Thinking about running outdoors this winter? Here is some basic advice to help you stay as warm and comfortable as possible.
What to wear?
- Layers, layers, layers… several thin layers are better than one thick one.
- NO COTTON – cotton clothing absorbs sweat so you get cold and damp from the inside out. High tech synthetic and merino wool run clothing will absorb the sweat and pass it through to the next layer so you stay dry from the inside out. Ask any Mountain Guide- Cotton Kills (OK maybe not running around Ottawa but you get the idea!)
- Start with a synthetic base-layer or merino wool base-layer (Base-layer is the new word for long underwear). Both will keep you warm and dry. Which is better is a matter of opinion and personal comfort.
- If it’s really cold add a synthetic mid-layer or merino wool mid-layer. This layer can be something you would wear as an outer layer on a warmer day.
- Add a breathable windproof layer on top. Under most conditions this layer does not need to be waterproof. It doesn’t rain when it’s really cold. If your outer layer is not breathable the moisture has nowhere to go and you will get wet and cold from the inside out.
- A running jacket that wicks well is worth spending a little extra on. If your current jacket is wet on the inside when you finish a run it does not wick well.
- Cycling or Nordic ski gear can be great running gear. As a general rule, you need less layers to run than you would to Nordic ski or cycle.
- For men in particular, wind briefs are a really good investment. They make them for ladies too. If you don’t have wind briefs, on really cold days add a pair of shorts under your running pants.
- A hat and gloves are great because you can take them off and stick them in a pocket if you get too warm. You may even want to put mitts over your gloves to start your run.
- On really cold days you need a balaclava or a neck warmer to avoid frostbite.
- Wool socks will make a huge difference for keeping your toes warm.
- Winter running shoes provide better traction and are warmer than regular running shoes. They are also a little stiffer so you may need a bigger shoe. Gore-tex and other water-resistant versions are available for many brands of running shoes.
- If your toes are freezing in your regular shoes try putting some duct tape over the toes. Buy the best duct tape you can find the cheaper stuff tends to fall off.
- If you want added traction Yaktrax Walk and Yaktrax Pros are not good for running. Try Diamond Grip ICE trekkers, Yaktrax Run, or Kahtoola NANOspikes. I have used all three and for most conditions the NANOspikes are my top pick.
- Don’t forget sunglasses. The snow makes everything brighter.
- You should feel a little underdressed and cold when you first step outside, you will warm up once you get going.
- When you wash your wicking clothes DO NOT use fabric softener it stops them from wicking correctly, most of your running gear should also be hung to dry.
- Check the label on a running jacket as some of them should be put in the dryer not hung to dry.
How cold is too cold?
- That is a matter of opinion. Your lungs will not freeze, the real risk is frostbite. Cover up and plan your run so you can stop and get warm or get a ride home if you need to.
- Wear a neck warmer or balaclava over your mouth when it’s really cold.
- If you really need to run when it’s really cold Vaseline or Body Glide will help to protect uncovered skin.
- Make sure you check regularly for signs of frostbite.
How to run when it’s cold.
- Start your run into the wind and come back with the wind at your back.
- The wind is the biggest factor; avoid it if you can by running in sheltered areas.
- Ice is also a major concern. The roads are often in better shape than the sidewalks. If you can find some nice quiet side streets they are ideal. Be sure to run facing traffic.
- Be flexible. In the winter you may need to change the days you run based on the weather. Start the week with a set of workouts in mind and move them around when the weather is uncooperative.
- If you don’t get your run in don’t sweat it, stuff happens and according to Runner’s World we shouldn’t even bother running once it hits –20 with the wind chill!
The bottom line.
- If you dress appropriately and know your limits winter can be a great time to run. What better way to enjoy a winter wonderland than to run though it!