Monday, January 2, 2012

Running in Winter

A while back, I discovered the joys of running through the winter. It kept me focused on my identity as a fact, it strengthened it. There are always runners on the Lakefront Trail in Chicago, regardless of season or time of day. However, in the coldest months, it is a dedicated crew that is out there, always sharing a nod or wave for the other members of the fraternity. There are other benefits to running through the winter. My tolerance for cold increases dramatically. Also, when spring comes, I find that my endurance and speed pick up noticeably.

The key to running through the cold is having the right gear. If you are miserable, there is no way to remain consistent. At the request of a few friends, I have compiled my list:

  1. General - It is critical to layer. Air gets trapped between the layers, and that is what will keep you warm without getting too bulky. You need to have technical wicking layers close to the skin to keep the moisture moving away from your body. The innermost wicking layer must fit close to the skin. It doesn't need to be binding, but it should not be baggy. It is also critical to care for you wicking gear properly. Don't wash with bleach or fabric softeners. Absolutely NEVER use dryer sheets....your clothes will lose their wicking properties.
  2. Tops - Depending on the temperature, I will wear 1-3 layers. The innermost layer will be my wicking layer. I have two different weights for this inner layer, one super light and one medium. Sometimes, all I need is that one layer. If needed, I can put on a second layer which is a fleece. I prefer a wicking fleece, but I know some people use a sweatshirt. Finally, if it is windy, I will put on a windbreaker. I typically use a windbreaker vest, but I have one with sleeves for the bitter cold. The windbreaker holds in all the heat and moisture, so it can make it feel like a sauna! I prefer that my fleece and windbreaker have zippers in front so that I can vent it I start to overheat.
  3. Bottoms - Usually, I have fewer layers on the bottoms. I have some great sweats that are wicking (not tights), and if I can get away with it, I prefer just to throw on the sweats over my running shorts. However, sometimes it is too cold for that. I have wicking running tights that are pretty warm; I will throw a pair of gym shorts over them so that I don't gross anyone out. If it is super cold, I will put my sweats on over the tights. One two occasions, I have even had to throw on a pair of windbreaker pants over the other two layers. I probably shouldn't have been running those days.
  4. Feet - Most of the time, I use my usual wicking running socks. I do have a few pair of heavier socks, also with wicking properties. You can get them at running or hiking stores. I base my choice of shoe on the precipitation. If it is dry and there isn't snow or water on the ground, I wear my usual running shoes. If there is snow, I wear my trail running shoes. Remember to get yourself evaluated for your trail shoe just like your running shoe. I do not recommend running if there is ice. No shoe will give you adequate traction for running on ice.
  5. Hands - It is hard to keep your hands warm, as your body is going to shift your circulation to your core. I wear two layers of gloves. My inner layer has wicking properties. The outer layer is usually fleecy or wool. It is ideal if one of the layers has some windbreaking properties (North Face has some good gloves).
  6. Head - I have a few different headbands which wrap around to cover the ears. They are all wicking, though of different weights. I don't like hats because they make me overheat. If you do prefer hats, make sure they wick. Often fall races give out wicking hats as swag.
I couple of general reminders:

  1. If the weather forecast is for extreme cold or windchill, such that they warn against having any skin exposed, it probably is a good reason not to run outside. Even if you bundle up, it can be damaging to the eyes and lungs.
  2. Asthmatics should be careful, as cold and exercise are both fairly common triggers...even more so when combined.
  3. There are fewer people running in the cold, so help may not be as available if you get injured. Make sure someone knows where you are. Make sure you have ID on you with emergency contact information. Don't run too far away from populated areas.
Happy running!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so very much! Running in Florida vs. Utah has been a challenge. The weather, along with the high altitude, has aggravated my exercise induced asthma. It never bothered me in Florida, but here? I haven't quite figured out what my tolerance is. Hiking was a big eye opener...never really knew what it felt like to not be able to take an adequate breath. Scar-y.