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Oh Baby, It’s Cold Outside! Winter Running Essentials

Running in -16 degrees. Yes, my hair is frozen.

Running in -16 degrees. Yes, my hair is frozen.

With the heart of winter upon us, let’s talk about needed gear for cold weather running. Being from Seattle, this was a somewhat foreign topic to me. That is until this past month when I found myself in the frigid tundra of North Dakota taking care of my ailing mother. Despite sub-zero temps and the stress of being a caretaker, marathon training doesn’t stop. In needing to catch up, and fast, on what gear is needed for temps ranging from the mid 20s to -20s, I’d like to share what I’ve learned.

After a miserable Thanksgiving Turkey Trot 5K in 14 degrees where my legs felt like icicles and my top was on fire, I turned to the Internet for advice. I found this fantastic POPSUGAR fitness article, “Above or Below Freezing: What to Wear for Winter Running.” I have followed this advice to the tee and have had much more comfortable runs. Hint, the key is layering.

While everyone’s gear-of-choice will be different, here’s what I was able to assemble in clothes I brought with me and those I found around my parents’ house. These pieces are in addition to my running basics and winter accessories.

Winter Running Essentials (regardless of temps)

My mom and me at the finish line of the Turkey Trot 5K in 14 degrees.

My mom and me at the finish line of the Turkey Trot 5K in 14 degrees.

  • A thin long-sleeve performance shirt made out of technical fabric for a base layer. The last thing you want to put next to your skin in winter is cotton. It gets wet and cold, and it will chill you to the bone. My preferred brand is Champion Double Dry tech shirts because they’re relatively inexpensive for the quality, meaning I can purchase a lot of them without breaking my budget (especially if I buy them at discount clothing stores).
  • Thermal full-length running tights. You can wear these alone for milder days, or as an outer layer with compression pants underneath for frigid days (anything 20 degrees and colder). Being short and fairly solid through my thighs with a good-size behind to boot, running tights and I have not been friends. After many failed attempts in the dressing room at REI, I finally found a pair of Brooks Utopia Thermal Pants that are almost the right length, don’t slip down when my booty jiggles, and hide my not-so-lovely lady lumps (otherwise known as cellulite). If you’re built like me, I highly recommend these pants.
  • Compression pants. You can get full length or capris cut, just make sure to cover your calves on cold days (see my sock suggestion below). My favorite compression pants are the Old Navy Active Compression Capris. They’re inexpensive and hold up pretty well. My first few pairs are almost four years old, have been through two marathon trainings and a 200-mile relay race and are just starting to show signs of wear.
  • A winter headband or hat to protect your ears and noggin. I have a lot of thick curly hair, so I tend to go the headband route. My headgear of choice is a Bondi Band, and for frigid days I wear a winter knit or fleece headband under it. My boyfriend, who has much less hair than me (ie. shaven head), wears a performance fleece hat in colder temps. He’s had good results wearing both my Brooks Wanganui Fleece Hat and a RoadRunner fleece hat. The key is fleece for moisture wicking.
  • Thin gloves or mittens. I actually wear of a pair of my mom’s original Isotoner spandex gloves from the 80s. They’re the perfect thickness for standalone gloves in milder weather and liners for colder weather. They also have a little loop in them so I can put a finger through for easy carrying if my hands get warm. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a mother who owns 30-year old gloves that you can steal, you can buy a similar pair from almost any running brand out there.
  • A thicker performance fleece or sweatshirt for mid-layering. The tech fabric helps with wicking, and the thicker layer over your base in milder weather or under your outer shell in frigid weather will keep you warm without the bulk. I wear a Nike tech fleece that I found a few years ago at discount store. It’s super durable, but I love it so much, that when it goes, I’m willing to pay full price for a new one (like this cozy Nike tech fleece hoodie).
Me in full frigid running gear ready to brave the elements.

Me in full frigid running gear ready to brave the elements.

Frigid Weather Running Essentials (mid 20s to sub-zero)

  • Wool socks that cover your calves. I’ve been using my Wigwam Cool Lite Hiker Pro Crew socks and my feet haven’t gotten cold once, even when it was -16 degrees outside. I didn’t intend to use them for running when I packed them, but am so thankful I brought them along.
  • A scarf or face mask. When I showed up for the Turkey Trot 5K, I saw all these people with neoprene face masks that had air holes around the mouth and a tiny area for their nose to stick through. I thought it looked a bit too Silence of the Lambs for me, but when the 5K in 14 degrees was done, my little crochet scarf wasn’t exactly up-to-snuff. I went out and purchased one of these masks for $5, and had a wee bit too much fun repeating the infamous fava beans line during my first run with it.
  • A soft shell, wind resistant jacket. I would normally wear my beloved North Face Apex Bionic Jacket, but didn’t bring it. Instead, I’m making due with with one of my mom’s old windbreakers and a performance fleece underneath. It gets the job done, even in sub-zero temps with wind.

Gear to Leave at Home in Frigid Temps

  • Your Garmin or other tracking device. Your runs are going to be considerably slower in colder temps, particularly if there is ice and snow. These are the runs to enjoy just for the fun of running, and not to worry about pace goals. Save the tempo runs for indoor tracks or treadmills. Otherwise it might bring on a case of the winter blues. Here’s 10 Tips for Winter Running from Runner’s World.

Those are my lessons learned thus far. I’m still a novice at this, so if you have any cold weather running gear that you love, let me know in a reply below!

About Vanessa

Vanessa is a content strategist by day and marathoner by night. A reformed asthmatic couch potato, she found her way from topping the scale at more than 200 lbs. with her five-foot frame to living the life of an endurance runner who eats hills for breakfast. She’s completed everything from marathons to 200-mile relay races. She’s not a natural born athlete, but truly believes determination and a little bit of laughter can go a long way in accomplishing big goals. Her insights on how technology can help in living a healthier lifestyle come from mixing her passion for fitness with her in-depth of knowledge of user experience design. With almost a decade of experience working in the high-tech city of Seattle, she’s excited to join the FitJourney community and share all she knows about the good and bad of gadgets and gear.
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