Running in the Winter Cold

John Faith has been with Metro Run and Walk since 2004

John has been with Metro Run and Walk since 2004 and enjoys being active!

In light of the cold weather now upon us, Helen asked me to consider writing an article on the finer points of dreadmill (treadmill) running.  She helpfully pointed me in the direction of an article recently published in Active Runner, an online running resource.  In reading the article as background for this month’s “101” piece, originally titled “Dreadmill 101,” I realized I couldn’t possibly say anything different or better than it did, so decided to pass on the link to the article itself, and ramble on about other cold weather topics this month.

As it turns out, I’ve become a “weather wimp” in the past few years.  I freely admit it.  I wish I wasn’t, but I am.  I used to love the cold weather.  It seemed I would be forever impervious to the cold.  Back in “the day,” when the temperatures dropped into the 40’s (and often even lower), I’d break down and wear a pair of white cotton painter’s gloves with my T-shirt and shorts.  I called it the “Mickey Mouse Look.”  If it got *really* cold, I’d wear a long sleeve T-shirt.  Cotton, of course – I was one of the last people on the planet to get into the “technical” running gear!

Then I hit my 40’s, and my knees started barking at me when they got cold.  I began wearing tights.  “Real” tights.  Lycra/Spandex.  The kind of tights that show off every lump, bump, wrinkle, and droop – probably more so than going naked would.  How could legs that looked OK in shorts look so, so…. “not OK” in tights?  But I persevered – they got me through the cold weather.  (The perennial question: what to wear UNDER tights?  The Scot in me says, “Nothing!” but I usually wore a “wind panel” brief.  If you need to ask, come into the store, and I’ll show you!)

Somewhere in the mid-90’s, as I approached my 50’s, I bought an expensive Gore-Tex suit.  I was training for my first Ironman and needed to put in a LOT of miles over the winter, and I was becoming less and less tolerant of the cold.  The suit performed as advertised – windproof and waterproof.  Unfortunately, it was like running in a plastic bag.  I never thought Gore-Tex lived up to the hype.  But again, I persevered – it got me through the cold weather.

In the early ‘00’s, I gave up the Gore-Tex pants (and tights) and began running during the colder months in a “baggier” pant – a pair of the old Sport Hill stirrup pants I had.  To my surprise, I found, in addition to being a far more modest and flattering garment, covering the aforementioned lumps and droops, I was warmer and drier (as they wicked the sweat away) in the looser pant than either the tights or Gore-Tex pants.  I finally realized the pants were functioning much as my wetsuit does – trapping a layer of air, which warmed up and became a very efficient additional layer of insulation.  Lacking anything better, though (and because I’m cheap!), I kept wearing the Gore-Tex jacket that came with the suit.

Mizuno Breath Thermo Technology keeps you warm and dry while running.

Mizuno Breath Thermo Technology keeps you warm and dry while running.

The new technical fabrics are phenomenal.  About five years ago, our Mizuno rep gave me one of their “new” Breathe Thermo long sleeved shirts to test.  Mizuno claimed the fabric was “… a unique type of insulation fabric which generates heat from the absorption of moisture.  Heat is generated via a chemical exchange between perspiration and the properties of the Breathe Thermo® fabric.”  My initial reaction was skepticism, but I found their claims to be all they said.  My cold weather  attire today consists of a “technical” (woven polyester) “watch cap” or earmuff/headband, a lightweight wind- and water-resistant full-zip jacket over my Mizuno Breathe Thermo long sleeved shirt, a wind panel brief, technical loose-fitting pants, and technical gloves.  If it’s *really* cold, I’ll add a second short- or long-sleeved technical shirt on top, and switch to mittens for my hands.

Ice cleats will help to increase traction so that you don't slip while walking or running in the ice and snow.

Ice cleats by IceTrekkers

In years past, I used to run no matter the conditions.  I used to call myself a “mudder” (a term I originally thought was coined by John Riggins – a running back for the Redskins back when they had pride and were a team and I was a devout fan – to describe the players who loved to mix it up in the mud and the blood, but which I later found out refers to a horse who runs well in the “slop”).  While I still love to run in the snow (unless it’s been on the ground for awhile, having gone through several thaw and freeze cycles, leaving ankle-twisting lumps strewn about), I no longer run on the ice.  (I do remember during my compulsive years we used to screw ¼” sheet metal screws into the heels and toes of an old pair of running shoes in order to run on the ice!)  I’ll leave the ice running for the remaining compulsive types out there (and there are a few – for whom we actually carry “snow chains” which strap onto shoes!).

While my feet generally don’t share the same intolerance to the cold my hands do (I have Reynaud’s Disease, a condition that causes some areas of my body, notably my fingers, tip of my nose and my ears to feel numb and cool in response to the cold), there are times when running in the cold that my feet do get chilled.  I’ve recently “discovered” trail running shoes – which generally have a more wind- and water-resistant mesh upper than running shoes.  These are ideal for the colder, wetter runs.  They also have the benefit of a more aggressively lugged outsole, which should make for better traction in the newly fallen snow.  Now, I’m no longer a fan of snow (last winter’s blizzard “cured” me of that), but I’m better prepared to run in it, and am actually looking forward to it.

Nike Pegasus +27 GTX Waterproof Running Shoe

Nike Pegasus +27 GTX Waterproof Running Shoe

Stay warm!

Note from the editor:  My 2010 resolution was to stop being a cold weather wimp.  While I failed during the snowy months in January and February, I’ve been very successful and have even enjoyed going out during the cold December due to the combination of the Mizuno Breathe Thermo pants and tights and the Nike Thermal ½ zips.  20’s don’t scare me anymore!  Helen

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