Winter Running Tips

By Patrick Engleman

winter running

Our winters can be a combination of freak snow storms and chilly mornings. We are not complaining, but it surely makes those early dark nights more bearable. When it comes to our time out running, we are especially thrilled that the weather has not turned for the worst quite yet. At least not permanently.

We know that winter running could be especially dreadful, painful and down right dreary. With the cold, snow, ice, wet shoes, and a comfy warm couch keeping even the hardened road warriors among us inside, we need to find the motivation to get out there to train and compete.

Movement Sports Magazine contacted Coach Rapson, an athlete that has run more winters than most of us have been alive to impart some of his winter training wisdom. This fellow is a very well respected local cross country and track coach. His combined coaching wins are around the 400 mark with multiple state medals for his athletes. He is not just a coach, but a seasoned athlete in his own right with splits in 10k and longer distances that are PR worthy of folks one-third his age.

The first thing that I think of for most of our readers that work a “normal day” is the amount of training done under the moonlight. Coach Rapson expresses that it is simply best to get your miles done in the morning or the early part of your day. Not only are there less cars on the road, but the motivation factor can stick since the daily distractions do not get in the way of a good training regimen. Regarding safety in the dark, he choose routes that are quiet and keep you off busy roads. The key is to not pick somewhere you could be a target. Rapson also expresses the need to wear something reflective and gave advice that although most of the modern training gear comes with reflective fabrics, the traditional reflective vest works well and comes in large sizes to fit over even the most bulky of training gear.

Now that you are visible and have a good route chosen, the coach recommends that you warm up like the Kenyans do.

“Don’t do a warm up before your run. You will just get cold. Use your watch or monitor and set your pace a minute or so slower than your target.” He uses this technique because the last thing you want to do is strain cold muscles, but doing a warm up in the house or garage could result in overheating or worse…sweating.

Once out on the road or trail, you need to keep warm and dry. Wool blend socks do the trick for the coach. He says that although the clothing technology has changed so much, there is no substitute for merino wool over your toes because you could run through the slush and snow and your toes will stay warm. He also recommends that you choose training pants that are somewhere between sweatpants and tights in terms of fit. The extra room allows comfortable layering and creates a protective layer of warmed air between your skin and the elements.

On over exposing yourself to the elements, he believes that runners you see without gloves or hats on are not hard, they are just cold. Rapson is a self professed hater of the cold so he is always protected from the elements and would not risk injury, comfort, or training time for the sake of appearing to be the hardcore ultra-distance guy in short-shorts and a pair of knit gloves. To protect his extremities, Rapson feels that mittens work better in really cold temperatures than gloves. He reasons, as a true scientist, “It limits the surface area exposed to the cold and the fingers keep each other warm.”

The only thing that keeps Coach Rapson off the road is ice. He accurately states “If you can’t walk on the ice, you won’t get any kind of a workout trying to shuffle along.” For deep snow, his advise is just look for somewhere that has been plowed. You might have to do laps of the area, but stay safe. Neighborhoods that are far from major roads often take care of the streets themselves and are great places to seek out. If you do run in the deep snow just don’t go as far as normal. “Snow is a great workout and it’s okay to get your pace down a bit because of the extra work you are actually doing. It will make you stronger for the season.”

Coach Rapson actually recommends getting out of town to a warmer climate for a race or even some training. Almost every town has at least a 5k, or a local running club, and these warm weather getaways will keep you focused through the cold and dark of the season.

No matter what, the spring will come and you will be happy you laced up the trainers and slid into some mittens when you see your hard earned, newfound personal records.


Pat Engleman is a native of North Eastern Pennsylvania but he has been living in Philadelphia for the last twenty years. Cycling was his way to get to different skateboarding spots in his small hometown, but that has blossomed to a full blown passion that has grown into racing, advocacy work, trail building, bicycle retail and event promotion. His most recent work has been in the development of the annual Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo and of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Cycling League, http://www.pamtb.org.