Winter Shouldn't End Your Marathon Training

Training for a marathon – or even a half-marathon – is a year-round activity. If you stop because the temperature drops or there’s snow on the ground, you’ll find it a lot harder to get going once spring rolls around.

While some people stick to the treadmill during the winter months, that’s not your only option. (And let’s be honest…many runners get bored while on the treadmill.) You can still head outside to run as long as you are properly prepared. A thorough warm-up and cool-down are crucial in the winter months to ensure your muscles are primed and ready. The two key things to remember is wearing the right clothes and staying safe.

Layers are essential when running outside. On your upper body, the layer closest to your body should feature wicking fabric that will pull the sweat away from your body, keeping you dry and warm. Top that with an insulating layer, such as fleece. Finally, you need a top layer that is both windproof and waterproof. Depending on the temperature, you may only need two layers – you need to experiment and see what works for you.

As for your legs, they’re working hard and will be warm so one layer, such as a pair of running tights, may be all you need. For added warmth, you can also top the running tights with a pair of wind pants.

Other things to remember include wearing a warm hat (most of our body heat escapes through our head) and wearing warm socks and mittens or gloves to keep your feet and hands warm. These items should preferably be made of wool blend or moisture wicking as well. If your throat is irritated by running in the cold air, try a ski mask or scarf over your mouth so you’re not directly breathing in the cold air. Some companies also sell a slip-on cleat for your shoe that helps with running on compressed snow or ice.

Wearing the right gear also plays a role in staying safe. With daylight hours limited, most people need to run in the dark. Make sure you wear reflective clothing so drivers can easily spot you. You can also get a small clip-on light for the back of your jacket to help you remain visible to drivers. If running in an area without a lot of street lights, it makes sense to wear a headlamp or get a handheld lamp so you can better see your surroundings, especially the road or sidewalk to make sure they aren’t any icy or snowy spots where you could lose your footing. Running in a familiar neighborhood or with a friend also ensures safer running conditions.

As long as the wind chills aren’t too low (risky conditions are lower than 34 degrees Fahrenheit or a wind child lower than 10 degrees F) and the roads and sidewalks are clear, it should be safe to keep up with your training program throughout the winter.

By Erica Kroncke, MD and Becky Czechanski, ThedaCare Orthopedic Care.

Erica Kroncke, MD, is a sports medicine physician with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. She is a licensed pediatrician with added training in sports medicine and sports injuries. She received her medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, WI. 

Becky Czechanski received her bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology and her doctorate degree in physical therapy from Concordia University in Milwaukee. She is also a certified strength and conditioning specialist.