Monday, February 7, 2011

Gear for winter running

Winter running presents a challenge. On one hand, your body is a tremendous furnace. Stoke it with food, water, and start moving and you'll generate sufficient heat to keep you going in the coldest of weather. On the other, your need some amount of protection from the elements. Not insulation per se, but something. Too much and you'll overheat and sweat out your clothes; too little and you'll freeze. A middle is necessary. This is an easier task when you are moving slowly or sedentary, but it becomes much more difficult when you are generating so much heat from exercise.

Such is the issue with winter running. This post is an attempt to explain my clothing choices for winter running. It is not based on any scientific method; I never set out a hypothesis with the intent to prove or disprove it. It is (particularly) based on my experience running this past month and all of the cold-weather months before it.

Perhaps a ridiculous picture would best illustrate:

Top to bottom, here's what I have on:
  • Windproof balaclava
  • Thin fleece headband (for ears)
  • Windshirt, half-zip, hooded
  • Thin base layer top
  • Thin fleece gloves
  • Spandex compression shorts
  • Fleece tights /w gridded interior (Patagonia R1 fleece)
  • Wool socks
  • Marathon-style racing flats
The above was worn in ~10F temps with 15-25 mph winds. The windproof balaclava was an absolute necessity. When I returned, I looked like this:

The frost makes it interesting. When I fail to ventilate my windshirt enough, sweat condenses on the inside of the shirt and freezes in a thin layer of frost. When I open it up, the frost just falls to the floor and melts.

I tend to have a few other things in my closet that tend to take our running:
  • Hooded windshirt (worn when in lesser wind when I don't need to protect my
  • Hooded fleece shirt with thumbloops (for really, really cold weather)
  • Windproof ear muffs (for warn weather, with wind)
  • Baselayer tights (for ~20F and warmer weather)
With variations of what I was wearing in the photo and the ideas above, I can handle just about anything most days will throw at me.

How can you change from fall running to winter? The biggest change in clothing comes in the form of tights and the windshirt. Your legs have too much exposed skin and it is generally too windy in the winter to show off your runners legs. However, I have not found windpants necessary, and I use a pair of tights that are designed for warmth and ventilation.

Similarly, a windshirt is absolutely necessary in 95 percent of winter running conditions. I just so happens that I live on top of a river valley now and am surrounded by flat farmland in three directions. the wind picks up here and doesn't really stop. A windshirt helps prevent strength-sapping wind from freezing your core. With your core warm, you can generally wear less clothes on the rest of your body.

A friend of mine, Chris Crocker, has put together a matrix of clothing choices for weather that goes all the way down to a deep-winter -26F. Chris heads up Mankato Multisport, a local triathalon group in Mankato. I joined it (it's free!) for camaraderie during winter runs.

As a final note, please remember that winter does a couple weird things to your body: first, you are breathing in drier air and expelling moist air. Winter dehydrates you with every breath, so drink plenty of water. Second, everything takes longer in winter. Take it slow, especially around the curves (you could slip if you don't!) and run for time, not distance.



samh said...

I love the ridiculous picture!

Matt Lutz said...

Thanks Sam. I'm working on a clothing matrix to have some documented examples of clothing worn in specific temps. I'm inspired by the 2011 Arrowhead that just finished and the temps there just freak me out a little.