Winter Weather Running
Winter weather running can be a challenge. Most of us do not give up when the weather turns cold. Some move inside to the treadmill, but most take on the challenge of winter weather running like any other running challenge.
When conditions are mild going out for a run doesn’t require much forethought. You can put on your favorite clothes, lace up your shoes and off you go. In New England, July and August tend to be the hottest months with the highest humidity and poorest air quality. In these conditions hydration and sun screen are important. Sometimes you need to run early or late in the day to avoid the worse conditions.
In the winter we have the other extreme to deal with. In New England it is January and February when the mercury plunges and the wind picks up. Normal running clothes are not even comfortable in the house, let alone out in the elements.
My hard learned lesson
I had my first lesson on cold weather running on October 18th, 2009 when I ran The Bay State Marathon in Lowell, MA.
The average temperature on race day is 50°, which is great for running. Unfortunately October 18th 2009 was a below average day temperature wise. When the race started it may have been 40°, but conditions deteriorated throughout the race.
Eventually it started to drizzle and temps dipped into the low thirties. On the way home as the temperature continued to fall, the drizzle turned to snow! The temperature had hovered just above freezing during the race.
I had never run a cold weather race before and had not planned for these conditions. I ran in nylon running shorts, Boston Marathon running hat, an Under Armour long sleeve shirt with a singlet over that.
I bought the Under Armor shirt to run The Boston Marathon earlier that year when it was in the 50’s. I may have had cotton running gloves on.
If you’ve ever run a marathon you know that the last 6 miles are the toughest. The last six miles of this race were among the toughest six I’ve ever run. Not only was my body depleted and running on GU packs but I was fighting 30 something temperatures, a light head wind and drizzle.
I wasn’t cold, I was frozen. Late in the race my legs felt like there was an inner and outer layer of muscle. The inner layer was burning through calories to get us to the end of the race. The outer two inches of muscle were numb. When I touched my leg it felt like the outer layer moved against the inner layer. It was like a coat moving against a sweater underneath.
That race was a wake-up call for me. Soon after that race I bought compression shorts and a full wind proof running suit. Over the years I’ve added tights, gloves and hats. I’ve also learned how to layer.
Still learning after all these years
At the Derry 16 Miler in January, I knew it was going to be cold so I used all of my hard learned knowledge and bundled up. I wore compression shorts, running tights and wind proof pants. On top I wore an Under Armour long sleeve shirt, Hartford Marathon shirt, my running vest and the wind proof running jacket.
On my head I wore the new running hat my daughter gave me for Christmas.
For my hands I used a trick I learned at the Ready Set 1st Run 10K on January 1st. I wore my Under Armour gloves as a first layer and then put the gloves the race gave us on top. The race gloves had some stretch to them so they fit tightly over the Under Armour gloves. In some race photos my pinkies are out straight and my other fingers are bent close to keep warm. Between the cold and the thickness of the gloves I just couldn’t bend them without conscious effort.
Another trick I learned was to stick a GU between the gloves. They are easy to get to and my body heat keeps them liquid in below freezing temps. It’s amazing how quickly a GU turns into, well goo, in freezing temps.
Winter Weather Running Advice
To run in really cold conditions you should invest in a few key pieces of clothing.
All skin needs to be covered up in the winter. You can either wear tights under running shorts or buy a good quality running suite, preferably wind proof. If you don’t get a complete running suite buy a good running jacket. A cold-weather running jacket can easily run over $200. You should be able to buy a complete running suite for about $100.00. As spring approaches keep an eye out for sales.
Tights can start at $50 and compression shorts start around $20.00. A good quality winter running hat and gloves are also vital. An everyday wool knit cap generally will not work. Wool will keep you warm when it is wet but a wool cap cannot block the wind and is only good when conditions are mildly cold. You can buy a good running hat for about $15 on up, with many available in the $20-25 range. Some come with a built-in head band to keep your ears warm. Mine is like that and it is great. Gloves can be more expensive and range in price from about $20 to over $60. You should be able to find a wide variety of gloves in the $25 range.
You would be surprised at what you can find at Marshall’s or Kohl’s at really great prices. You never know what you will find at Marshall’s or Ocean State Job Lots, so you should drop be occasionally and see what they have.
Layering is Key
Layering is important for all cold weather activities. When the temperature is no more than 30°, two upper-body layers and one lower-body layer are recommended. When you get below 0°, three upper-body layers and two lower body layers are recommended.
You need to take the wind chill factor into account when deciding what to wear. When it is below freezing I often go beyond the number of recommended layers.
It’s not unusual for me to wear an Under Armour shirt, running shirt, running vest and a running jacket. For the lower body I often wear compression shorts, running tights and running pants. I’ve worn two hats before, and as I mentioned above I’ve begun to wear two pairs of gloves. I was wearing all of this at the Derry 16-miler and I could still move and was still cold at times.
Wearing a top with a zipper is very important in my book. If you are cool at the start your race will go well is the general rule of thumb. In extreme temps you may need to over dress to stay warm before the start.
All of this extra clothes can cause over heating later in the race. The ability to un-zip and release some heat is key to staying comfortable and not over heating. In the winter over heating usually leads to de-hydration and not heat stroke.
Dehydration can cause cramping and a loss of energy. Managing your body temperature is a controllable and I advise actively managing this variable.
Oh My budget!
If you have none of these items and are on a budget I would advise you to start with the running suite. You can layer shirts and running shorts underneath them. This will cover all of your skin and these suits will really extend your running season.
You may be able to find a name brand suite on sale at a department store. If you are on a budget you can try wearing a wool cap and see how it goes. If you have fleece gloves you can try those out as well. Avoid leather gloves as your hands will sweat like crazy, even in the cold.
As conditions get colder you will need more of these high-tech clothing items to keep running. Your summer running clothes and every day hats and gloves won’t cut it as we get into the depths of winter.
As I mentioned above, look for sales as winter wears on. Retailers often try to move items well before the season is over and you can get some great deals. I always have running items on my Christmas list and that is how I have gotten a lot of my winter running gear.
Where to buy
Before you buy on-line, check your local running store first. They can give you a lot of good advice and they will have end of season sales also. On-line can be convenient and save you some money but you can’t try anything on, returns are a pain and you want to support your local running store.
Here are some links where you can find good running clothes.
Plan ahead and be safe.
Run safely me friends!