How to Maintain Your Running Routine When It's Freezing, According to Olympian Kara Goucher

Kara Goucher pictured in warmer weather. Photo courtesy Kara Goucher.

Two-time Olympian Kara Goucher is used to running in the cold – she grew up in Minnesota and lives in Colorado – so she knows just how much we can dread getting in our miles when the weather is atrocious.

“It’s totally normal. We all feel that way,” Kara insists when we chat on the phone. “I went to visit my mom over last year in Duluth, and it was like negative 20. And for the first 10 minutes [of my run], I was like, ‘Why am I doing this?'”

Of course, nobody makes it to the elite ranks of any sport without pushing through more than a little discomfort, and Kara’s bestselling book Strong: A Runner’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Becoming the Best Version of You is all about overcoming mental and physical barriers in pursuit of your goals. Read on to get her tips for staying mentally and physically on track and preventing your running habits from falling by the wayside in Winter.

1. Get the Right Gear

Kara has some particular – and well-considered – preferences when it comes to getting dressed for her cold-weather runs. “I am definitely a lightweight mitten person. I’m sponsored by Oiselle, and they make really great lightweight mittens that you can swipe across a GPS watch – it’ll sense your fingers,” she says, adding with a laugh: “When it’s cold, little gloves are worthless.” Kara also prefers vests to jackets because they leave her arms free and keep her core warm without making her overheat. For icy and snowy conditions, she also recommends a pair of lightweight Yaktrax cleats ($23) for the bottoms of your shoes.

Related: Stay Warm and Dry! Winter Running Gear Essentials

With Winter’s shorter days ahead, many of us will also be doing more running when the sun has yet to come up or has already gone down. Kara says a headlamp and reflective clothing is important to have on hand if you’re planning to go on an outdoor run at night. One piece of gear to skip when you’re running alone in the dark? Headphones. “If you’re going to run on your own, no music, try to be really alert,” she says. “Just to give yourself that extra layer of safeness, ask a friend to meet you or bring your dog, and just be careful.”

One last unexpected pro tip for those seriously cold runs? “Ever since I was a kid, if it’s below 10 degrees outside, I put Vaseline on my face,” Kara says. “It makes a barrier so you don’t get frostbite.”

2. Warm Up – but Not Too Much

Warming up in chilly weather is vital to prevent injury and help steel yourself for the cold. But don’t overdo it, Kara warns. “You don’t want to bundle up and do something for too long,” she says, “because then you’ll start to sweat and go out and then [you’ll be] cold.” Instead, she recommends doing five to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching, then throwing on your last layer just before you leave the house.

3. Enlist Family and Friends to Cheer You On

Kara says she uses her Apple watch to help prompt a little kindhearted competition – and a lot of encouragement – with her friends and family. “My mom and my sister constantly challenge me,” Kara says. “You can do these seven-day challenges, and they always laugh because they’re like, ‘We’re never going to win, but . . .’ It’s just like another little way to like encourage each other on.”

Kara says using technology can be a great way to encourage fellow runners to stay active when lounging on the couch under a blanket sounds more compelling. “I follow a bunch of my friends, and when they close their rings, it notifies you, and you have the option to say ‘Good job’ or ‘You’re a sucker’ or whatever,” she laughs. “It’s just a way to encourage each other.”

4. Focus on This Run – Not Your Loftiest Running Goal

Kara writes about the importance of goal-setting in her book, but she also encourages tackling those goals in more manageable pieces. So, instead of thinking about how you’re supposed to clock 30 miles this week when the weather forecast promises frigid temperatures today, tomorrow, and for the foreseeable future, just focus on what you want to achieve on this run. “If your ultimate goal is to run a 5K, set smaller goals along the way,” Kara says. “That’s attainable.”

5. Remember Why You Run in the First Place

When outside forces threaten to derail your training, Kara says it’s good to take a step back and reevaluate. “I always just remind myself of the goal that I have, and it doesn’t take very long after I remind myself of that that I think: ‘I need to go and get this done.'”

Kara also recommends getting your run out of the way, right away, as a good course of action. “Of course, it depends on your schedule,” she says. “But I think when you wait on it all day and then you get home, and it’s 5 o’clock, and it’s dark, and it’s still snowing out, the likelihood that you’re going to go out and do it then is probably pretty slim.”

For even more of Kara’s expert advice, visit the Apple Union Square store in San Francisco on Dec. 6. There, she’ll be talking running motivation with Apple’s senior director of fitness for health technologies, Jay Blahnikon.

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