Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winter Running Tips

The key to being comfortable on your run in the colder temperatures is being, just like a boyscout (or girlscout), prepared.  If you have the correct gear on, running outside in the winter can be enjoyable (as I have explained in my last blog post, Winter...When I am Free to Just Run).

So what exactly does one need in order to be prepared for running outdoors in bitter temperatures?  Well, it all depends on the actual temperatures, plus the wind chill.  But no matter what the temperature is outside, you simply must use technical clothing that is made of fabric that wicks the sweat away from your body.  You do not want the sweat to sit against your skin at any time when you are running, but especially in the winter.  Cotton is a big no-no for runners.  It holds the sweat against your body, which can cause all sorts of problems for you...chafing is one of them.  In the winter, we worry more about hypothermia.  So, invest in some technical running clothing and you won't be sorry, whether you use it at the gym during the winter or outside.

So, the number one thing you need for winter running, is some kind of technical clothing.  Beyond that basic tip, the actual temp outside will determine what you will need in order to stay comfortable.  One of the best things you can do in the winter is layer your clothing.  The colder it is, obviously the more layers you need.  But layering is important, because when you first start your run, your body is going to feel very cold.  But, as you run and your body heats up, you will not need as much clothing on, so you can shed a layer and either carry it with you (wrapping it around your waist) or leave it and remember to come back and grab it after your run (hopefully). 

Some runners that are used to what their bodies need for each temperature range might go outside with only what they will need once their body is warmed up.  Other runners like to be warmer to begin with and shed a layer as they go.  It is up to you, but if you are a beginning runner, I recommend using the layers approach, since your goal is to convince yourself that you can do it...no matter what the temp is.

Here is a rundown of how I usually dress for running outside in the winter.

If the temps are in the lower 40s to upper 30s, I like to wear just a long-sleeved top, a pair of shorts, and a light pair of pants over the shorts.  Wearing the shorts under the pants is a personal preference.  I do not own any technical underwear, so I would feel uncomfortable wearing the pants without the shorts that have the built-in underwear.  You may wish to wear a light pair of gloves and something to cover your ears if it is in the lower 40s to upper 30s.  I find that my body gets hot pretty quickly and I do not like the feeling of the gloves on my hands at that point, so I just grin and bear it for the first mile or so.  As far as the gloves go, you can really just wear a pair of those $.99 gloves that you can get at Wal-Mart or somewhere like that.  They will do the trick at this temp range.  At this temp range, I do not wear a winter running hat, but you may wish to.  I might wear a technical baseball cap, though.  For my feet, I just use my regular running socks (again, they are made of a technical fabric...no cotton!!).  Cotton on your feet will cause blisters...so don't do it!!!

When the temps are in the mid to lower 30s, I will usually wear my shorts, a heavier pair of pants, a long-sleeved top, and a light running coat (right now I wear my Brooks Nightlife Jacket).  I like to wear my running hat, as well, at this temperature range...especially in the lower 30s.  If it is in the 30s, I definitely wear my mittens.  Since my hands are always so cold, I have found that mittens work best for me.  I have to have my fingers all touching each other or else my hands cannot keep warm.  On my feet, I start wearing my heavier Balega winter running socks.  They are warmer than my other socks, for sure.  In this temperature range, I also try not to stop for long if I am running with a group of people.

In the 20 degree range, I wear my shorts and heavier pants.  On top, I do one of two combinations.  I will either wear a long-sleeved top and my winter running jacket, or I will wear a long-sleeved top, a fleece jacket, and my Brooks Nightlife Jacket.  I also wear my hat, my mittens, and my heavyweight winter running socks.  At this temperature range, I also put Aquaphor on my lips to prevent chapping.

When it is below 20 degrees, I typically wear a face mask.  I have one that goes up over your head, so there is a hat, too.  But I also throw another hat on top of that.  Below 20 degrees is also a good time to protect the little bit of skin left that is exposed to the elements.  I like to use my Aquaphor here.  At this temperature range, as gross as it seems and feels, I put it not just on my lips, but above my lips, around my nose, and on my cheeks.  It acts as a barrier for your skin from the elements.  I find it to be particularly important around my nose, as I tend to have leakage there when I run in colder temps. 

For any temp below 20 degrees, I typically add a second layer under my heavy fleece running pants, usually another pair of lightweight running pants or my Hot Chillys base layer tights.  At this point, I do not put shorts on as well.  I then put on one of the two previously discussed top layer scenarios from the 20 degree range.  If the temps are in the single digits, I might add an extra long-sleeved shirt or wear my heavy ski jacket over two long-sleeved shirts.  At this temperature range, I figure that it doesn't matter what I look like...at least I am out there doing it.  And at this range, it also doesn't matter how fast or slow I run, so if my ski jacket slows me down, so be it.  On my feet, I have doubled-up on my socks...wearing a lightweight pair under my heavyweight pair.  It worked fine for me, but you do have to be careful about blisters with doubling the socks.

For the record, if the temps are in the single digits, I do not prefer to be outside.  I will go out for a group run in this cold, but if it is a midweek solo run, I will usually resort to my dreadmill. Yes, even I can be a winter wimp!  ;)

You should know that I do not use running tights, so I cannot comment on them at this point.  The pants I run in are all made by Under Armour.  My heavyweight ones are made of fleece...one pair of which has an outer layer made of a thicker, more densely woven fabric on top of the fleece.

Lastly, I always use my BodyGlide, even in the winter.  If you are not familiar with this product, it is a solid skin protectant that you put on your body, wherever you need to, in order to prevent chafing.  It is kind of like a deoderant and vaseline all rolled into one product.  You can get it at sporting goods stores.
If you haven't ventured outside to run in the winter just yet, I hope you give it a try.  And perhaps some of my tips will help you make it more enjoyable for yourself!  Just remember that if you are prepared, you, too, can enjoy running in the winter!

Feel free to leave any questions you may have for me in the comments section below.


  1. MMM, You're couragious but crazy, running in <30 degress. I'm a woosey here in Califoria! The coldest temperature, 32 degrees, was during my long run one morning. I wore, base layers tops/bottems & jacket, gloves, & head warmer. I still froze but had my best time. Couldn't wait to get my ass home! Love this post because you covered gear & protective solvents. thanks MMM

    1. I am sorry for the delay in responding. I am new to this blogging thing and I didn't know how to reply to you!! But I just found the button! You crack me up! Didn't you feel warmer as you ran? I wish it only got to 32 degrees over here in the Northeast. But, since it is frequently colder (though not so often this winter), you have to figure out what works in order to get out there! Well, I am glad that you found my post useful! Happy Running!!


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