Running in the Cold – Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I explained a variety of factors that impact how the human body reacts to cold. Today I want to go over the clothing and accessories that can help you conquer the cold.

How to dress for success on your cold weather runs

Many… OK, most people dread the onset of winter; runners especially. I believe this is due to an unreasonable view of cold weather as the enemy – a force that is trying to stop you from running. I’ll admit to harboring that view myself for much of my adult life. With some running wardrobe additions and willingness to ignore curious looks from those who see me out on the road, I’ve come to embrace and enjoy my winter runs.

Everyone’s heating system is, to some degree, unique. So some experimenting is necessary in order to achieve the best results. But it shouldn’t be hard for you to reach the point that you can easily select the best outfit for any cold-weather conditions. The rules and suggestions that follow give you a guide for doing that experimenting.

The most important rule is one that is known universally (or at least throughout the running community) – LAYERS. You never want to go for a thicker or heavier single layer in place of adding additional, thin layers. But wearing layers isn’t as simple as throwing on a bunch of t-shirts. What follows are my recommendations for your upper body layers.

The first layer should be the best “tech”, moisture-wicking, short sleeve t-shirt that you have. If you have one that is tight-fitting but comfortable, that is even better. Subsequent layers depend, of course, on the temperature and wind conditions. For me, that tech t-shirt and my Under Armour Cold Gear top (the blue top in the picture above) are enough for non-windy temps down to about 30 deg F. If it is windy, I have two long sleeve, microfiber Under Armour Cold Gear compression tops that I wear instead of the t-shirt. The lighter weight top I use for windy temps, or non-windy down to 25 degF. The heavier one is good down to about 0-10 degF. A fleece top is also a good option, since fleece also wicks moisture away. The blue top is always my last layer.

If you don’t have Cold Gear or comparable clothing, you can do what I did today, when it was -21 degrees at the start of my run. My 1st layer was the short sleeve tech shirt I got at the Colorado Marathon; 2nd was my Boston Adidas long sleeve; 3rd was a medium-weight long sleeve cotton t-shirt (Which I would have skipped if it was above O degrees ; and finally, my blue Under Armour top. Any warm jacket that helps cut the wind and has a zipper that allows you to control venting would work. It wasn’t windy this morning, or I probably would have added an additional layer.

All of the above is also dependent on another very important factor: how hard you intend to work, and for how long. If you are going out for a quick, hard, 3-5 mile tempo run, you would wear less than if you were going for a long, slow recovery run. For a very long, hard run, you need to be especially careful that you have layers that can be adjusted somewhat to changing conditions and the fact that you will likely tire at the end of the run. The last thing you want to do is get hot and sweaty early, and then tire, slow down, and get very cold later in the run.

Layering is something people don’t often apply to their heads. But they should, since successful heat management is primarily accomplished through the head and neck. I have a thin balaclava that covers my entire head, except for my face. When it is windy and/or colder, I’ll add a stocking cap on top of that. I can remove it if I start to get hot, but my ears are still protected. I occasionally wear a pair of 180’s ear muffs, either instead of, or with the above. My lungs don’t deal well with very cold air, so when it is 20 degrees or colder, I add a Seirus face mask that covers my mouth and nose. It has tiny holes that allow me to breathe easily, but it lets the air warm a little before I breathe it in. Today, on top of that, I wore a neck gaiter that I had pulled up just below my eyes. I finished the run a little warm at the back of my neck, but my lungs felt great, they were not bothered at all by the cold.

The hands are a problem area for me. At -21 today, I had a pair of thin cotton gloves, with a pair of insulated mittens on top. It wasn’t really enough and my hands were cold for most of the run. I plan on getting a pair of insulated glove liners and then a better, bigger pair of mittens. I managed today by trying to keep my fingers moving during the run.

On the other hand, my feet were fine with just a pair of running socks. They weren’t even that thick. My toes were cold, but it didn’t really bother me. I have thicker socks that I could have worn, but I’m glad I didn’t.

Your legs are the part of your body that should be the easiest to manage. If you will be running fast, tights are probably all you need for almost any conditions. All I wore today were medium-weight, cold weather tights and they were perfect. If it had been very windy, I would have put a pair of wind-pants on top. One strong piece of advice for men… pull at least your first layer of shirt down and tuck it under your… privates. That is one part of your body that is surprisingly susceptible to frostbite if not properly protected. Did you ever have your hands get very cold? Remember how painful it was as they thawed out? That should be warning enough.

Another important part of cold weather running is lip balm. I use it a lot, even on my nose. Moisturizing lotion like Aquaphor is also good for your hands and face… and your feet.

As I mentioned, my run today started in minus 21 degree temps. There was a light wind (3-5 mph). When I finished, it was a sunny minus 10. I was out for over an hour and a half and ran 10.6 miles. During the entire run I was comfortable, except for my hands being a little cold. I even got a little warm as I worked harder the last mile, knowing that it wouldn’t matter if I got a little sweaty at that point.

It was an enjoyable run. Tomorrow’s post will cover why winter running can be fun, what you miss when you are stuck on a treadmill, and how you can learn to embrace your inner polar bear.


Filed under Running

5 responses to “Running in the Cold – Part 2

  1. I enjoy reading your blogs. Being in Canada I can appreciate running in the cold. Keep up the good work.

  2. Nancy

    Good information. Thanks!

  3. Jim

    Great write-up Mike. I really must be a strange one, running in the minus 25F to minus 35F temps in Mongolia. Like today (-19F) I wore a long-sleeve tech-T and Marmot PreCip jacket. The jacket has enough zippered vents that I don’t build up any moisture but it seems to hold in the heat well. Like you, my hands are always cold despite my choice of gloves. I wear a neck gaiter with a pollution mask insert (home-made). And like you, for some reason my feet don’t get cold, even with only a think coolmax sock on. Just wish it wasn’t so dark when I run. SMILE See ya’ out there someday….

    • Hey, Jim! I didn’t know you had a blog. It sounds like you’re a person with a lot of adventures to talk about. It sure must be different running in Mongolia. I don’t know that I’ll be running into you any time soon, but at least we can share severe weather stories. I’m going to add your blog to my links page.

  4. Pingback: Running in the Cold – Part 3 | Michael Selmer

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