5 Benefits of Running During the Winter

[00:00:00] Wherever you are likely by the time this video is coming out, winter is looming. The cold’s coming in for all of us, whether we want it or not. And sometimes that makes us start to question, “Do I still want to go out for my run?” So today I want to focus on what are the benefits of running during the winter.

[00:00:31] I’m Jesse Funk, the founder of Solpri.com and the host of this show, Runner’s High, where we talk about everything running and endurance related, including today’s topic “Why are we going out to run in the winter when it’s cold and we could stay inside and be cozy?” There’s a lot of benefits. So if you like running, you like endurance sports, hit subscribe. Stick around with me for more episodes in the future.

[00:00:54] Now, I think it should be said, if you want to know about running all the things that you need, all the gear, those kind of things, I did a different video about that. We’ll link to that at the end. It’ll pop up on the screen, so check that out at the end of this video. But let’s talk about why are we doing it? What are we getting out of it besides just the usual, hey, we’re going out to run and staying in shape.

[00:01:17] There are some very specific and kind of interesting things that we get out of running during the winter. First and foremost, and I think this is can’t be understated is that it helps our mental state. So there is, as you probably aware, something called sad Seasonal Affective disorder.

[00:01:37] It tends to affect people during the winter or darker periods of the year. It’s when people get depression-like symptoms, become more lethargic, all those kind of things. And part of it has to do with a lack of exposure to light, hence the darker part of the year problem. So when we get outside, we’re still getting out.

[00:01:58] Maybe we’re not getting out in periods of as much light, but we’re still getting outside and exposing ourselves in some fashion to be able to get some more of that vitamin D. Plus we know when we get out and run, we get those nice endorphins and we feel good. So this is obviously on a case-by-case basis in terms of whether you actually get seasonal affective disorder.

[00:02:22] But regardless of whether that specific thing happens to you, I think it’s easy to say like it’s dark, it’s harder to wake up in the morning, all those kind of things when we get a run in and we stay with that consistent thing, we’re getting that great aerobic base, which is great once we come to racing season in the summer. But beyond that, just having a general good mood about things helps us get on with some of those dark days during the winter.

[00:02:51] So that’s why I think it’s probably the first thing I want to talk about and why it can’t be understated is that it helps boost your mental attitude. Our second one is, I don’t know if it’s so much a benefit that you get or a benefit that winter has on you.

[00:03:09] In any case, there is less body stress running in the cold than there is in the heat. So we know that heat stress tends to cause our heart rate to go up, which means that we are not going to be able to perform quite as well as we are in the cold. When we’re in the cold, we have less heat stress. Why? Because the heat dissipates into the air around us and then we can actually have a lower heart rate for the same performance level.

[00:03:38] There are limits to this in that like if you’re going to go run in subzero temperatures, you’re probably not going to have your fastest time ever. But there’s a reason that people tend to perform better in cooler weather. And this goes kind of along those same lines, is that it’s cold during the winter for most people.

[00:03:59] If you have classic winter, if you’re a different part of the planet where you have a warm winter and a cold summer or however it goes, then that doesn’t apply to you. But in any case, when we’re talking about a colder climate, we know because we have that heat dissipation, we can perform better.

[00:04:18] So this is a time when you can actually use this to get in a little bit more work without creating as much stress on your body. So when we’re able to utilize oxygen more effectively, which is part of what that heart rate is, so when our heart rate’s higher, our blood’s moving faster. In the case of heat, it’s moving to try to help us sweat and dissipate heat.

[00:04:43] But you have like a higher utilization range in the cold because your body’s not trying to do these other things like cooling you down. Your heart has the capacity to go up higher to deliver more oxygen. So in the winter you can do some of that base work and do some of those strides. You can do maybe even some tempo, depending on where you are in your season and get some of that really solid like base beginning speed in with taking advantage of the temperatures.

[00:05:16] And along those same lines, when we’re talking about the temperature and the effect it has on our body, we actually burn more calories in the cold than we do in the heat because we’re trying to warm ourselves up, not cool ourselves all. So if that’s a time. It’s often what I prescribe is like base training during the winter, which is lost along slow miles. I can mention strides, maybe some tempo as you get going a little bit farther in your base schedule.

[00:05:46] This is the time where if you want to try to get leaner, it’s a perfect time because you’re going to be spending more energy, i.e. burning more fat during these long runs while you try to keep yourself warm and you don’t have the stress of trying to get ready to race. So some people will try to burn fat and gain muscle at the same time. It is incredibly difficult to walk that tightrope.

[00:06:12] Typically, you’re either going to be getting leaner or you’re going to be getting stronger, especially in the case of high workloads. So if you are somebody who wants to try to get a little bit leaner, the winter is the perfect time to do that because of our bodies need to stay warm and the extra energy that we’re spending when we go out and run versus during the summertime.

[00:06:35] And my last benefit for winter running is a little more existential, I guess. But that is like building up your mental fortitude and kind of enjoying the ride. There is something almost magical, I guess, about if you’ve got snow on the ground and you can find yourself on a trail where there’s not many people around and it’s just snow crunching under your feet and like the stillness that a blanketed kind of landscape brings. 

[00:07:13] There’s just some moments throughout the year in running that for me, I guess, really make the whole sport kind of come together as like this makes me feel alive. So this last benefit is two parts. One, it’s just making you enjoy what you’re doing. Not every day are you going to enjoy. Sometimes you’re tired, sometimes you feel good. So not every day is perfect.

[00:07:42] But the winter often offers some of these kinds of serene moments or serene landscapes, especially when less people are out on the trails because they say it’s too cold. But then the second part being you’re training yourself to deal with adverse conditions.

[00:07:58] Some of those winter conditions which make other people stay inside or the snow or the cold is the wind like it’s all of these things that help build us to the point where we can deal with more challenges. 

[00:08:14] Like I’ve talked about with many guests on the other show I do on this channel, the Smart Athlete Podcast, building up mental fortitude isn’t only one dimensional. When we are used to doing difficult things, it’s much easier to do difficult things in a different arena because we already have this kind of coping mechanism to go, “Hey, like “I can deal with this.”

[00:08:38] So in this case, when we are going out and we’re running and we’re dealing with the cold and we’re being uncomfortable and we’re figuring out how to get comfortable in this uncomfortable position, that plays well when we get to racing season and we know if I want to go faster or if I want to hit a new PR or any of those things, I’m going to have to get uncomfortable.

[00:09:00] So that’s a very practical way to kind of improve your performance in this a little bit like existential, hard, hard to define kind of area of mental improvement.

[00:09:14] So do you have any questions for me about running, leave them down in the comments below. If you want to check out my Winter Running Essentials video where we’re talking about gear and all those kind of things that will be coming up on the screen here shortly. I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.

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