Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Running in the cold: what to wear

A look at the forecast for Thanksgiving morning in Fort Collins suggests that during the local Loveland Turkey Trot 5K and the Fort Collins Thanksgiving Day 4 Miler the ambient temperature in the area is going to be between 8 and 12 degrees...  That's pretty cold, on it's own, but the 9-12 mph winds are expected to contribute enough wind chill to make it feel like -3 to 0 degrees (all Fahrenheit). So, Turkey morn will be a cold one for anyone running these events.

Fortunately for me (or unfortunately, depending on one's perspective), I couldn't squeeze the registration fee out of my budget this year, so I opted instead to participate in a sort of Virtual Turkey Trot held by the folks at Dailymile. Participation requires a donation (Minimum $1), all of which will be pooled and donated to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. As I write, over $1500 dollars have been raised.

The one catch is that participants have to run on 11/25-11/26/2010. So, my choice is either to run on Thanksgiving day (very cold), or the following day (less cold, but maybe still feeling stuffed). hmmm...

Well, regardless of which day I choose to run, the has me considering again what attire is appropriate for running in cold temperatures. Last winter was my first winter running, and it took a few tries to figure out how much clothing was too much, too little, and just right. Eventually, though, I did settle on some rough guidelines that kept me comfortable. Here they are:

FoCoRunner's [No-so]Famous Running Attire Guidelines for cooler Temperatures (drum roll please)
judgment day50-60°F - perfect conditions for running: shorts, short sleeves, visor hat
40-50°F - good conditions for running: shorts, long sleeves, light beanie, light gloves
30-40°F - ok conditions for running: shorts or light tights, long sleeves, wind vest, light beanie, light gloves
20-30°F - cool conditions for running: light tights, long sleeves, wind jacket, med beanie, light or med gloves
0-20°F - cold conditions for running: thermal tights, long sleeves, thermal top/jacket, thick beanie or balaclava, wind vest/jacket optional, med gloves

These work out pretty well, but wind can make a big differences. Where I have two options above (i.e., light or medium gloves), I choose the warmer one if there's a light wind or breeze (9 mph and under), and if the winds are 10-15 mph, I choose slightly warmer stuff. Above 15 mph, I go with the clothes appropriate for for 10 degree cooler temperature range.

Of course, these are the guidelines as they exist in the abstract, in my head. Depending on how I feel I modify them, and for races, I'll assume I can dress a little lighter for a given temperature (during the race). I also like overdress a little at first one some days, and just shed gear as I do. It's easy to pull of gloves and a beanie and stick them into pockets in your shorts or in a wind vest or jacket. Using these rough guidelines, I was able to run in temperatures down to 8-9°F with 20 mph winds last winter, and remain comfortable. Others may prefer to be cooler or warmer than me while running.

The one thing you can't really do much about in the winter is the cold/dry air, so if you have problems breathing in cold/dry conditions, you may still be better off on a treadmill. As for me, I'll take the outdoors. The only electricity I want to burn when I'm running is the electricity in my nervous system that is powering my body.

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