The first cold day of the fall, I always underdress.
The second one? Wickedly overdressed.
It happens every year. I’ve been running long enough, been running outside long enough, that I should be able to look at the temperature and immediately know what to put on. It never works that way.
On a recent Friday, I headed out in what I thought was a reasonably warm collection of gear for a chilly but not really cold morning. Then, as it always happens here, I turned into the wind and was reminded that it can be biting, even when you’re fine otherwise.
That, of course, meant that the next time I went out, I completely overdressed in straight paranoia. Too heavy of a coat, gloves that were too warm, a headband I didn’t need, tights when capris would have worked. The only good thing I did was put tape over the toes of my shoes to keep the wind out.
It takes a few runs to get the hang of it again.
More than a decade ago, I told myself I was going to run outside all year, and, if I did, I would treat myself to a few new items. The thing with running clothes is it’s usually the smell of them that makes you retire them, not that they wore out. So you know whatever you buy is generally an investment. I bought a jacket that year on a clearance rack, and I still have it. Same with some of my favorite gloves and even a pair of tights.
Recently, 605 Running Co. hosted a winter running class, showcasing gear and offering tips and tricks for how to survive the season. We all have our absolute go-to items for winter running. These are a few of mine.
Handwarmers. I was introduced to these by Rob Sevold at a Lincoln morning run a decade ago. I have circulation issues, and my hands turn to ice long before the rest of me. I have an entire box of mittens, of gloves, of gloves with windproof flaps that turn them into mittens, liners and giant fleece mittens. I have every combination. Some of them work better than others, but what I absolutely have to have are chemical handwarmers.
Wool socks. Again with my circulation issues. Sure, wool socks are more expensive than a six pack of cotton socks. But they last forever. I just pulled out a pair of grey ones that I bought that first year, and they just started to have a hole in the bottom. (Also, all my socks get holes at the same time – why is that?)
Balaclava. A hat is good. A buff is good, too. A balaclava is both. I see folks in the really tight ones with the nose holes, and they’re cool, but I’m a nerd and my glasses fog up when I wear those. So I stick with a fairly loose fleece one. I’ve had it for years and love it. I wear a hat underneath it on really bitter day, and I like that I can kind of move it around if it’s windy or not – pull the face mask down so I can breathe, pull it up into the wind, take the hood on and off for the same reasons. Note: Braid your hair. A balaclava and a long ponytail is a recipe for a giant knot when you’re done. If you’re cold enough, it’s a frozen knot.
Full tights with capri tights underneath. I rarely go for a run where I think, wow, my calves are really cold. But your thighs? Good grief, they can freeze. Two pairs of tights are a half pair too many, though, so I wear capri tights under longer ones, or under looser running pants in the dead of winter. I’m warm without feeling stuffed into my clothes.
Windproof jacket. I don’t want to talk about how many running jackets I have. Soft shell jackets. Windbreakers. Reflective coats. Coats big enough to cram a fleece under in the dark of February. It’s a lot. I have a LOT of winter running coats. Also, somehow they are almost all either blue or purple. My favorites are a little big on me, have a pocket big enough for a phone somewhere and are longer in the back.
Trail shoes. Its’ snowy. It’s slippery. Strapping any kind of weird spike thing on your shoes just makes your feet go numb. OK, maybe that’s just me. Every winter I regret that when I bought snowshoes I didn’t buy the kind you can run in. It would allow me to push my trail love deeper into the season. For now, trail shoes get me through the snowy season.
Beyond all that? A desire to go. Friends to go with. The occasional daytime run, so you don’t feel like you’re in the dark all the time. A weekend long run followed by a fleece blanket, giant sweatshirt and cup of tea, the sun bright and a library book.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged.