Cold Weather Running

Most people think my blood is pretty thick.  Being born and raised in Minnesota, spending all of my 31-year old life there until recently, it’s pretty common to hear!  But let me tell you, nothing is further from the truth.  My husband will attest to this, I am the biggest freeze-baby.  However, I’m not one to let the cold deter me from most of my activities.  Being from Minnesota doesn’t mean you’re used to the cold, but in my case it does mean I know how to deal with it.

I’ve put together a few tips and tricks and articles of clothing that I have come to find make the experience a little more bearable.  That being said, all the layers in the world won’t help you if you don’t get out of your head (and out of your bed).  With that… tip number one:

STOP THINKING IT’S COLD!  The more you tell yourself it’s cold outside or it’s going to be so cold, the more you’ll convince yourself it is.  I have participated in events with an actual air temperature of about -20F… That’s 20 degree BELOW zero… 52 degrees BELOW FREEZING!!  WHY? Well, because I hate treadmills and I get cabin fever if I sit for more than 10 minutes so I had to.  I have walked, hiked, skied, and ran in some of the worst temperatures.  Seriously, my first 10k was called the “Freeze Your Gizzard Blizzard” run in International Falls, Minnesota and it didn’t disappoint…a place with nicknames such as “the icebox of the nation” and “frostbite falls.” It was cold, but it was a blast!  Get out of bed, layer up and get outside.

Speaking of layers, a lot of people ask how to dress when it’s cold.  My biggest suggestion is trial and error.  I kept a running log for a little over a year where I could note the weather, what I wore, what I ate, how I felt, what worked and what didn’t.  That reference helps so much now going into a training run or a race when I wake up and see the temps and forecast and know exactly how to dress because I’ve practiced it.

For me, there are two types of cold: 30F to mid-teens, and below that.  I’ll start from the head and work my way down…

Head gear: I sweat a lot, so a full hat is not my first go-to unless it’s in that below teens category.  Most of the time I run with ear protection, a headband or earmuffs (yes! ear muffs!).  When the temps dip lower into the single digits or less, I have a few covers that I like and are completely machine-washable.

Eyes: sunglasses bother me unless it’s windy, then I like a the cover.  I usually have them on hand just in case.

Neck: I have some light gator sleeves that I wear for that first level of cold, but if it dips down or it’s very windy, I have a fleece version that I hand-made.  I was having problems finding exactly what I wanted, something that didn’t make me feel confined or choked, but protected me and was warm and washable.  Some people swear by Buffs, I think my fleece gator was less than $4 and about 15 minutes of my time. Totally worth it.

Body: Layers. Layers. Layers.  I have worn an actual jacket one time ever running, otherwise it’s layers.  I start with a tank top as my base layer, though I’m not sure there’s a purpose to it!  A long sleeve, moisture wicking shirt goes over that.  The moisture wicking is important, especially if you sweat as much as I.  The next layer is where the variables kick in… It’s really trial and error.  I have a few great wind-breaker jackets that keep my body heat in and wind or precip out, and I have a few fleeces and pull over that are great for the upper temps (teens-30F).  When it dips much further or below zero, I love puffy vests!

Hands: My favorite gloves are a cheap-oh pair of tech gloves I got from Target years ago.  They have the little finger thing that lets you mostly use your phone if you need to, but they aren’t so nice that if I drop one or lose them, that I’m out $30+.  When it’s really chilly I switch to my fleece line sweater mittens.

Legs: Fleece lined or cold-gear leggings meant for running.  (I say meant for running because no one likes to be hiking up their pants every few hundred feet, especially if you’re out for a longer run!) I have one pair from Target (c9 brand I believe) that I bought years ago, and two pair of Under Armor’s cold-gear running tights.  They’re an investment, they’re not necessarily the least expensive (although I just checked their website and they’re on sale – HURRY! here’s a link)  but they are undoubtedly worth it.

Socks/Feet: Even in the coldest of cold, if my feet start out cold, they don’t stay that way for long, so I don’t really deviate from my norm there.  I do have one pair of SmartWool running socks that I will try to use if they’re clean and available.

Tall Girl Problems?  My husband lovingly calls me Mommy Long Legs now and then, and if you clicked on the UA link for those running tights you’ll notice a 30″ inseam.  I throw a pair of leg warmers on for those colder days, too!

One last tip, until moving to Maryland, my outdoor winter running experience has been through snow and ice, so I had to slow down in the winter months and I had to have grip on my shoes.  I made it through an entire winter running season by screwing hex screws on the bottom of an older pair of shoes.  The little hexagonal head was the perfect traction, and it was a $2 or less solution!  Last year I did break down and got the knock off version of YakTrax.  I never regretted it.

All in all, most of the time it’s in your head so if you can convince yourself with a warm cup of coffee to embrace the icy air, you’ll probably find a lot about winter running that you love!  I know after a week back in Minnesota for the holidays, I certainly miss those snowy jaunts with my dogs!

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