Thursday, March 8, 2012

Winter Running

Winter running in a northern climate is surprisingly not horrible.  I would like to tell you this is because I am hardcore, genetically superior to the treadmill loving folks at the gym, but that is bullshit.  With the right gear and mindset winter running on the road or the trail can be quite comfortable and enjoyable.  This winter has been mild in comparison to others but there have still been plenty of days of bitter cold, strong winds, and snow to gain experience in challenging conditions.

My dog is naturally well equipped for winter trial running with a fur coat.  I am not so lucky at best I can grow a beard.

The winter is perfect for base building - long runs at a low intensity.  Winter running will never be as fast as running during the other seasons but it can feel good to slow down.  The cold temperatures don’t lend themselves well to pushing freezing air in and out of the lungs at tempo and interval efforts for any duration.  Snow and ice are generally present degrading traction further complicating things.  These elements can greatly improve a runner’s biomechanics and strengthen many muscles in the effort to stay balanced in the challenging conditions.

As for what constitutes the right gear, it is a nuanced topic for sure and specific to the individual. The right gear changes with temperature, wind, duration etc...  I found the following worked well on long runs (2-4 hours) for me over the course of the winter:

On runs over 2 hours my M.U.L.E. Camelbak®   came with.  Hydration was a must and I packed warmer gear and dry socks in case I needed them.  On the flipside I could always store things if I overdressed.  There are smaller and better suited packs but I bought this mountain biking pack years ago and it worked good enough.  The Gatorade® in my Camelbak® froze once after a few hours but other than that I had no issues. 

During the work week the short days mean the only option for getting a run in is running at night.  The Petzl® Tikka XP2 is great in that I can see and be seen.  Multiple intensity settings and a diffuser film give plenty of settings.  The light does not weigh much and is very comfortable to wear.  I also put a strobing red bike light on my dog’s collar so he can be seen.

Thermal Pant
In below freezing temps I always take the Brooks® Utopia thermal pant.  My legs have never felt cold, even at 0˚F with 20mph winds.  The pants are too much once temperatures climb above freezing and are uncomfortably warm.  Shorts are not appropriate when temperatures are below 40˚F and I rely on North Face Apex Climateblock® tights to bridge the gap.  The NorthFace tights breathe very well but are not enough for the coldest, windiest days. 

Anywhere from 0˚F and 20 mph winds to 60˚F and rainy I can go to the light weight North Face Better Than Naked® jacket.  It serves as a great light weight shell and keeps me shielded from wind and moisture while breathing quite well – awesome in fact.  The hood is great for the most challenging conditions and convenient pull strings are everywhere to adjust the fit.  The pocket is horrible, it ripped open from the stress of a house key, and should not be included - but otherwise nothing but good things.

Base Layer 
At a minimum I always wore the North Face Better Than Naked®  ¼ zip to retain warmth.  The thumb holes were nice and gloves nicely overlapped the sleeves.  A pocket would have been nice.  Depending on the cold, underneath I wore some combination of layers from fall and summer clothing.  I grew out a thick mane of chest hair for the John Dick 50k that I cut down afterwards in the interest of swimming faster.  Once this rug was gone I needed additional layers.  

The North Face Skully Beanie is the only hat I needed for all conditions.  It provides full coverage for my ears and breathes something awesome.  It even has holes for sun glasses.  I don’t know why it is marketed only for men, women deserve this hat too.  My wife always used mine and eventually bought one.

The North Face winter runners glove works with the Garmin 410 touch bezel which makes it awesome.  It has a mitten that can add extra warmth.  The gloves breathe well but come up short in the coldest windiest conditions.  The Pear Izumi Pro Softshell Glove fills in well when the cold and wind really bite.    


I am sure any brand of similar gear would work but I can only speak to what I have purchased and used.  I am really looking forward to putting all this winter gear away come summer.  In the past week there has been a snow storm and a couple of 60
˚F days so winter isn't over yet.  Cost adds up but anything that gets me outside and active is money well spent.  I find specifically designed athletic gear is definitely superior to the cotton I used to train in.    


  1. I tend to agree with you but there a lot of nice butts on the treadmill at my gym...

  2. Living in Hawaii, its hard to wrap my brain around everything you need to do running in the snow. I've run in Alaska and had my fastest times there. It was about 30F. While there was snow, I ran on a cleared sidewalk.

  3. I'm still slowly building my stash of clothing options and trying out different clothes for different conditions. I need to invest in some kind of vest and/or jacket for the wind/rain resistance. I don't struggle as much with running in the cold as biking. Harder to figure out what I'm going to need. But I really hate the gym. Going to drop my membership in another month.

  4. I simply cannot treadmill run. Just too monotonous. Trail running is just more appealing, but I agree, winter running can be quite comfortable with the proper gear.