The Law of Layers

Cold Weather SceneI am a fairly patient and tolerable person; it takes a lot to get me riled up and I tend to like most things. There are only a couple things I truly hate: mosquitoes and being cold. I would take being hot over being cold any day. When I’m cold I feel like I can’t function, I usually scrunch my shoulders up to my ears which ends up hurting, and I’m liable to lose my usually positive spirit if I’m freezing. For these reasons, I avoided cold weather running for years.

This winter, however, I decided to buck up and power through the cold. It helped that I had set my running goals so I was already motivated. I also started reading a lot about how to properly layer and followed the blogs and tweets of runners out there in much colder climates than what we experience in Maryland. Thanks to some fabulous Christmas gifts and a mini-shopping spree of my own, I built up enough running gear that I could very easily layer up for even the coldest temps. Though the Maryland winter so far has been relatively mild I pushed myself through 30 and then 20-degrees, down into the teens, and my coldest run was in 9-degree weather. That day I had on my ski mask, 3 top layers, compression tights, fleece hat, and gloves. I’ve never had a problem keeping my upper body warm but on the colder mornings I definitely could have used warmer gloves and socks.

Having the right gear will go a long way toward making cold weather running tolerable. We’ve had a few warm days mixed in recently and it turns out all my days of bundling up made me forget what it’s like to not need so many layers. I was quickly reminded one 50-degree day how hot the hands will get when the blood is constantly flowing through them as your arms pump. Unfortunately I did not have any pockets so I stuffed my gloves into the empty bottle holders on my fuel belt; problem solved. Given my hatred of the cold, I usually err on the side of wearing too many layers with the mindset I can always take them off. How many times have you passed a runner with one or even two shirts tied around their waist? Not ideal, but it definitely works when you need to cool down.

Not sure how to determine your threshold for running in hot or cold temperatures? A very cool clothing calculator on the Runner’s World website allows you to put in your climate conditions and running preferences and it will calculate the layers you need. You’ll also want to understand the basics of layering and apply the wicking, warmth, and water-resistant strategy for your clothing. Obviously, keeping your head and hands warm is paramount to keeping you warm and keeping the heat in while running on cold days, but if you get too hot don’t forget to let some of that heat escape.

Surviving winter runs is definitely all about layers, and even though I finally have that figured out, I still say bring on spring!

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