Sunday, November 24, 2013

Winter Running:101 (my version)

The mercury has been on a steady nose-dive recently, and my running doesn't stop for anything (well, unless I'm side-lined while in recovery from a running-related injury......but that's another blog for another time).  So, what happens when the temps plummet down to single digits and your body (and mental well being) are craving a run?  Sure, you can fire up the treadmill (some runners have been known to use this strategy), but I much prefer the great outdoors.

The great outdoors do turn a bit chilly this time of year, so here's some of my tried and true winter running survival tips.  These require a slight change of wardrobe, flexibility in scheduling the runs, and a little bit of creative finesse doesn't hurt.

Let's start from the head and work our way downward. Your head will need protection from the cold. I prefer a fleece headband, but any kind of cold weather head covering will work.  Keep in mind, even though it's cold outside, your head will still be sweating so you should wear something that has moisture-wicking construction.  I used to always put the headband under my hair, but last winter I started wearing it over my hair and felt like that kept me warmer because it kept my hair against my neck.  If you don't like the feel of your hair mashed against your neck, you can put the headband under your hairline.  Your lips will benefit from a layer of lip balm, and your cheeks may appreciate a thin coat of petroleum jelly or (my favorite) Aquaphor to shield them from the wind.  A tip for you ladies with long hair...if you put your hair in a braid(s) instead of a ponytail, you'll have less "bouncing and swaying," and it will be much less likely to get stuck in the aforementioned stuff on your face.

If you're running during the daylight hours, I strongly recommend you wear sun glasses.  The sun may be lower in the sky, but it reflects off the white snow with an almost-blinding brightness.  The cold air makes my sensitive eyes water like crazy, so having a little shield from the wind helps them water a tiny bit less.  Sunglasses also make you look like a hard-core running maniac (just saying).  

Don't forget your neck!  I'm not a turtle-neck fan, so I usually have a scarf wrapped around my neck.  This can also be pulled up over your mouth and nose if it's really windy or cold to help "filter" the cold air as you're breathing. Another option is to wear a cowl, which is like a "short" infinity scarf (or a turtle-neck minus the shirt).  Or, you could wear a turtle neck if you're a traditional kind of person.

Almost always, I wear a fitted tank top as my first layer and a fitted, flannel-lined long-sleeved tech top as my next layer.  The "fitted" fit is key for me because it keeps the warmth right next to my body.  If you prefer a not-so-fitted-fit, keep in mind you will feel some cool air circulating around your body if you go with more  loosely-fitted clothing.  If it's real cold (we're talking below 30 degrees or colder), I will wear an additional long-sleeved top over the fitted top.

There are plenty of choices when it comes to outerwear, but I prefer a puffer vest instead of a jacket.  A jacket may keep more of the warmth inside, but the sleeves feel too constraining for me.  Also, I'm tall---translation: I have long arms, and most sleeves don't make it all the way to my wrists anyways.  Since the thickness of the shirt sleeves is much thinner than a jacket, I'm able to keep them tucked under the edge of my gloves with success. I adore the long-sleeved shirts with thumb holes, too!  I'm also an avid knitter (ever since childhood...probably (yet) another blog for another time), so I have made a couple pairs of knitted arm warmers that I slip over my sleeves if I need just a bit more warmth on my arms. That's just my personal preference, do what works best for you.

Gloves or mittens? In general, mittens will be warmer than gloves, it goes back to the scientific (or is it  a mathematical?) principal of surface area.  Gloves have more surface area, therefore, their surface is exposed to more cold air than that of mittens.  This is not meant to be a lesson in science (or math), so let me just say that after the first 10 minutes or so you probably won't notice much of a difference between them.  I sometimes layer a thick pair of mittens over my gloves, then remove them after the first mile or so.  I also have a vast collection of knitted wrist warmers (some that actually match my knitted arm warmers), and I sometimes layer those over my gloves (and remove when they're no longer needed). Lots of options, and the possibilities are endless.


One of the absolute greatest inventions I have come across in my seven years of cold weather running--running tights.  I simply cannot believe how warm they are, and how thin, non-bulky, and comfortable. There are numerous options with tights, too.  Some are flannel-lined, some are not.  Most come in black, but many companies are now making them in other colors or with patterns or striping.  Usually one pair is sufficient, but if there are sub-freezing temps happening, I sometimes layer a second pair of tights over the first layer. I always wear a skirt or shorts over tights, though.  I treat them as "tights," not pants. Capri tights are an exception for me... I treat them as long shorts, therefore they don't require a skirt or shorts (that's my logic).

If you're not comfortable in tights, you have the option of pants or leggings.  It really is a matter of preference with these as well.  Personally, I don't like the bulkiness of pants, they seem "heavy and baggy" to me, thus they give me the impression they'll have too much wind resistance and not allow me to run as freely or as fast (that's what I have told myself anyways).

Last, we have the feet to keep warm.  I strongly recommend wool socks.  They will keep the feet much warmer than cotton, and they will wick the moisture away from the skin of your feet.  Yes, despite the cold temps, your feet will sweat.  (here's a warm weather can wear your wool socks in the summer!  They are great for moisture-wicking, crucial in preventing blisters or icky toe nails)


What about shoes?  I live in Iowa, so there is plentiful snow and cold temps for several months.  I just use my regular running shoes, but am cautious of slick surfaces.  I don't usually have problems with my feet getting wet because the temps are cold enough that the snow doesn't melt (and I'm wearing wool socks, so it wouldn't be much of a problem if some snow got inside my shoes).  I have heard of using duct tape on the outside of your shoes (over the mesh), but have not yet tried to do so.  I have also heard of runners putting tiny screws into the soles of their shoes (for gripping), but have not tried that either.  I do not own trail shoes, but I have heard they are a great option for added traction.

Most (non-running) people think I'm crazy for braving the chilly temps and running outside when I have a treadmill inside my warm, heated house.  What they don't know (unless they have been naive enough to ever ask me about my running endeavors) is that I spent my entire first year as a runner on my treadmill.  In the cold winter, and hot summer.  Once I ventured outside, I simply could NOT get back on the 'mill.  Even when the temps seem to blow through every layer of clothing, and my toes feel like they are on the verge of breaking off, and my eyes have a steady stream of cold tears.....I am in awe of the beauty of the outdoors.  The sunshine reflecting off the snow  looks like glistening diamonds.....I guarantee you will not see that over the control panel of a treadmill. (And the air outside smells much nicer than that inside a gym)


  1. all great tips! I'm like you, I would rather brave the cold than hit the dreaded treadmill!

    1. agreed! I'm currently streaking, and have done all of the daily "streak runs"outside. I have done a few "bonus" miles on the 'mill later in the evening on a few of the really cold days, but the outdoor miles are my favorite!

  2. Thanks for the tips! I have a vest, but never thought about wearing it to run...duh! I also ordered a 2pack of balaclavas from Amazon, we have to do all we can do, it gets so cold in Iowa!