I looked at my running buddies like they were crazy. “Are we really going to run in this weather?” I thought to myself. Most likely I said it aloud as well.
For the past several months a small group of us had met every Tuesday and Thursday evening to run along Polo Club Boulevard. We’d dubbed ourselves the Polo Club Pacers. When we started running together, the evenings were still light and warm. But as winter had approached the days had grown much shorter and the evenings much colder. Our 6:15 p.m. start time was always dark, and on this particular night it was snowing/sleeting and the wind was howling. But because we always ran from my house, I felt the obligation to be prepared to run every Tuesday and Thursday. On that evening I hoped that no one would show up, but two of my friends did. So we were actually going to do this.
I’m so glad that I did go out because it was one of the best runs of my life.
It may sound crazy but I love running in cold weather. I’m not sure what I love about it, but as I prepared for my marathon this past February, I did all of my running outdoors. Not a single run was on the treadmill (or “dreadmill” as I love to call it). I actually enjoyed it that much. And that included several snowy, 20-degree or below runs of 15 to 20 miles. There is something very serene about being out there, on the streets, in the cold, when no one else in around. It’s really difficult to explain, but for those of you who have experienced it you know what I mean.
Learning to love running in cold weather was indeed a learning experience. Running in warm weather was simple. When I initially started running I’d throw on a pair of shorts and a cotton t-shirt. As I ran more with different people, I learned more about tech shirts and Dri-Fit running gear. I made the switch to tech shirts which wicked moisture away and kept me cool in the heat. But winter was a different animal altogether. I couldn’t just throw on a pair of shorts and a short-sleeve tech shirt and run. I had to learn how to dress properly. It truly was a learning experience. And now I want to share that knowledge with you.
One of the first things that I learned about winter running is that you have to dress in layers. And I don’t mean like Ralphie’s little brother Randy in A Christmas Story. This is not extended deep sea diving. It is running. One of the biggest mistakes that I made as a newbie to cold-weather running was wearing one or two heavy items, intending to keep them on the for the entire run. You most likely will never keep on all of the items that you start out with.
First you will need a good base layer. I choose to wear a short-sleeve compression shirt and long compression pants. These will wick moisture away from my body and will also help to keep me warm. I actually found some good winter gear at Wal-Mart last winter. Tops and bottoms. And they have held up well to a lot use.
Other than a pair of compression pants I will usually just throw on a pair of shorts. I am just not comfortable running in a pair of tight compression pants without a pair of shorts. I don’t know that the shorts make a difference in keeping me warm, but they do give me pockets that I can keep gels in and make me feel more comfortable. I’ve never been a fan of guys running in skin-tight compression pants. It’s really not something I want to look at and I don’t know of many other people who want to either. So guys, throw on a pair of shorts over those compression pants before you head out.
As for socks, I’m really partial to my Nike Dri-fit socks. They are over the calf socks and for cold weather running I only wear one pair and I will put them up over the compression pants. During the summer I usually push them down around my ankles. But pulling them up seems to give me some extra warmth in my calves in the cold weather. And if I get too hot I can always push them back down.
Now as for additional layers on the top, it usually depends on how cold it is. If it is just in the 40s, I may throw on a long-sleeve tech shirt over the short-sleeve compression shirt, or I might just put on a pair of arm sleeves. If you’re not familiar with sleeves you need to get familiar with them. They are just sleeves that you slide up over your arms. They give you additional warmth on your arms without the bulk or weight of a full shirt. And they are easy to slide off if you get too hot. I often use them instead of a long-sleeve tech shirt. But I usually don’t use them with a long-sleeve shirt simply because it is sometimes difficult trying to slide the sleeves off under a long-sleeve shirt. So for me, it’s one or the other.
Now when it’s really cold, I will add a third layer on top. Usually I add a light, zippered jacket or a vest. With the zipper I can unzip when I’m too hot or zip when I’m cold. Also, the light weight keeps me from feeling too bogged down.
As for shoes, I run in the same shoes in the winter that I use in the summer. No modifications. I’ve never had any issues with cold feet, so just one pair of socks and my shoes will get me through.
Finally, when it’s cold, I always wear gloves and some form of head protection. If it’s not too cold, I will wear just one pair of thin tech gloves to keep my hands warm. Again the tech gloves will wick the moisture away and keep you warm. For some reason, though, my hands tend to get very cold so I will often wear a second pair of gloves over the tech gloves. The second pair is nothing fancy. Just an old pair of gloves that have thinsulate in them to keep my hands warm.
It is kind of funny, but during a long run I will take my gloves off and put them back on numerous times because my hands get hot and then cool off. That’s another advantage to wearing a pair of shorts with pockets. Plenty of storage space. As for my head, I can’t stand to wear a full hat when I run. We lose as considerable amount of heat from our heads so it’s important to wear something. I prefer the wraps that Velcro together. I can wrap it around my ears to keep them warm and then Velcro it in the back. I sweat a lot, even during the winter runs, and I have to wring it out at times because it absorbs so much moisture.
So that is a basic primer on winter running gear. It may take you some time to find what works best for you, so experiment with different combinations of clothes. Remember, you don’t have to buy the most expensive items to stay warm. Low-cost tops and bottoms from Wal-Mart worked great for me. Just don’t let the cooler temps keep you from getting outside and getting in some miles. This week I challenge you to skip the dreadmill and hit the streets in the cold weather. I think you might find that you truly enjoy it.
Mark D. Rucker is an attorney from Lexington who spent the majority of his adult life struggling with weight issues. As a result of his unhealthy lifestyle and weight, he suffered from high blood pressure, sleep apnea and was borderline diabetic. In February of 2011, at the age of 42, Rucker weighed over 365 pounds. It was then that he decided it was time to change his life. He now hopes to use his experience to help inspire and encourage others to begin their own journey to health and fitness. By focusing on his “small steps” philosophy, Rucker believes that anyone, at any age and in any physical condition, can change his or her life. Recently, he create a Facebook page called Get Moving Lexington to encourage the people of Lexington to get active.