Why is winer running so hard?

Winter is coming, dare I tempt fate with the fact that it’s not here yet though? Which means winter running is just around the corner. Here’s the thing winter runs are still great runs they are just a little less great than other times of year. You might find that you are slower in the winter, that you can’t go as far and it makes you more tiered. Here’s the thing in the winter you need to be going easier on yourself. If you know all about why winter running is so hard it’s a lot more likely that you will feel less critical of yourself. So these are at least some of the reasons winter running kinda sucks, (but it’s still better than no run at all.)


Let’s get the big one out of the way and yes this does influence a lot of the other factors on here. Actually really all of them. But… the temperature on it’s own is a hard one. It’s hard to want to go outside, to dress in all those layers and to cover your neck and maybe mouth and nose just to deal with it. When it’s even a little bit cold out I want to put on my warmest PJ’s, tuck in under a blanket on the couch and knit something fuzzy. If I do have to go outside I would like to wear, I kid you not, 2 pairs of socks and pants, ski pants, one shirt a sweater, neck warmer, a puffy jacket and occasionally 2 hats. I would ideally like to trap several layers of air between me and the outside world to insulate me and keep me warm. So why do I tell you all this well, when you go running you can’t really wear all your clothes. You have to step out and be cold at first. Even though you’re shivering at first and you’ll be warmed up in about 5 minuets but initially stepping out there in to the cold is still brutal!


When you first start your running journey you might remember that feeling where your lungs were on fire while you ran. Well in winter even though you’re much better conditioned now that terrible feeling can return. Obviously that literally doesn’t feel good but it also makes you feel unfit. You can avoid this somewhat by using something like a buff to cover your mouth and nose since this phenomenon is more about cold air than cardiovascular fitness. I don’t love covering my mouth and nose generally but also because I wear glasses. If I can get away with it I do find that just zipping up my running jacket all the way so it covers as much as possible the best option. Sometimes though you just gotta wear a scarf!


Winter is dark and cold but for now let’s focus on the dark part, literally! Whether you’re a morning runner or an evening runner in the winter there’s a good chance you’ll be doing it in the dark. It’s even harder to get out the door if you just have to get ready in the dark. Well there is lots of things you can do to run safely in the dark it’s still a lot harder to get going. Plus wearing a bunch of lights is just one (or three) more things to deal with. Plus I find running in the dark with streetlights more mentally draining than I do in the day. It’s not so bad in the city with separated sidewalks but on these rural roads it feels more like an extreme sport. 

Weather conditions

Winter running has some extra possibilities that just don’t happen at other times of year. Even the ones that happen year round like rain just suck more and in different ways in the winter season. Light rain in the summer can be refreshing and a welcome cool down in the winter it might be freezing rain. Snow of course happens and is a double whammy for visibility and suck factor. Although I will say nothing makes me feel more like an extra dedicated super runner quite like running in lightly falling snow. A light wind that cools us down in the heat of the summer becomes a biting wind that burns your exposed skin in the winter. So there are more weather conditions possible in the winter and all of the possible weather conditions are harder to deal with this time of year.

40 tips to stay running this winter

Bodily fluids

Aka sweat, snot and tears. I rarely cry when I’m running most of the year but come cold temperatures my eyes water like I’m watching the end of the notebook and for an hour after I get home if it’s cold enough. My nose, she runs like a faucet when the mercury drops and on a related note you never want to borrow my running gloves! Finally sweat most of the time it does what it needs to to keep me cool or warm with it’s production overall. In the winter it becomes something that has to be carefully managed. If I go too hard for the outfit I’m wearing or wear too much for the current temperature sweat is ready to betray me! If I let myself sweat too much I get too hot and then right after freezing friggin’ cold and have to head right home. 


For right or wrong I attribute most of my winter slowdown to slippage. Though if I’m being honest it’s not usually slippery when I’m running in the winter, so there is that. Seriously my regular running speed is about 30 seconds per km slower but that’s probably an amalgamation of all this stuff. But in the winter you have less friction between your sneakers and the road at least some of the time. This plays out in one of two ways, you get a lot slower for the same effort or you have to work a lot harder for the same pace. I obviously go for the former. Even if it’s not actively slippery you do have to walk over the slippery bits if you can’t run around them. Other times you have to walk in the snow on the sidewalk and it takes a few steps to clear out your shoes. 

Winter running tips, tricks and hacks

The future is far away

Lots of us run to race on some level it could be to win, for that new personal record or distance or maybe even just the medal. Even if you’re not a racer the best parts of running are literally half a year away. In other words the really good parts are a long way off. Think about it when it’s still pretty much winter in late march and early April it’s way easier to get out there because the good parts are just around the corner. It’s always harder to do the right thing now to prepare for a goal that’s far off compared to one closer in the future. That makes it extra hard to lace up and head out the door in December. 

Slower and shorter with poorer scenery

A perfect weekend run for me is around 10k, maybe a little more and I’d love to end up covering it a little faster than I was planning on. In the winter though that’s just not going to happen for the most part. Even if I dress perfectly, it’s not all that cold and the conditions are pretty good. I’m cold, numb-is and over it after about 45 minuets. By that point I really want to be almost home. So all my winter runs are slower and shorter than I really want them to be and it’s way more effort. I still get to run in a pretty great spot but it’s not quite as pretty as it is when the leaves are on the trees. Plus at some point everything is just covered in that ugly grey and dirty snow, so that’s just a little less inspiring than in June when everything is lush and green.

All those clothes

Last but not least all those layers! It’s hard to pick out the right set of clothes to wear in the cold and the stakes are so much higher if you get it wrong. In the summer if you over dress you just take off your shirt and that’s it. If you get it wrong in the winter (too hot or too cold) you might have to head home. My winter running clothes are some of my favorites and definitely the best performing with the hardest job to do. But running in a shirt, sweater, jacket, two layers of pants and socks, gloves, mitts, a headband and a hat is just as restrictive as it sounds. Also the rubbery plastic-ish lining in my coats and pants can cause odor issues if sweat does get trapped.

So yes winter running certainly isn’t easy and it’s way harder than running other times of the year. Winter running can impact your motivation level, your speed, enjoyment and level of stink. Add to that its more complicated and physically less comfortable. So if you find yourself lacking in some way in your winter running you’re not alone! But… the feeling you get after going for a run is just as good no matter what time of year it is! Do you find winter running harder? What gets your goat the most during the winter? Leave it in the comments below!

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