Happy snow day Seattle! It seems that winter is officially upon us and that means preparing for a whole different kind of running scene. In the summer it’s easy to dress yourself and think I’m too hot let me take off a layer. The winter however posses a unique challenge in gauging your body temperature.
One of the most common mistakes runners make is over dressing. It it important to pay attention to the conditions before you leave for a run and that means checking the numbers. If you are outside and all bundled up and think I’m comfortable now but going to be freezing in my running gear, take a quick look at your phone. Sometimes its 45 to 50 F outside and you will for sure be too warm after your first mile. This time of year can be deceiving. The same thing happens when its raining. Wet doesn’t always mean cold. It is very tempting to want to wear your running jacket in the rain but that can quickly lead to overheating, negatively affecting your run.
Jackets have their place and that is often when the temperature dips below freezing or in cold weather with strong winds. Remember the wind chill factor can make the temperature feel 10 to 20 degrees cooler than it is. The key to dressing success is layers. You will want to layer up not layer down. Start out a little lighter on clothes than what you would be inclined to put on and add to that as you run if you are finding it to be chilly. You do want your muscles to be warm and comfortable in cold temperatures (take a long warm up, be sure your are fluid before starting the meat of a workout) but you don’t want to start out over dressed, sweat and then remove layers as you will chill quickly. Getting chilled can not only cause a bad run but be dangerous if you are out on the trails or far from home. When thinking about layering consider clothes that wick well. Again in the summer when we notice how much we sweat it’s easy to be sure we are wearing well fitted, wicking clothes..who wants to deal with all that chaffing right? But its even more important in the winter. Staying dry and having clothes that breathe is essential. In very cold temperatures wool blended items can be very good for this purpose but again be sure you look at the conditions or you could overheat.
It is often good to think in terms of intermediate clothing choices. For example keeping your feet, hands and head warm and dry are key to regulating your entire body temperature. For cool days (around 40 degrees) perhaps a short sleeve with 3/4 tights, gloves and a hat will keep you comfortable. For cold days a fleece hat can be a great choice because it will wick well and keep your ears covered. If you are going for a long run in the cold weather and have a place to swap gear an extra pair of gloves is a great thing to leave with your water bottle. Gloves often tend to get soggy and don’t dry out, leading to cold fingers midway through a run. The magic one size fits all gloves you get from the dollar store are great for this because its not such a loss if they get taken.
Other great layering choices are half zips that can be worn with either long or short sleeves as a base layer and 3/4 tights. Both lend well to layering and allow a variety of options. Compression socks or calf sleeves can be a nice addition to shorts or 3/4 tights for extra protection with a little extra benefit as opposed to full tights which don’t allow you to adjust your wardrobe. In stead of wearing a jacket in most cases a light weigh running vest will serve you well. It is a good item to have for a little extra core warmth but also for wind protection. If you invest in a running vest be sure to get something in a bright color that is reflective to help you be seen in the dark.
If you are running from your car be sure to pack an entire change of clothes for after your run. Ladies that means your jog bra too. You want your body to be comfortable as possible at all times to avoid illness and speed recovery. Being cold and wet even with the car heater on will not do you justice. As a post run treat leave a thermos of warm tea or water in the car to help warm you up from the inside out. Hydration is a lot harder to remember in the cold weather but is just as important as when it is hot outside. You lose water not only from sweating but also into the cold dry air just from breathing. If you pack a hand held use room temperature water instead of cold or hot from the tap. It will help your body maintain equilibrium in cold conditions.
In the winter it is important to also carefully select your course based on the temperature and conditions. If there are high winds be sure to avoid exposed courses such as Lake Washington Boulevard and forested trails (falling branches can be dangerous). Instead pick a nice neighborhood route where the houses will provide some shelter. If you are going to go trail running consider the snow level and that while it may be fine at the trail head the higher you go the greater likelihood there is of snow. Trails that are familiar in the summer can become quickly unrecognizable in the snow. Always be sure to let someone know where you are going, what time you leave, when you expect to be back. The same thing goes for running in the city – stay in well populated, bright areas and let someone know where you’ve gone. We also highly recommend taking a buddy – not only does it help with safety but it great for motivation.
So get outside this winter, run smart and have fun!