I don’t know about where you are, but here in my part of the country, winter has struck again with a vengeance. Running yesterday in a windchill of minus 22 was unfortunate after having a few weeks of just below zero or warmer. I’m over it. Truth be told, I actually love running in the winter weather in the crisp, cold air and feeling that sharp intake of breath into my lungs as it fills them up with this fresh oxygen. I get a few crazy looks from passengers of frosty cars whizzing by as I run along all bundled up, white frost forming on my balaclava from my breath hitting the cold air, but I love every minute of it. So satisfying. After several years of 3 – 4 months of running day in and day out in temperatures below minus ten I like to think I have a few things figured out when it comes to dressing appropriately. And a lot of awesome winter runs as a result!
So I hear you are going running in the winter . . .
Don’t wear cotton
Don’t wear a layer for every degree below zero.
Don’t wear anything non-moisture wicking (see above)
Don’t wear cotton
The reason you end up cold when running in the winter is because the moisture from your sweat builds up underneath all your layers and if there is no means of removing it from your skin, it will start to get cold! Therefore, wearing more isn’t necessarily better – first you need something to wick away the moisture so it doesn’t sit against your skin. Hence cotton (or anything else non-moisture wicking) is a BAD CALL! Aside from materials purchased which say “moisture wicking,” fleece and wool are also good materials to wear in cold weather. After that, it’s all about the layers. As Shrek would say “You’re so wrapped up in layers onion boy!”
Layer 1: Moisture-Wicking Base Layer – This layer should fit tight to your skin. It will be the first line of defense in removing the sweat from your body before it gets cold and makes you colder.
Layer 2: Warm Zip Tee/Thick Running Top – Here you want something heavier and warmer than a base layer such as a zip tee, or heavy running long sleeve top. Still moisture wicking of course. If it is extremely cold, you may need to sport two of these!
Layer 3: Wind Resistant Jacket – If you can have something to somewhat break the wind you will stay warmer for much longer. The classic Running Room reflective jacket is probably the example of this you are most familiar with but there are tonnes of options out there so don’t be afraid to search around and find the one that suits you best. It should be big enough to fit two or three layers underneath.
This is where things get a little more subjective. I tend to only like to run in tights, so if its very cold, I either wear my thick fleece lined ones, or I wear my wool base layer ones and then a second pair of my regular ones. Other options would be to wear tights and then a second layer of athletic pants, or tights and then a pair of wind proof pants. Remember: The tights on the bottom (and preferably the top) still need to be moisture wicking. Must be moisture wicking!
Tuque – Always! And its an easy thing to remove that will cool you quickly if you get too hot.
Mittens – they are warmer than gloves, although somewhat inconvenient when it comes to adjusting iPods/retying sneakers/unzipping layers etc.
Balaclava/neck-warmer – I only whip out my cute-all-face-encompassing-complete-with-breathing-hole balaclava when it dips below -25 or so. A neck warmer however is key for keeping the wind from blowing down your neck/shirt. It makes a huge difference!
Remember that this is a series of guidelines based on what I have found to work well for me. The most important thing is to find what works best for you. If you go out one day and are cold, add a layer. Too hot? Remove a layer. A general rule of thumb is that you should be chilly when you leave the house on your run as you can harness the body heat you generate to warm you up. If nothing else, it encourages you to run faster to generate more heat! Feel free to post any questions you have and I am happy to help you layer up!