First off, what constitutes “cold” weather running for one person may be “comfortable” for another or “no way in $#*& am I going out in that” for another. For the purposes of this post, we are going to be talking about running in conditions at or below freezing, or 32* F. Some of our Southern readers may never need this information, but for you, 45* might seems freezing, so feel free to adapt this information to your particular needs and comfort level.
When the temperature begins to drop, there are a few basic guidelines that can apply to everyone. Keep in mind; you will most likely not need to wear as much as you think you will. If you are working even a little bit, your body temperature will rise very quickly while you are out running, often within the first half mile. I’ve had many runs where I’ve overdressed and within 10 minutes I have a jacket tied around my waist and my mittens tucked in my pants. Don’t overcompensate.
1. Dress in layers. Oftentimes, you will warm up considerably during the course of your run and being able to remove the top layer or at least unzip it can go a long way to increasing your comfort. The bottom layer should always be a wicking material to help pull sweat away from your body. Also, several thin layers can help trap warmer air better than if you wore one thick layer.
2. As I mentioned in the first point, wearing appropriate fabrics is also important. On the bottom, wicking material to pull moisture away from your body. Wool is another great choice because it will keep you warm but also has the ability to breathe. If it is windy, a top layer that blocks the wind can also be invaluable. That protective top shell can mean all the difference. Avoid cotton like the plague. It has very poor insulating properties and once it gets wet it will get heavy and only make you colder.
3. If you are a guy – protect the front with tights that contain some built-in wind resistance. For women, it’s usually our backsides that get colder. I have a running skirt that I hate wearing by itself because the shorts ride up but over a pair of tights it is perfect for keeping my bum warmer.
4. Cover as much exposed skin as possible. Hat, mittens or gloves (or a jacket with finger “garages”), face/neck gator if it’s very cold and windy. Personally, I can’t stand anything over my mouth when I run so I usually wear a buff around my neck. I can pull it up and cover my nose and mouth for a minute or two and then pull it back down when it starts to bother me.
5. If you can afford them, get a pair of trail shoes for winter running. They have better traction and often contain uppers which are designed to keep out water and cold. You won’t slip and your feet will stay nice and dry. If you must wear your usual running shoes, invest in a pair of YakTrax or screw an old pair of shoes (search YouTube for demos). Wear wool running socks or double up on your regular socks.
6. Practice safety – in the winter it gets dark much earlier, so even if it’s light out when you leave it might not be when you are getting back. Wear a reflective vest and bring a headlamp with you. Make sure you are wearing identification and if there are big piles of snow use caution when turning corners or entering intersections. The drivers won’t see you coming and if it’s slippery their stopping ability may be affected.
The Runner’s World website has a great “What to Wear” calculator for all conditions. You put in your gender, the temperature, wind, etc. and it will give you a very detailed list of what you should wear when you head outside. This is very useful both in the winter and again in the summer when the temperature and humidity rises. As an example, for a female going on a run during the day when it is 30* with light wind (much like that picture from my deck), they suggested the following: a winter cap, light jacket, long sleeve tech shirt, sports bra (DUH), gloves, tights and running shoes. From personal experience, I would say this is pretty accurate except for the gloves. My hands get super warm and I just tuck them into my sleeves.
Winter running really IS possible. You just need to plan for it. Keep in mind that you still need to stay hydrated and don’t worry about that burning sensation in your lungs. It will go away. Be persistent and after a few cold weather runs your respiratory system will figure it out.