By Dara Steele-Belkin
People often ask me how I manage to force myself out the door in the pre-dawn hours, when the temperature is well below 40 degrees, even below 30 degrees. The truth is, I love running when the temperature drops. The key is to dress appropriately for the weather.
The first weapon against an uncomfortably cold is an outdoor thermometer. In addition to watching the weather prediction, I like to check the actual temperature before I choose my running attire. Of course, the thermometer won’t do you any good unless you know which attire is best suited for the temperatures. Through trial and error, you can set some personal guidelines that will inform your clothing choices. I try to make a mental note after my runs as to what the temperature was at both the beginning and the end, what I wore and whether that was enough, too much or just right. Ultimately, it is a matter of personal preference. Where one runner is comfortable in full running tights, a fleece, gloves and a hat, another may get overheated at the mere thought of so much gear.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, there are certain key pieces that are useful to have in your arsenal against the elements:
1. Running Tights. If you do any cold weather running, it’s time to give up those cotton sweats and invest in a few pairs of running tights. There are lots of choices these days, but a well stocked wardrobe includes a ¾ length pair, a full length pair, and an insulated pair. Once the temperature drops into tights weather, this variety will keep your muscles warm—and some theorize, safer against injury—on the chilliest days. Try not to get hung up on whether spandex suits your physique. Trust me, on a 20 degree day, your bare legs look far more absurd than spandex tights and your legs will thank you for the tights.
2. Long Sleeve Technical Shirts. Once again, a variety is good here. Try to have some ultra light weight shirts, as well as a few zip top shirts, which provide for warmth around the neck early in the run, but can be unzipped for cooling and ventilation as your body warms up. Don’t undo the effectiveness of your technical shirt by wearing a cotton t-shirt underneath. Your best and safest bet is to layer a short sleeve technical shirt under your long sleeve shirt, as this will wick moisture from your body to keep you warm, but will also allow you to shed the warmer layer in case the day heats up more quickly than you anticipated.
3. Headgear. A hat or headband is an easy way to keep your ears warm, and it is easily removed and carried if you find yourself too warm after the first mile.
4. Gloves. Covering your hands is key on a chilly winter run. Gloves are another article that will differ largely according to personal taste and body temperature. Some find that their hands warm up very quickly after a few minutes of running, so gloves are only a temporary necessity. Unlike the technical tights and shirts, however, good running gloves don’t need to be made for running at all. In fact, for moderate temperatures, an inexpensive pair of stretchy knit gloves is all you need. It’s good to stay on the inexpensive side with gloves and mittens, as it’s so easy to lose one. My personal preference for a run is a pair of thin fleece “glittens”—which are a combination of fingerless glove and mitten. Glittens are a great way to allow your hands to cool down during a run without having to remove your gloves entirely.
5. Reflective Gear. Finally, since the days are so short in the winter, don’t forget your reflective gear, headlamps and blinking lights. Not only can they be festive for the holiday season, but they’ll make you visible to cars and bikes in the darkness.
About the Author
Dara Steele-Belkin is a new member of the ATC’s Women’s Open Team. Dara recently completed her fourth marathon with a time of 3:10:47 at the ING New York City Marathon. Dara credits much of her running success to the extraordinary support of her husband and their three children, without whose patience, long runs would be impossible