Winter Running Gear
Updated: Feb 1, 2018
Here we are in January, and now that Christmas is over and we have our New Year's resolutions in place, what a crappy month to follow. No more Christmas cheer. Just cold, dreary days ahead for the next couple of months. With that said, I am now on a trek to lose my holiday weight. I have races in mind coming up in the spring that I would like to start training for. To top all of that, it's -10 degrees outside! Okay, so there's the treadmill, which I like to think of as the "dreadmill." In my opinion, there are few things worse than running on a treadmill. Since I despise the treadmill, I still have to run, which means getting out in the bitter cold. In order to do this, I need the right gear and some motivation.
Gear can be tricky when the weather gets extremely cold. Sometimes you feel like putting on about 5 layers to stay warm, but you still need to move enough for it to be considered running. You will need a base layer, something that fits snug up against your skin and is moisture-wicking. My personal fave is Under Armour ColdGear mock neck shirts. I can wear just one of these by itself when the weather isn't too cold, maybe between 40-50 degrees F. These are also great for wearing under a running jacket for added warmth. When the temperatures dropped way lower than I'm okay with (below 20 degrees F), I doubled up on the ColdGear shirts and added a running jacket on top of them. The wind chill was around 5 and I was toasty warm while running, except for my face. My face hurt, which I'm not sure why I live somewhere that makes my face hurt.
Anyway, that brings me onto keeping your face warm. I'm not one to have my face covered while I'm running. I feel like I'm suffocating even though I'm not. There are options, such as gaiters and balaclavas. My husband actually uses his gaiter when it gets this cold, and that works for him. I have found that when I use a gaiter, I do not keep it over my mouth and nose as intended, feeling of suffocation and all. I have noticed that it helps a lot to just keep the gaiter over my chin and at times the bottom of my mouth. That way there is no feeling of air restriction and part of my face is covered up. The rest of my face I just deal with. The balaclava works well for me using it in the same way. It goes around your entire head, and you can cover most of your face except your eyes if desired. You have the option to pull down the bottom to expose your nose and mouth, which is what I choose to do obviously.
The photo below was actually on my wedding day. The husband of my friend, Jackie, on the left, had an injury and couldn't race the half marathon the following morning. My husband was racing it, so I thought, "What the hell. It can be our wedding day race." I then went to Target to pick up some running gear, since I did not come prepared to actually run the race. So this race will forever be "our race," and thank you, Jackie, for sharing it with us.
Now bottoms. This can vary individually. I am normally good with wearing regular running tights when the temps get frigid. I have some that are thicker than others to wear in various conditions. On the days that I mentioned above when the temperatures get below 20 and the wind chill even worse, I have been known to double up on running tights. This will help keep your larger leg muscles, which are doing most of the work, from feeling stiff from the cold. I like the Under Armour ColdGear running tights as well. Also, I found some Xersion running tights at JC Penney's that are thicker and have a layer of fleece on the inside. So cozy! They also have pockets halfway down the thighs on the sides that are perfect for your phone and other items, and you don't even know they're there. And they are about half the price of the Under Armour tights. However, there are some freaks of nature out there (my husband being one) that can run in the winter in shorts until it gets super cold. I will never understand this phenomenon, but to each his own.
Hands and head are two of the most important areas to keep warm. I talked about the balaclava above that is a good option for keeping your head and face warm. I feel the need to give my ears a little extra coverage on the coldest days. I love my thick fleece headbands.
Sometimes my ears don't stay covered well with a hat, so if I put the fleece headband on top or underneath, it helps to keep my ears extra warm. Gloves are tricky sometimes, because if you're like me, once you get running, your hands warm up. I have what I consider to be the perfect gloves for me in the cold weather. They are fleece double-layered Isotoners. These keep my hands nice and toasty, and I pull them out when the temps get below about 35 degrees F. However, I didn't take any chances when it dropped below 20 and went ahead and wore a thin pair of gloves even underneath these, which worked out perfect. There is nothing worse than frozen, numb hands when you're running, and even worse, stinging, numb hands when they are trying to thaw out later. Your hands are the most important area to keep warm, since they are most susceptible to getting frostbite first.
And finally, let's talk about keeping our feet warm while running. If you have any experience with running, you know that cotton socks are just not allowed. I prefer wool in the winter (or any time for that matter) and sometimes acrylic when the weather is not too cold. I have on occasion wore some thick bamboo blend socks in the winter. My go-to for wool socks is Smartwool. I have tried other wool socks, and they do not compare to Smartwool's quality. You will pay a little more for these, but they will last you much longer and are absolutely worth it.
Here are some other things to consider with winter running that has nothing to do with gear. Wind can be a terrible enemy in the frigid temps while running. I try to go routes that may have some wind block, such as trees and hills. Yes, I said hills. Sometimes a cold windchill is worse than running hills. One thing I like to do is go in the direction against the wind on my way out, so I can have a nice second half of my run coming back with a tailwind. This way, I go out as far as I can stand the cold wind, and then just come back. I find it to really suck when I have been running out and feeling good, and then have to come back through the torturous headwind. This is just my preference. You need to find out what works for you.
My final thought on winter running is just don't be a pansy and get out there and run! Actually, run on the treadmill if that's what you would rather do, just as long as you're doing something. And remember, don't reward yourself with a beer and Mexican food just because you earned your bad ass card for the day...like I would.
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I am not a professional; therefore, any information that I provide should not be taken as professional health advice but is my own personal opinion and from my own personal experiences.