ChiRunning Winter Running Clothing

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I got really spoiled living in California. I was in the Bay Area and I think I saw it snow maybe twice in the nine years I was there. Winter running there is no problem at all if you didn’t mind getting rained on every now and then. But now that I’m living in Asheville, NC where there’s actually some semblance of winter, I’m having to resurrect some of the adaptations to my running that I learned growing up in Colorado.

Here are a few clothing options for those of you who are adventurous enough to insist on running outdoors through the snowy and cold winter months. If you’re a beginning runner you might find some of these tips helpful. If you’re an old-timer, I hope you’ve figured some of this stuff out already. If you live in a temperate climate, you can skip this blog and thank your lucky stars. My next few blogs will be on alternatives to winter running…for those of you who wake up to snowy days finding that there is absolutely nothing in you that wants to go brave the elements.

Upper body layers

1.) I’ve found that a good, thick wicking, sip-front turtleneck top works great for any temperatures from 25º- 40º. If you have trouble maintaining body heat you can add a lightweight nylon vest with a high collar. Your arms don’t need as much protection from the cold as your torso does. If you’re still having trouble keeping warm add on a lightweight windbreaker over everything. It’s amazing how well you can heat and cool your body by merely covering or uncovering your neck and upper chest area to regulate your body temperature.
2.) Wear a good hat made of fleece, wool (ideally with a non-wool lining on the inside of the headband) or some other wicking material. It should be comfortable, stretchy and be able to completely cover your ears.
3.) Get some gloves that will completely block the cold air. I’ve tried every type of glove and mitten in the world to keep my fingers warm and I’ve found that insulated leather gloves work best in temperatures above 20º. For colder temperatures I have to resort to mittens, or I can forget about having any fingers when I get back from my run. You can stretch the lower range of your mittens or gloves by wearing liners.
4.) Cover your face if it’s below 20º out. If you want to stay healthy you have to protect your lungs from getting too much cold air. If you’re in a climate where you’re running in temperatures below 20º it’s also important to protect your nose and cheeks from frostbite (this suggestion is for you diehards). The best thing I’ve found for this is wearing a dust mask (also called a particle mask) available at most hardware stores. It’s worth it to pay for the higher quality ones because they won’t collapse against your face if they get wet from your steamy breath.

Lower Body Layers

1.) Running tights are great in temperatures between 20º and 55º depending on how sensitive your legs are to the cold. If it’s below 20º I’ll wear lightweight warm-up pants over my tights. (A note for men: the best thing for keeping your private parts from freezing off is to wear windproof briefs).
2.) Smartwool socks…nothing works like these.
3.) A good way to block wind from freezing your toes is to cover the top of your socks (toe area) with good ol’ duct tape. Another option is to get some running shoes with Gore-tex uppers, which do the same thing. (it still amazes me that the shoe companies haven’t jumped on this obvious market need)
4.) If you run in icy conditions often you might consider taking one of your old pairs of running shoes and “equipping” them with ¼” sheet metal screws drilled into the bottoms. The screws aren’t long enough to stick into your feet and they’re much more practical than trying to run in something like Yak Trax.

All I can say is, if you’re going to run outdoors through the winter, be smart about it. It won’t help you a bit if your running program comes to a screeching halt because you’re either sick or nursing running injuries.
Stay warm!


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