I know so many others have written about this topic lately, why do we need yet another running in cold weather post in the blogosphere?
You never know when you say something in a slightly different way, that somebody remembers the next time they go outside for their winter run.
Here are my rules and ideas on how to wear clothing during the winter, to make yourself more comfortable and may a little safer.
My Six Rules of Winter Running
First rule – of winter running – NO COTTON! Save cotton clothes for lounging around the house after you get done running in front of the fireplace. That means no cotton socks, briefs, t-shirts, etc., they rob you of your body heat once you start sweating and they get wet. This means you will get colder faster.
Second rule – Slow down, if the weather is crappy, don’t try for a PR and land on your heinie or get yourself injured because you were going too fast for the conditions. Tendons and muscles are not nearly as elastic in cold weather and sooner or later you will slip, slide and go boom, which could result in an injury and time away from running.
Third rule – Be seen! Dress in bright colors that contrast with the environment you are running in. Wear reflective gear, if you are running in dawn, dusk or dark conditions and carry a flashlight/headlamp.
Fourth rule – Bring your cell phone if you have one. Getting rescued is a lot easier this way.
Fifth rule – Use shorter courses and do more laps. Hell yes it is a lot more boring to do laps, but if the weather is nasty, suddenly gets worse or it is really cold, it is better to be safe and only have a short distance to get back home than it is to be a long ways away and take a chance on something bad happening. Also you are more likely to have injuries in the winter – slipping, falling, getting splashed by cars, feet getting wet, etc., so think about shorter courses and more laps, until the weather improves.
Sixth rule – Cars/Trucks Win. Even if you have the right of way, being dead is not worth being right. As we know in bad weather, vehicles respond differently than they do on bright sunny days on dry pavement. Metal wins when it impacts flesh and bones. Your heirs will not appreciate the doctor bills or the funeral costs. Even if you do survive the impact, you won’t be running for a while. Remember this when you are running in the winter, even if you have the right of way, yield it for your own safety.
Shoes – Something with a good tread, if you have a pair of trail shoes that are not too worn they will work great. I have had my best luck running in winter using aggressive tread trail shoes, you never know what kind of weather you will run into and for me they do the trick. I have used regular running shoes during winter runs and landed on my ass far too often, which hurts both your ass and your ego, when you look around to see if anyone saw you fall.
The second thing if the conditions are really slick and you still feel the need to be out running wear something like YakTrax (or whatever you find that you like). I like the YakTrax because they are light and only slightly interfere with your stride and can be put on or taken off quickly when you need to. Warning if you are wearing these you need to slow down and be very careful when you hit bare tar or loose gravel. Also they tend to wear out after one season of use, but they are a good investment if you need to run no matter what.
Feet – Use a synthetic sock or wool blend. Personally once it gets colder, I use Merino Wool Socks, yes they are a little thicker than your regular running socks, but a good example was today while running in a Nor’Easter, my feet were not cold at all. Yes that means you can’t have tight shoes or the 5 finger ones that are becoming so popular, but in winter I have a feeling that I want my toes together for maximum warmth. I don’t know about you, but if my feet are cold, it is no fun running.
Below the Waist – After a while you just shouldn’t wear shorts, your legs will thank you and you will be injured less. Good old fashioned lined wind pants are not sexy, flap in the breeze and work well to keep you warm. Yes you can wear synthetic running skin tights or looser fitting winter running pants that have a layer of windstopper material (my personal preference), I have had several pair and found they work just fine. You just have to think about how cold it will be and how much of a fashion plate you need to be while running.
But if you are like me and chafe your inner thighs too easily, you either have to grease up between those babies, wear compression shorts or clean out the blood that will drip from excess chafing and not be able to run for a week or so. Personally I go with the compression shorts for three reasons 1) it prevents chafing, 2) it is an extra barrier to keep your junk away from the cold and wind, 3) a lot less messy – have you ever sat down on something after greasing up your legs to run – yechhh.
Are you a guy and have you ever just worn a pair of shorts or tights and got caught out on a cold, windy day? That external plumbing can get pretty cold. Unfortunately, it is not a pleasant experience, during the re-warming phase even with your favorite partner helping to warm things back up.
If you don’t have the chafing problem and just need underwear (not worried about a panty lines on your running tights), guys ensure that they have a wind panel in the front to protect the family jewels, you will be glad that you did. If you need an emergency windstopper panel a baggie does a great job and they come in different sizes all the way up to gallon bags to protect those who think they have that much junk and need more much protection from the cold.
Upper Body – Dress in layers using synthetic materials. Personally I use a skin-tight base layer without any sleeves – hey no one can see the unsightly bulges of fat underneath everything else, I want to ensure that this layer wicks away moisture to the next layer. Another synthetic or wool blend layer only this time a long sleeve version.
Then dependent upon how cold it is I add a synthetic fleece vest and a windproof shell. I have had good luck with my GoreTex shells and like how they breath fairly well while I am running so that I don’t get sweaty and become a puddle under the shell.
Head – There is a lot of personal choice here and many people run without much of anything to help cool themselves down. Most of the time I run with a head band to cover my ears, with my Brooks Hi-Vis ball cap.
Also wearing a ball cap/head band combo makes it easy to vent excess heat quickly if you begin to overheat – just stuff the ball cap in your pants (also works as additional wind stop for “junk” protection – the hat will wash). If it is really cold I will run with a face mask of some sort.
Hands – Usually have a pair of fleece gloves to run in and when it gets colder a mitten shell to go over the top of the gloves. I guess you could just wear the shell and add the gloves when it gets colder, but for me the other way works fine. If my fingers get cold while wearing the gloves, I take my fingers out of the finger holes and curl them up in the palm area.
Layering and having proper protection from the wind are the most important things to do while running in the winter, you can take off a layer or two if you are too warm and then when you cool off a little put it back on.
The biggest problem I have with running in the cold weather is that I wear glasses and they do fog up. I haven’t found any of the anti-fogging stuff that actually works for me and I no longer wear contacts. So a ball cap of some type is standard for just about all of my running, year round. The hat helps keep rain, snow off them and combats bright sunlight when I forget my sunglass clips. And no going without glasses is not a real good choice, I enjoy seeing what is going to hit me.
The reality is that
those are my rules and tips for running in the Winter – I try to follow them, but usually forget the cell phone and once in a while will wear a cotton t-shirt and really regret it when it gets soaked and I get friggin cold while running – I do that one at least a couple of times during the winter running season.
No – none of these rules apply if you are running on a treadmill in a 70 degree room.
Where did I dream up all this stuff?
- I have read a lot of books, magazines and yes blogs that give a lot of helpful insight into winter running
- I have been running for a long time (40+ years) and have made most of the mistakes that you can make while running during the winter. During this time I was extremely lucky on more than a couple of occasions that I wasn’t seriously injured or worse.
Running outside in the Winter is not that bad once you are outside, getting out the door is usually the biggest hurdle, so as they say have fun and do it. However, there are days that it is better to just take a rest day and stay inside where it is warm, so use your common sense and be safe.
Do you have any additional rules or ideas for running during the winter that I missed or you believe should have been included?