Well, they have officially arrived. The really cold temperatures that we love as Edmontonians are finally here and will be on and off for the next 3 months or so. It’ll come as no surprise to anybody who knows me that I dislike winter immensely but I just deal with it and try to look forward to times when things start to warm up again in April. In any case, cold weather and snow are a reality for us and depending on the runner, we all deal with it in different ways. Some people shut it down and don’t bother getting back outside until things are more sane, while others shift to a treadmill, and while still others give winter the finger and just say “bring it on!”. While I’ll say the treadmill is sometimes a necessity depending on conditions and not a bad idea for a way to beat the cold and still get your workouts in, it definitely isn’t the same. I find I miss the fresh air and bustling activity I get in an outdoor run, so I’ve evolved into a runner that is resigned to the fact we live in a frigid climate and made sure I beat the cold by getting the right gear.
It’s easy to be intimidated when you want to get a run in but you look outside and it’s -30 C with blowing snow. In fact, maybe it’s not so much intimidation as it is motivation and the difficulty of trying to sum up any sort of eagerness to go out for 45 minutes or an hour to run in a blizzard. If it’s just a pure, burning hatred with the passion of a thousand suns towards cold weather, I won’t try to convince you any longer that going outside is a good idea and I’ll let you return to your blanket and fireplace. However, if it’s the case that motivation or intimidation are the only reasons you aren’t going outside for your workout, then read below because I can give you some handy tips on what you can get to keep yourself comfortable in even the coldest conditions.
In the last couple of decades, athletic clothing manufacurers have made great strides in producing cold weather athletic attire that can allow the user to remain warm in even the most frigid of temperatures and, at the same time, allow themselves a freedom of movement that prevents the runner from feeling constricted in overly bulky clothing. Gone are the days of grey athletic sweat pants and their unsightly sweat stains. Poly-blends, nylon, and gore-tex shirts and pants are thin, warm, and breathable which are all essential characteristics for cold weather running. I’ll run down the list of my favorite items that I wear together for the coldest days and if you’re so inclined, go give them a try.
I’ll start with the head and work down. I wear a Dakota brand balaclava in combination with a regular touque (wool hat for any American friends that might be reading this). Both of these items can be purchased for between 10 and 20 dollars at any workwear outlet like Mark’s Work Wearhouse or Jobsite workwear. Keeping the face covered is critical for preventing frostbite on exposed cheeks and chin.
Moving down to the torso area, it’s important to remember two things: the first is that dressing in layers is the best way to insulate yourself from the chill and gives you the option of removing a layer if you get too hot. The second is that cotton fabrics are risky in cold weather due to their propensity to absorb moisture, so if you’ve been sweating and then need to stop and walk, you’ll freeze. This is where the polyblend clothing is super beneficial because it is light weight, more breatheable than cotton or wool, and is more adept at wicking away moisture.
I typically start with a Nike Combat or Running Room brand base layer. These fit tight to the skin and lock in the majority of the heat trying to escape from your body. Next, I take the Under Armour Cold Gear compression shirt and slide it right over the base as my second layer. This is followed by a Primease hooded long sleeve shirt. This can be swapped in favor of a long sleeeve cotton shirt, but as I said just be cautious with cotton clothing. The jacket is the final and the most important component. The last two jackets I’ve used have come from Mountain Equipment Co-op and are absolute game changers. My lightweight MEC hoodie can be used by itself or in combination with the variety of layers I’ve mentioned for any situation that is thrown at you.
As we move into the lower body a good pair of long johns are essential. I reach for the T-Max insulated long John if it’s below minus 30. These keep the sticks nice and toasty. Overtop of the long-johns, I found that Solomon is my favorite brand of pant to use when I run. The Solomon Bonatti is an insulated cross country ski/running pant that is easily the best pair i’ve ever used. It provides warmth from the cold and protection from the wind.
With circulation being critical to keeping your extremities warm, you don’t want to jam a foot with overly heavy socks into your running shoe as it just restricts blood flow and and you wind up with frost-bitten toes. I always use a Fit-Sok which is fantastic for wicking away moisture from your feet. so much so that I’ve had a few situations in the past where my foot has broken through an iced over puddle and yet still feels pretty good only minutes later. Normally I shy away from cotton athletic socks but find they are a pretty good insulating layer over the Fit-Sok and still fit comfortably into your running shoe. Ive used this combination in weather below -40 C and have not had too much of a problem.
On my hands I like to use a fairly run of the mill running glove or mitt. By themselves, I always find my hands aren’t warm enough and really dislike the pain of frostbitten fingers, so I double up with a pair of cotton or wool socks overtop.
These were merely suggestions and everyone is different, but I’m positive that you can find something that works well if you are wanting to get out even in the worst conditions. Till next time, which is hopefully a bit warmer by then, thanks for your support and I’ll see you out there!