One of the most asked questions I get is, “What do I wear” given any particular weather condition. I think there are a lot of new people in the running community, and even veterans, that are giving winter running a chance for the first time..now that there are all these groups and people to motivate you. With all the major brands devoting more resources to the development of quality winter running gear, we have a great selection of functional apparel to choose from. This isn’t about plugging some product, this is about how to approach cold, wet conditions.
The pic accompanying this post was taken at the start of the OSR 30mi Manhattan Perimeter Race, on February 22, 2013 by Axel Oberg. Axel was shooting images for an article written on the race, “Nike Hawks”, by Kjetil Lyche for the Norwegian Business Daily.
In an effort to try and help some beginners figure out what to wear on runs like tonight’s, I want to offer some pointers. These are things that I have learned through my own experiences running through-out the entire calendar year. Feel free to hit me up with any questions, I am happy to offer any help.
Human physiology varies a great deal from individual to individual. No one can tell another exactly how to dress to be comfortable, for better or for worse, the most effective methodology is one you develop through your own experiences. The best way to learn is to do. It will only take one overdressed run to learn that its better to accessorize than it is to over-layer. Gloves, neck warmers, hats, sleeves..these are all things that can be removed mid-run if you start to overheat. I find the neck warmer to be the most versatile part of my winter wardrobe. It can go from neck, to being a hat, to covering your hands..trust me..worth the time and minimal investment to buy one. They give you one when you sign up for the NYC marathon. I use one made of 100% bamboo fiber, which wicks moisture from the skin..breaths and stretches..with the added bonus of being made of all natural material..and its pitch black, I love it. Actually mine was made by XP, my girlfriend’s line.
If you are thinking of wearing insulated tights or long sleeve insulated tops, keep in mind that you are committed to them for the duration of the run. I tend to switch to insulated tights around the 38-40(F) degree mark and below. If the wind is strong, I will consider the insulated top as well, but i find having the legs insulated provides adequate surface coverage to keep me warm allowing my body to maintain a comfortable running temperature. This would be different for a 115lb female runner, obviously.
Standard rule of thumb: dress how you would if the current conditions were 20(F) warmer – as your core temp will go up once your heart rate increases. Take tonight’s run as an example, the forecast is calling for 41(F) degrees with a 40% chance of rain. Dress how you would if it was 60(F) out. For me this would be insulated tights (wet and around 40 degrees, I’m sure i won’t be too warm), I will probably wear a light dry-fit tank top, a mid layer long sleeve shirt and a shell to keep me dry. Hat, neck warmer and a light pair of gloves as well.
When precipitation is going to part of the run, I take a lot into consideration. Shells are becoming better at providing protection from moisture and allowing the body to breath, but I have yet to find the perfect jacket. Most materials that repel water are air-tight..similar to running with a garbage bag covering your skin, you just sweat inside and end up wet anyway. I have found some shells that provide moisture barriers on key areas that are most exposed to rain or snow (the shoulders, chest and tops of the arms), and have breathable materials lining the dryer areas (like the bottom of the arms, and the back). These do a pretty good job of keeping you dry, maybe not 100% dry..but better than nothing. At least with panels of breathable material some of your skin is getting air circulation helping you to stay drier. When conditions are wet I will also switch to accessories that are made of materials that will not absorb too much moisture, for example, I switch from a fleece hat to one that is made of polyester. Cotton and fleece will soak up moisture like a sponge and become a liability to your comfort. When its going to be wet the idea is to cover up to keep cold air from getting to the wet surface of the skin..this will keep you warm..whereas insulating apparel will sometimes force you to overheat, creating more sweat making you colder. Again, only personal experience can tell you if insulating apparel or skin-surface coverage is the way to go.
Another thing to always keep in mind is the possibility that you may have to stop running at some point along the route. God forbid there is an injury or something and you can no longer run, you want to have some protection in between you’re sweaty skin and the cold temps, wind and rain. You just want to keep it in mind, again, accessories allow for a lot of manipulation and are easily stored during the run. You also always want to run with at least 20 dollars on you, an ID and a credit card if you can. If there is an emergency during the run it is important someone can identify you, and that you have adequate means to get back to someplace warm.
I became injured in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge on a winter run once. Nice and windy day, about 30(F) degrees. The walk back down the bridge was miserable. Walking is so slow…SO SLOW compared to running. I wasn’t physically able to run to stay warm and there was no way to hail a cab on the pedestrian path. The walk down the bridge was horrible. Had I the presence of mind to accessorize with gloves, hat and a neck warmer I would have been much better off.
Feet..definitely bring an extra pair of socks to change into after the run if you are coming to OSR tonight. We don’t need to prove how hard-core we are by doing stupid shit like running in horrible conditions..I just personally hate to mess with my weekly running routine. If conditions are shit, I will definitely cancel a run. With that said, if the ground is wet, really wet, with low temps your feet will freeze. The motion of running swings your feet like pendulums through the cold air. Shoes are designed to breath, so this cold air and water pass through the shoe’s skin and gets soaked into your nice, dry, warm socks. This happens very quickly on wet roads so you could spend majority of the 7.5mi route in discomfort..and set yourself up for a nice cold or flu. Try to get shoes with more insulate protection than you had for the summer. There are plenty of shoes out there designed for wet cold conditions. Remember, there is no bad weather only bad gear.