Two Rules to Dress for Cold-Weather Running

When it gets cold, I forget how to get dressed.

As fall transitions to winter and the temperatures start to drop below freezing, I respond by piling on more and more layers (and eating more and more cookies, although that’s not the point here…). This sounds warm and cozy, but it’s problematic when I go for a run. Just the other day, which was beautiful and sunny, I looked at the snow on the ground (just 2 or 3 inches), the temperature below freezing, and the slight wind and decided to pile on the layers so that I could stay warm during an easy run. Well, I’d severely overdressed. Not much more than a half mile in, I was unzipping my light jacket, and ditching my gloves. At the first mile mark, I had to ditch my hat and tie the jacket around my waist.

This situation reminded me of two great rules for dressing for cold weather running that (when I follow them) work like a charm:

Rule #1: Dress as if it’s 20 degrees warmer outside.

Running, cross country skiing, and other highly aerobic winter sports warm your body up and allow you to get away with less clothes. For deciding how many layers are necessary, imagine that you are dressing as if it’s 20 degrees (Fahrenheit, that’s 11 Celcius degrees) warmer out than the current temperature.

Over time, you can use this guideline to set a baseline for how to dress at different temperatures. For example, I’ve found that 50 degrees (with no rain or wind) is about the threshold for whether I should run in a tank top; at home or work, it would need to be a comfy 70 degrees to lounge around in a tank. When it hits about 30, I’ll start a run with a hat and thin gloves, but I might not keep them on for long.

Even better, the folks at Runner’s World have made an online tool to help you decide exactly what to wear based on the weather conditions and your preferences.

Rule #2: Dress for the second mile.

The challenge to dressing for cold weather activities is that it’s cold out (duh!) and it will take your body a while to adjust to the conditions and to warm up. This means that you will be a little cold at the beginning of a workout if you’ve dressed appropriately. And while it’s uncomfortable, you will survive just fine if you can keep this in mind.

On that run where I overdressed? I felt warm and cozy for the first half mile, but quickly started to heat up. I pulled my thin windbreaker mittens off first, well into the first mile. I also unzipped my thin windbreaker to keep my core from getting to warm. Just after the first mile, I removed the coat completely and continued my run with one less layer than I’d started with. Since I had to stop and adjust my clothes at the end of the first mile, I definitely should have dressed for the second mile.

Did you find this helpful? You may also want to check out the post Brr! How to Layer Up and Brave the Cold to get more details on how to dress for cold weather.

Sometimes I just pretend it’s fun until it is.


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