How to More Happily Run in the Dark and Cold Winter

Do you struggle with winter running motivation? Read the full article for tips on how to run in the dark and cold of winter!

It may not be the most exciting thing to run in the dark, nor may winter running be your favorite season of running. However, running throughout winter will maintain your hard-earned fitness – and help you feel prepared for your spring race season. Whether you are preparing for cold weather marathons or maintaining your fitness, the tips in this article will help with winter running motivation and how to run in the dark. 

The importance of winter running

It can be all too easy to skip runs when it’s cold and dark outside. However, an off-season running plan is still beneficial. You will not have to rebuild your fitness from scratch in the spring if you run consistently throughout the winter. You can reduce mileage and intensity during this time. A little bit goes a long way for maintenance!

If you are training for winter marathons or a spring race, winter running is essential for race preparation. Yes, you can train on the treadmill (including doing your long runs on the treadmill), especially when it’s too cold to run outside. But more than likely, you will want to get outdoors for your training runs even in the winter cold and dark. 

How to run in the winter dark and cold

It can feel difficult to motivate yourself to run in the dark and cold of winter. No matter how much you enjoy running, you cannot deny that running in the dark and cold is less enjoyable than running in daylight. 

Being able to run in the dark and cold comes down to a few factors: proper gear, appropriate safety measures, and your mindset. All three of these aspects will be addressed in this article. 

No matter how good of gear you have, winter running is difficult if you do not have the mindset for it. You do not have to love winter running – you just have to use a few mindset tools to help you stay consistent throughout this time of year. 

Use temptation bundling

Temptation bundling can help with running motivation, especially in winter. Temptation bundling pairs a desirable activity with another activity to increase your motivation to do the latter. For example, if your motivation to run is low, you can increase your motivation to run by adding something exciting to your runs. Perhaps you save your favorite podcast or playlist for only when you are running. Or, you can meet with a friend to run – this can make all the difference, especially for a winter long run! 

Stick to familiar routes

Varying your running routes is typically beneficial for many reasons, including avoiding monotony. However, winter is different: each route can come with an unknown of conditions, visibility, and navigation. For some runners, having a default route can make winter running easier. If you have a route that you know is typically clear and safe, stick with that. This approach removes having to make a decision or worry about route conditions. 

It is okay if that route is a 1-mile loop around your neighborhood! In fact, a short loop in winter can be beneficial for many reasons. Since you would loop it multiple times, you know what the conditions will be relatively early in your run. A short loop also gives you the option to stop early if the conditions are too bad. And a short loop can be mentally easier to start with when your motivation is really low. 

Try Running for Just 10 Minutes

If your winter motivation is really low and you don’t want to run in the dark in the morning, try for just ten minutes. Get dressed and start with a slow ten minute shuffle. If you still do not want to be out there after 10 minutes, then go home. You still got in a short aerobic stimulus! 

However, chances are that you will feel more motivated after warming up. By ten minutes, your muscle temperature has increased and your aerobic metabolism has ramped up to meet the demands of a run. It is easier to keep going once you warmed up. 

Run for Time, Not Distance

For some runners, hitting a certain mileage can place extra stress around a run. If the idea of trying to hit an exact pace and distance during winter running is stressful to you, shift the paraments of the run. You can aim to run for a certain time instead of distance (such as 45 minutes instead of 4-5 miles). For some runners, a time-based approach allows more flexibility for going slower in the dark or walking around icy patches. 

Essential winter running gear

If you plan to run in the dark and cold consistently, you will have a much better experience with appropriate gear. 

  • Headlamp: If you are going to run in the dark, you want to be able to see where you are going. A running specific headlamp is light enough to comfortably wear while running, while also featuring enough lumens to illuminate the road. 
  • Winter running jacket: Typically, the early morning and late evening are the coldest times of day to run in winter. So, if you are running in both the dark and the cold, you will need extra layers to stay warm. A winter running jacket provides warmth and protection from the elements. 
  • Visibility vest: As discussed below, you want to be visible if you run in the dark. A light-up or reflective vest will provide full visibility from all angles. These vests can be worn over any running gear. 
  • Winter running mittens: Cold hands are a frequent complaint in winter running. Thin gloves may work in autumn, but in winter, you want to keep your hands warm. Mittens provide better insulation than gloves. You can also purchase special mitten-glove combos, which feature an inner glove and an outer mitten layer for optimal warmth. 
  • Tall socks: Tall socks protect the delicate tendons in your ankles and feet from the cold. Cold tendons are more prone to straining in winter, so this is an extra protection against injury. Additionally, taller socks will keep you warm if you encounter piles of snow or melted puddles. 

Related: What to Wear for Running in the Cold

Safety tips for winter running

Winter running can be risker, with limited visibility, ice, and cold temperatures. There are times where it is simply unsafe to run outdoors – such as during or after an ice storm. However, with the appropriate measures, you can mitigate the risks so that you can run in the dark and cold. 

Use open-ear headphones when you run in the dark

When you are running in the cold, dark, and slick conditions, you need to be aware of your surroundings. You may be more likely to encounter plows out on a snowy morning, or need to be able to hear cars if you are running in the street. 

Conduction headphones transmit soundwaves through bone into the ear canal, without blocking the ear opening. As a result, you can listen to your favorite running podcast while still being able to hear your surroundings. Alternatively, you can use just one earpod of your wireless headphones. Or, if running exclusively on roads in the dark, considering running without headphones so your hearing is not compromised. 

Stay visible with reflective gear

A snowstorm or a dark winter morning can compromise visibility – a driver or cyclist may not be able to see you as easily. One priority of winter safety is being fully visible to anyone else out that time of day. To achieve this, you want to use reflective gear around your whole body. A reflective vest gives 360-degree visibility – without adding any discomfort during your run. You can also add reflective armbands or other accessories – just make sure you are lit up at all angles. 

Run against traffic

Yes, this piece of advice should be obvious – but it really bears repeating. When you run in the dark on the roads, you want to run against traffic. This approach allows you to see cars and move out of their way if need be. Alternatively, you can run on sidewalks or neighborhood paths. 

Walk through icy areas

If an unavoidable patch of ice is visible or you feel black ice underfoot, the safest approach is to walk. Running on ice can increase the risk of falling – which can cause injury such as concussion or muscle strains. This approach especially applies if it is dark, as you may not be able to see the full extent of the ice. 

Winter running, recapped

It can feel boring or even intimidating to run in the dark and the cold. However, with the right mindset, appropriate gear, and mindful safety measures, you can safely log miles during the winter months.

You can read more about winter running:

Want training tips on winter running, gear, and more? Listen to the Tread Lightly podcast!

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