The temperatures for much of the country are plummeting to well below zero over the next few days – even in places in the South that never see such extremely cold temps. And wind chills are expected to be in the -50 to -60 range for us here in Minnesota by Sunday and Monday. The Governor has officially called off school for Monday and even the zoo has now announced it will be closed.
Many of my friends have contacted me over the past week asking how to brave the cold when running when running outside in this cold, cold weather. Many more will probably opt for the treadmill and stay inside where it’s warm. They are probably the smart ones, but for some reason I just cannot run on a treadmill. It makes me feel like a hamster on a wheel and drives me completely crazy. The only way I can feel good is still to battle the cold and just get outside and run.
The coldest temperatures I’ve run in are about -35 actual temps with wind chills in the -60 range. And it was actually fun. Believe me – I would rather run in -40 than +80 any day! I just cannot get naked enough to stay cool running in those hot temperatures. And nobody needs to see me run in the nude.
I mean sure people driving by think you’ve lost your mind and if you step into a gas station the attendant might drop to the ground because you look like a robber in all of your scary gear – but it’s worth the risk.
But running in very sub-zero temperatures is very possible, easy, warm and downright fun if you do it correctly and safely! I’ve been doing it now for over 20 years, so either I like it or my brain is permanently frozen.
The most important thing you can do is have the right gear for the cold. I am NOT a gear-junkie – in fact much of my cold weather running clothing is pushing 20 years old. See that’s the thing – there is an investment for good, warm, quality gear – but it’s not like you are going to replace it every year – unless you have an obsessive personality and need to look good and have the latest and greatest gear. I run at 5am – so I don’t care what I look like. And during the coldest days I’d rather not wear my light performance running gloves – instead I’d rather trade them in for my husband’s beat-up choppers and trade fashion for warmth!
When gearing up before your run – and remember it might take you awhile to get geared up – because LAYERS – it’s best to remember the importance of ‘W’s’ when layering….
-Wind and/or wet
Wicking – You need to keep your body dry and core warm and make sure all moisture is wicked away from your skin. So a thin long-underwear type layer is essential. And it cannot be the old cotton long-undies of your grandpa’s. No red union suits here people. Get some good performance wicking stuff. I like a light under-layer – so I LOVE the Capilene series from Patagonia and prefer the silkweight. However – they also have midweight and expedition weight base layers for you to choose from. I cannot brag about Patagonia’s base layers enough. (And yes ladies of course you still have your jog bra under your wicking layer. I love mine from Brooks.)
Warmth – Over your wicking layer you need something warm – so get a good fleece. I have 3 different fleeces based upon the temperature outside. I admit that my fleece tops and bottoms are also pretty old. You can find amazing fleece leggings that I wear for fashion also when the temps dip low. Again – I love the fleece selection from Patagonia as they make a fleece for all weather and temps. (If the temps fall below -20 I also add another layer between my wicking and fleece).
Wind – You need an outer layer to stop the wind and keep you dry in case of snow. This layer is critical but I typically don’t find I need this layer until the temps have reached down to 10 above or if the snow or rain is heavy. I have this one from Brooks and love it. It’s breathable, wind and water resistant and has reflective attributes also. I also have wind-proof pants and I LOVE my Swix pants that I bought in 1998(gulp) as I can use them for both running and cross-country skiing. In fact I use a lot of my skiing and/or running gear interchangeably which makes any investment in winter running gear totally worth it! OR just grab and wear a large heavy-duty garbage bag if you don’t plan on investing in a jacket. It works! (Cut a head-hole though….).
Now that your core is warm(so so so key) – let’s talk about the other important parts of your body that risk exposure.
Head – You need a hat. I am cheap and easy(ha) and actually just run in my ski hat – but there are tons of great fleece hats out there. Just keep your ears covered and wear something comfortable.
Face – I wear a mask (awesome one from REI) when the windchill falls below about -15. Some people like to use them at higher temperatures but I feel like I get too warm. It’s good to have though as it filters the cold that you breath also and reduces the amount of skin that is exposed to possible frostbite. Still expect some awesome icicles to form on your eyelashes and frost on your hair!
Trust me – THIS…
..is sexier than frostbite. I’ve had this mask since 1993 and LOVE it as it’s neoprene with a soft fleece wrap. In a pinch I’ve also used my kids’ balaclavas. (Not to be confused with baklava, the Greek pastry).
Hands – I wear gloves when it falls below about 35 and then switch to mittens at about 10 above. Mittens will allow more warmth sharing and you can invest in technical gloves or just wear something warm and insulated that you would play in the snow wearing.
Feet – Typically I just wear normal running socks and my regular shoes. But when temps dip below about -25 I put neoprene socks on with a wicking inner layer for warmth. You don’t want frozen toes. Typically your feet won’t get too cold as they are moving – but they could get wet because of the snow and if you are going any longer than six miles I would suggest a cold blocker like neoprene if you can wear them comfortably. Don’t want to invest in neoprene – wear a plastic bread bag on your feet over your socks. Totally not kidding.
A few more things regarding safety to think about if you are cool enough and brave enough to run in the cold:
1. Make sure you wear reflective clothing and/or vests so you can easily be seen. If the roads are bad with snow and ice – typically drivers are focused on the road and not on you – SO BE SEEN!
2. It WILL most likely be icy. I do not run with spikes or cleats in the winter – but I find I do have to change my stride on icy days and run with more care. I have fallen a few times in my 20 years of winter running – so it can happen. Just run with a little more care and maybe on the extra icy days – jump on that treadmill.
3. Getting cold. I typically dress for about 20 degrees warmer than it is so I do feel cold when I step outside – and know I will warm up quickly once I start moving. I also limit my time outside when the weather is well below zero. Instead of a 10 miler I will just do 3-5 and make up my miles if I need to when the weather warms up a bit. I’d rather stay safe and have fun then risk being out in the elements too long.
Do you like running in the cold? Hopefully these tips will keep you motivated and running outside well through this cold weekend!! Have fun and enjoy the sweet reward of a little hot cocoa by a fire when you get back from you run.