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I remember reading this article  in Runners World that answered the above question by saying never. “Too cold” for running didn’t exist as long as a runner dressed well, planned well AND didn’t stop running outdoors until the runner was back some place warm when they began to cool down.

It was the cool down that would kill a runner, reported the article, if I remember correctly.

Tuesday night I ran hill repeats starting out at 16 degrees, feeling like 5 degrees outside (see image above). I was triple layered and chilly the first mile, but toasty after that.

As a matter of fact, in my three years of spring marathon training I believe I ran once in sub-zero temperatures, with a wind chill of something like 9 below zero. I would honestly say my run in icy conditions was more treacherous than that run.

What’s your threshold for temperatures before you convince yourself to run on the dreadmill?

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Outdoor running: how cold is too cold?

10 thoughts on “Outdoor running: how cold is too cold?

  1. Yesterday it was 8º when I left. Two pairs of gloves. Two pairs of socks. Two pairs of leggings.

    It took about an hour after I got home before I could feel my toes again.

    The coldest air I’ve run in is about -10º. It was pretty miserable, but it’s really difficult to judge here; when it gets that cold, we’re in an inversion, so in addition to the cold, you’re running in smog.

    • Do you run with regular running socks or wool socks, Scott? I went single layer socks last night and it wasn’t too bad, but someone did recommend wool for extreme cold. And thank God we don’t have the smog to go with the cold.

      • I run in single-layer socks. I wear a pair of ankle-socks that are pretty thin, and then over them I wear a relatively thick pair of long, cotton socks.

        As for the smog: IT SUCKS. Right now, we have some of the worst air in the nation. And I can seriously tell you exactly what it’s like: imagine running 10K in the Stonewall on a Friday night.

  2. I am not a runner. I have been known to run a game of hoops outside in 32 degree weather but once that thermometer slips below freezing I’m headed inside. I would suspect the wind is a big factor for runners deciding when enough is enough of the great outdoors. Obviously, having that wind behind you instead of at you is a plus…but I find any substantial wind in temps like we are having now (+7 or so) really make things unbearable in general regardless of whether you have the wind at your back or not. There IS something to the whole “wind chill” deal the weather folks quote so often.

    • Yes, wind is a factor, even if I am running outside. As the article I linked to states, a little wind can really do more harm than just the temps, since it works to cool off a runner’s body faster. And that can most definitely be a bad thing. Sometimes though, I have to admit, 40 degrees can feel too cold when I don’t want to go out and run. :)

  3. 16F is minus 9C – that’s insane, what about the ground, wouldn’t it be icy?
    The coldest I’ve ever run in was 3C or 38F that’s about as cold as it gets here in Australia.

    • Haha. 38f is sort of normal if we are lucky where I am. It’s been highs of 30 the past few days. Very little precip, so no ice and at these temps snow is okay to run on. Pluse there are things like yack tracks you can put on running shoes for traction. My friend Scott who also commented runs in the Rocky Mountain range in the western US. Much colder. And I think he’s crazy. :)

      • Hey hey hey!

        The other day, I was doing a little 5K loop on our trails. It was -4º. I’m running along, and I see this kid wearing a bright white hat running toward me from the other direction. I stepped off the trail to let him pass, and as he did, I realized that he wasn’t wearing a hat: HIS SWEAT WAS FREEZING IN HIS SHORT HAIR AND FREEZING AS IT EVAPORATED.

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