“The scariest moment is right before you start”
The leaves are gone, the first hint of white stuff is on the ground, and there’s a chill in the air. It can only mean one thing – Winter!
People think I’m nuts but I love the winter season. While it’s still a few weeks from the actual Winter Solstice as I write this, the closely-related season of cold-weather running indeed has arrived for many of us. Coupled with Halloween this week, it can be a scary time in more ways than one.
If you’re not a huge fan of winter and the idea of running in outside in the cold weather freaks you out, don’t fret. There’s nothing spooky about running this time of year. What you need is a good layering strategy.
As a self-admitted lover of the cold and, sometimes, an overly-enthusiastic winter runner, I’ve had a ton of friends lately asking for layering tips so they too can brave the chill and avoid something scarier than cold weather – the treadmill. Eeekkk!
Below are some layering basics for cold-weather running – in my experience, when temps dip below 50 degrees or in that range with wind. Keep in mind, everyone and every situation is going to be a little bit different.
For example, if you’re planning a longer run, you may not need to be quite as warm as a shorter run, especially if the temps are expected to increase while you’re out. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how quickly your body warms up even when the mercury dips below the freezing mark.
Wind is also a huge factor. Lack of wind can make a 20-degree day feel pleasant while a slight breeze can chill you to the bone on a 40-degree day.
Let’s start at the beginning. Aside from typical undergarments or commando if you’re that kind of guy, the first layer of running apparel is one of the most important. Base layers are designed to keep you warm while also keeping you dry, wicking away cold sweat and ensuring it doesn’t give you a chill. I tend to wear a base layer if the temp is below 40 degrees and sometimes if it’s above that with some wind.
Full tights and a long-sleeve top designed to be a base layer (in other words, not a long sleeve tee), ideally with a high neck for added warmth are the two keys to your base layer.
The mid-layer is one that, if the weather is around 25-30 degrees or above with minimal wind, likely the only other layer you’ll need in addition to your base layer. A high-quality fleece zip is ideal for a mid layer. It will keep you warm without being too heavy.
If it’s sunny and trending up towards that 40 degree mark, you could get away with a lighter quarter zip or even long sleeve tee as your mid layer and still be plenty warm.
Reserved for the coldest days, the top layer is your last line of defense against Old Man Winter. Especially if it’s even a bit breezy, your top layer should be of the wind-resistant type. Lightweight yet warm pants and a jacket are what you’ll want for a top layer if the temps get below 20 degrees. If it’s a bit warmer but also snowing, raining, or aggressively windy, you may consider the top layer in addition to the base and mid, or possibly skipping the mid layer in favor of just adding the top, as it will help keep that moisture away from the base layer – and your skin.
Again, depending on your personal preference and factors like wind or snow, extras should be considered as needed. Gloves are always good if it’s a little chilly, especially if you’re holding something like a water bottle or dog leash. They’re easy to take off and stash in your pockets if you end up feeling warm.
A headband is nice for the days you don’t need the top layer yet there’s a chill in the air; on the colder days, it’s good to go with a full beanie.
A scarf or neck gator is also good for the temps that are cold enough to demand the top layer, and a face mask should be added when temps get into the low teens or single digits. Keep in mind, your breath will freeze to the mask so look for one made with a quality moisture-wicking material. Don’t be surprised if you feel like pulling down the mask once you warm up a bit.
For one of the most important parts of your body, your feet, wool socks are a must. They may make your shoes feel a little tight so keep that in mind if you’re searching for a new pair of winter running kicks, and consider upsizing just half a size.
Finally – and this is more of a personal preference – consider a layer of chapstick and face lotion to avoid the dryness that comes from cold weather. If it’s sunny, make sure they have SPF.
With a solid layering strategy, you’re ready to brave the cold and get out there to run this winter. Don’t worry if you’re a little slower or stiff at first, it takes some getting used to with more clothes, breathing, and general comfort.
Believe me when I say it, winter running can be really enjoyable. The glitter of frost on the roads, the peacefulness of snow, the added concentration you get from more focused breathing – it all adds up to a great way to spend your workout time. And there’s nothing like the long, hot shower you get after.
Do you have questions about layering or cold-weather running tips in general? Comment or tweet me @LindsayIRL. Share your cold-weather running moments on Instagram and Twitter with #wellirl.