I love running. I LOVE running. I love it. Always have. No matter the odds. BUT, admittedly, my love of running wanes in the wintertime. It can be SO hard to get motivated to run in the cold and dark when my bed is so warm and cozy. So, how do you stay motivated to run in the winter?
There are ways—lots of ways—to stay motivated to run in the winter. First, you have to prepare—just as you would for running in the morning. You can’t just expect the alarm to go off and for your body and mind to be ready. Both need to acclimate to the idea of running in the cold and dark.
Related: How to Become a Morning Runner
Second, you need to get started. It’s hardly ever as bad as you think it is going to be—as long as you prepare to run in the winter.
Third, you need to think of how amazing you will feel after you’re done running in the cold. You’ll feel so proud—so accomplished. And that feeling will carry you through the rest of your days. (Unless you’re going to run in extreme cold and dangerous conditions, chances are if you dress right for running in the cold, you will not regret your run.)
I talked with experts and combine their tips with mine on how to stay motivated to run in the winter. While nearly every morning in the winter I have an internal battle of whether to stay in bed or go—I ALWAYS GO. I will share my secrets.
Why is it harder to run in the winter?
Running in the winter feels harder because it is harder. And our bodies need to adjust to the cold weather.
Cold temperatures make everything in our bodies tighten from our leg muscles to our chest. Blood flow is restricted just as our muscles need the blood’s oxygen to get warm and move. (Thus, it is important to warm-up properly before running).
This tightening also happens in our chest, so it can be even harder to breathe and get oxygen to our working muscles. (Wearing a buff or scarf can help keep the warm and humid and avoid pain in your chest).
“Winter running is harder because your body is working harder to regulate body temperature,” explains Carina Heilner, a 2:47 marathoner and Utah-based running coach. “Your body will also acclimate to colder temperatures; it just takes some time.”
Also, running on snowy or icy surfaces impacts our stride and causes us to slow down.
Why do I lose motivation to run in the winter?
We lose motivation to run in the winter for several reasons spanning everything from stress levels to nutrition to sleep. But the main reason is that it is uncomfortable to run in the winter. Luckily, this is something you can negate with proper planning.
The second, is that running in the dark seems unnatural. Our bodies are designed to wake when the sun is rising. If you are running in the dark, early in the morning, then your brain will tell you to go back to bed. That this isn’t right. And you’ll feel tired and the bed will call.
If you’re running at night when the sun is going down, your body will want to wind down, as well.
Thankfully, these are both two major factors we can overcome to run and stay fit in the winter.
So, how do you stay motivated to run in the winter? Here is your action plan to stay fit in the winter complete with 8 tips to stay motivated.
8 Tips to Stay Motivated to Run in the Winter
Find the why.
“If you find yourself not motivated, it’s because you don’t really want to do it,” says Karp.
This is the time for you to reconnect with WHY you run. Do you run to stay healthy for you and your family? Do you want to reveal your potential? Does it make you feel good inside and out? Does it make you more productive?
Think about your reasons and write them down.
Then think about WHY you don’t want to run. Is it because you hate running in the cold? Do you hate running in the dark? Do you feel lonely? Do you feel burnout? Do you feel tired?
Write down these answers and come up with an action plan. If you hate running in the cold, think of ways to not be cold when you run. Buy better clothes. Run at different times. Warm-up indoors, for example.
When you have your WILL then you will find your WAY.
Set a goal.
Now that you have your WHY, it’s time to set a goal that connects to your WHY for the winter.
Some people may need an ambitious goal like a spring marathon to get them motivated to run in the cold. Other people may need to take the pressure off and focus on easy running and building their base.
Whatever the goal, set it and don’t forget it.
“(Whether it is) a spring race or to run a certain number of times per week, check the goal off on a calendar,” explains says Chicago-based running coach Amie Dworecki. “This way you aren’t questioning why you are getting up to go run in the cold and dark. You have a purpose.
Related: How to Set Running Goals
Just do it.
Many people psych themselves out before even attempting to run in the cold. Instead of imagining how miserable running in the winter will be, just do it.
Certified running coach Kaila Morgante tells her runners to commit to just 10 minutes. Usually, that’s all they need to get the momentum going.
“With each baby step runners take, they’ll feel more joy and ramp up the training,” she explains.
Because running in the winter is harder than running in warmer temperatures, setting a race goal may be too much pressure. If you find yourself missing or dreading workouts, adjust your goal to staying fit and building your base.
Lots of easy miles will help you run faster later in the year.
And, if you just can’t get past running in the cold, invest in a treadmill. You can find a basic, foldable one for around $500.
Related: Benefits of an Easy Running Pace
Make it social.
Sometimes having a goal isn’t enough to get you out the door. That’s when it’s time to phone a friend.
Running with a friend will make running in the winter more fun, safer, and hold you accountable.
“Nothing is more motivating than running with a group of friends,” says Heilner. “Misery loves company, right? It’s just so much more fun to run in the dark with friends.”
Related: 3 Surefire Ways to Become a Runner
I would never make my 5 a.m. track workouts if I wasn’t meeting a group to make it fun and hold me accountable. Plus, as moms, social time is sparse. This way you kill two self-care birds with one stone—you get to hang out with friends and exercise.
Karp adds that surrounding yourself with people with similar who support you is a wonderful way to keep you motivated.
Change things ups.
According to sport and performance psychologist Haley Perlus, variety is a powerful way to spur motivation.
“If you take advantage of some variety, your mind and emotions will (become ready to run),” she says.
Variety can come in the form of cross-training, different kinds of runs varying from easy to hard, different locations, different people, listening to running podcasts rather than music. You can also try to vary the time of day you run.
Try to squeeze in a run at lunch rather than early morning. Or, if you can, have your run overlap with a sun set or sunrise.
“Few things are more motivating than getting to see the sunrise,” notes run coach Meredith O’Brien. I have to agree.
A huge reason why people don’t like running in the cold is because it can be pretty unpleasant. And, as noted, it can be difficult to get warm when your blood flow is restricted.
So, take time to warm-up indoors before you hit the pavement. Do dynamic stretching, mobility, and drills in your home. Get that core temperature up.
Here is a general warm-up routine for runners:
- 8-10 leg swings, front to back (per leg)
- 8-10 leg swings, side to side (per leg)
- 10 arm swings
- 10 walking lunges (per leg)
- 10 lateral lunges (per leg)
- 10 air squats
- 10 bridges
- 5 bird dogs (per leg)
- 5 hip circles (per leg forward and backward)
Related: 8 Running Drills to Make You Faster
Dress the part.
Dressing for running in cold weather is crucial for successful winter running. So, make sure you layer appropriately and wear the right material. Get your clothes out the night before, prep the coffee. Some people even sleep in their clothes to make it easier to get up and going.
The standard advice is to dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer than it is since your body temperature will rise as you move. Personally, I like to wear an extra layer and shed it after I warm up—and pick it up on the way home.
Here are some general guidelines for dressing for running in cold weather:
- Wear a warm hat, mittens, and longer wool socks.
- Wear a buff or scarf around your mouth in frigid temperatures.
- Wear a base layer that is NOT cotton but a technical blend that wicks sweat.
- Layer over that with another sweat-wicking heavier shirt or vest. If it is windy, wear something nylon to break the wind.
- Wear tights. If it is really cold, look for tights with fleece lining or layer over the tights with a heavier pant.
- If you’re running in the dark, wear something reflective or with lights.
Remember how good you’ll feel.
Honestly, what gets me out of bed and motivated to run in the winter is when I flashforward to how I will feel if I DON’T RUN versus how I will feel if I DO.
I do a cost/benefit analysis when that alarm goes off. If I don’t run, I will feel bad about myself all day. I will feel even more unmotivated. And, I will looking for opportunities to try to go later in the day (which is likely impossible) and regretting that I didn’t get my butt out of bed.
If I do go, I will be proud of myself. I will feel great and be more productive. If I am tired, there is a better chance of me being able to lay down for 20 minutes later in the day to recharge than there is to find an hour or so to run.
The odds are always in favor of running. So when you lack motivation to run in the cold and dark—think of how good you will feel when you talk yourself into going. And then GO.
If you need help towards your running goals this winter, check out my coaching services. I will get you out the door!