The weather has been winter brutal here in the New River Gorge lately. Not really the best for trail running but Sadie needed some real exercise and, to be honest, so did I. The mercury was falling somewhere in the range of 20 degrees tonight when we hit the trails.
It took about 1/2 a mile before my index fingers went numb making me long for my thicker gloves left on the floor of my truck. Luckily my fingers warmed up as I laid down another mile but it reminded me of the challenges of cold weather running. Cold can turn the best times outside into the worst, and possibly dangerous times when we flirt with hypothermia or frost nip. The good news is there are many tricks to making exercise in the cold no different from any other day. For this post I’ve chosen to share three tips to gear and cold weather running.
- Dress in layers. I heat up fast when I run so on the coldest days I wear a synthetic short sleeve or sleeveless base layer with a 1/4 zip long sleeve top over that. I have a collection of long sleeves tops that I draw from but as a rule they are always breathable and always have a soft, fleecy layer of insulation. On the coldest days I have a windproof version that really cuts the chill. The 3/4 zip is key for me because it allows me to cool of quickly without having to strip a layer. I just unzip to vent.Below the waist I run in 3/4 tights with shorts on top. I guess the shorts add some insulation, but to be honest, I’m just not ready to run in tights alone. What’s important for me is the 3/4 length. It allows me to keep my core warm while staying cool and feel less restricted. If it’s wicked cold I’ll switch to long fleece underwear but I almost always end up hiking them up above my calves to cool down once I get going.The biggest benefit of this layering strategy is that I can shave off layers as I warm up. I just tie my top layer around my waist. Essentially I’m able to maintain a comfortable temperature while exercising and avoid excessive sweating that leads to chilling you off. Micro tip – If you run with music run your headphone wire under your base layer and up through your collar, that way when you shed a layer you don’t get tangled up!
- Wear a hat. I prefer a thin, wool beanies (boggan, toque) with a fleece lining around the inside. Smartwool’s have always been my favorite but I’ve also been happy with some thin fleece versions from Mountain Hardwear. Snug, thin hats really keep things comfortable – my ears don’t freeze and it’s no big deal to take it off and tuck it in my waistband if my head gets to warm. As an added bonus, they help keep your ear buds in place if you listen to music when you run.
- Start cold and run warm. This might be the wisest tip of all, especially if you’re racing. The idea is that if you find yourself to be a bit chilly before you start aerobic exercise in the cold you’ll probably feel very comfortably warm by the time you get into your groove. I’ve found this to be very true, and still not enough sometimes! I’ve found myself running in sans hat, bare calves and a sleeveless shirt to stay cool even on snow covered nights.
I think it’s human, no, animal nature, to want to hibernate when the cold weather sets in. I’m guilty of falling victim to that inkling. A cold beer and a couch in front of a wood-burning stove inherently sounds better than trail running in the cold … but when I defeat my sloth demons and get out there I’ve found trail running in the winter to be some of my favorite times outdoors. What cold weather running tips do you rely on?
1,135.48 miles to go!