At the time of this writing, it feels like 9 degrees outside with an 11-mph wind from the west, and a small part of me is thinking about going for a run. The sun is shining, and I can see a cardinal in a neighbor’s birch tree.
We’ve all been here before. And if you’re a newbie to this training for the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon (CCIM) thing, you’ll experience soon enough the crazy looks from your neighbors. That gleam in your dog’s eye that says, “I won’t be joining you out there. Sorry, man.”
Winter training in Central Illinois can be rough. There’s the obvious cold, the ice, and occasional snow. It’s the wind that cuts you to the bone. When it’s windy, there’s no staying warm.
There are things you can ask for this holiday season to make winter running. . . well, I was going to say “more enjoyable,” but let’s be realistic. I mentioned it’s 9 degrees out there. The key to successful winter running is dressing appropriately.
I spoke with Robb Mathias at Body n’ Sole Sports in Savoy, Illinois. Body n’ Sole (Bn’S) is a gold-level sponsor of the CCIM and is my go-to place in the Champaign-Urbana area for gear of all kinds. From shoes to shorts, tri-gear to fueling supplies, Bn’S is a great source for my running needs.
Robb said the key to winter running is learning to layer.
Before you run, plan your clothing options as if it were 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. Your body will warm up significantly from the effort of running, and while you might think the danger is in not wearing enough clothes, it might actually be the opposite.
“You want to wick the sweat away from your body. Cotton is rotten,” Robb said.
Typically, I wear a regular tech race t-shirt, then a loose long sleeve tech shirt, arm warmers, and then a light running jacket. My neck gets cold, so when it gets below 40 degrees, I add a gaiter that also acts as a balaclava facemask. That adaptability is important to layering, Robb said. You need to easily regulate your temperature to avoid overheating, which surprised me when I first started running. I was always worried about being too cold, not the opposite.
By nature, I’m a cold person. I don’t have (and have never had) much extra insulation to keep me warm, so winter running can be particularly challenging, especially where my hands are concerned.
Robb suggests mittens over finger gloves. Mittens keep fingers comfortable, helping your fingers retain heat better. There are several types of mittens, and some rate themselves as warm, warmer, and warmest. The difference lies mostly in their ability to block the wind.
So is it tights or pants? I’m a tight kinda guy, but being self-conscious, I wear shorts over them. Otherwise, I feel a bit like a ballet dancer with nothing left to the imagination. Guys might also consider adding a fitted wind boxer to shield unmentionables from the wind. Believe me, it helps.
Robb mentioned that runners don’t layer much when it comes to their legs. He suggests a light tight in early fall and thicker tights or running pants when it gets colder. You can layer these, he said, but it all depends on what’s comfortable for you.
Headwear is also important during winter. I’ve seen people wearing anything from tech beanies to old school knit hats. It’s whatever works for you. We lose a lot of heat from our heads, but we also need to remember to adapt to the conditions.
Lastly, footwear is important. Wool socks sound like they’d be too hot, but smart wool wicks moisture away, keeping your toes drier and warmer than regular running socks. Robb noted that these socks aren’t like your uncle’s 1970s wool sweaters that itched like a bad flea infestation. Marino wool has all the properties of wool, its ability to absorb moisture, but without the itch.
And your shoes might need some work, too. With snow and ice, your footing becomes less secure, and you use more muscles as you struggle to gain traction. There are traction aids that have a rubber tread and carbide tips. Or you can go the cheap route like I do. I take an older pair of shoes and drive 5/8-inch metal screws into the soles of my running shoes. I was skeptical at first, but it really works.
Whatever you wear in the cold weather, stay safe out there. Let someone know you’re running outside and when you might be back. Better safe than sorry.
See you on the roads!