics and planning to pack lightly while still carrying everything you need for the day. To make it less of a burden, there are packs designed for running that will make you forget you even have a backpack on. Couple that with the satisfaction of saving time and money spent on transportation, and runmuting will soon be a habit that sticks with you. Plus, it is better for the earth!

Run After It Snows

A fresh snowfall is often considered a signal to avoid the outdoors, but running in wintry conditions can have many advantages even if the roads or your favorite trail are not cleared off. As long as you have proper shoes with plenty of tread and protection, you're set to have some fun in the snow. Just make sure you avoid the ice!

You can also gain a mental edge by training in harsher conditions. Mental toughness is a key factor in improving your running performance. Embrace the cold instead of shying away from it. Exposing ourselves to conditions outside our comfort zones trigger our bodies to adapt both physically and mentally. The pain you have to push through during your next race will feel like a breeze when you endure a little bit of additional discomfort on your training runs. If the footing is subpar, though, don’t worry about your pace and just enjoy your time outside, breathing the crisp air.

A woman zips up her jacket before a chilly run.

How to Dress for Cold Weather Running

The dread of being cold and forcing yourself to take that first step out the door are really the only difficult parts of winter running. As long as you are dressed properly for winter running, it's no different than running during any other season. Within a couple minutes of taking off, you will be grateful for the opportunity to spend time outdoors and you’ll feel satisfied the rest of the day for getting a workout in.

The key difference between winter running and warm-weather running is the need for some additional planning. Later sunrises and earlier sunsets tend to result in some miles being covered in the dark—unless you lunch run or runmute. This means there are winter running safety and visibility considerations. Ensuring you have the proper lighting and reflective equipment for running is essential for watching your footing and being seen by traffic.

How to Winterize Your Running Wardrobe

Don’t Rule Out the Treadmill

Even if you prefer to call it the “dreadmill,” don’t rule out the treadmill as an option during the shorter days of winter. The treadmill is an excellent alternative to running outside for both workout quality and safety reasons. The ability to simulate hills and run at varying speeds can provide a better-quality workout than slipping and sliding around on the snow. Plus, you never have to worry about it being dark or cold.

If the treadmill really isn’t your thing, and conditions outside are not safe, then use the time at the gym to build strength and address your weaknesses so you can run more efficiently and ward off injuries when the weather improves. Other cardio equipment, like elliptical and rowing machines, are also excellent alternatives to simulate the aerobic effects of running while reducing the pounding on your legs.

With plenty of workout options available, both inside and out, you can emerge from winter a stronger athlete than you were going in.

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