5 tips on what to wear to run in cold weather (Part I of the Winter Warrior Running Series)

(This is part one of a three-part series called "Polar Vortex Winter Running Series". Get on the list to get the next part delivered directly to your inbox.) Cooler temperatures. Impending polar vortexes. Frostbite on the plants I forgot to bring inside. And the Farmer's Almanac predicting the 2014 - 2015 winter as one during which we won't only be cold, but we'll exist as a "Refriger-nation."


Who's ready to lace up their sneaks and run outside with me?

Winter weather (unless you live in Florida) offers two stark options for runners.

1. Dusting off the treadmil (or the "dreadmill" as I lovingly call it) and start logging miles which catching up with Scandal and Downton Abbey.


2. Learning how to layer up, to stay safe and to find motivation to run outside.

Without a doubt,  I'll opt for layers, safety and motivation over the treadmill any day of the week.

Last year, I consistently ran outside 4x week, logging about 75-85 miles/month. Some of my favorite, treasured runs happened during blizzards and snowstorms.

Sure, my friends thought I was a bit (entirely) nutty for running outside in less than ideal weather.

Between you and me, I love running in the winter. In fact, when I look back over my training notebook for last winter, I ran the most consistently and frequently in the cooler, winter months.


In this first part of my three part "Polar Vortex Winter Running Series", I'm addressing the #1 question I always get asked about running outside in the winter :

What on Earth do I wear?

Here are my 5 tips on how to dress for success when running in the cold :

1. Cover your head.

Your mama's been telling you since you were a little kid to wear a hat because you lose about 10% of your heat through your head. This advice holds true when running in the winter.

When you head out the door into the winter white wonderland, make sure you've got a hat on your head. Personally, I wear a hat that covers my head and my ears.  A fleece or wool hat is your best choice. And if you happen to overheat when running and really desperately want to take it off, just tuck it into the back waistband of your pants.


2. In the spirit of Meghan Trainor, it's all about the base (layers), no tricky cotton.

Whatever you do, do NOT wear cotton anything when running (in both hot and cold temperatures.) I repeat, no cotton. Why? Wearing clothes that wick away sweat (aka liquid awesome) is a key part of regulating your body temperature.

When you layer up to run in the cold, you want to make sure that your sweat is pulled off of and away from you. Eventually the sweat evaporates.  If your sweat gets soaked up by your clothes, it will soon cool you down. And your layers will trap that moisture instead of moving the moisture through your layers.

Before you know it, you'll have the shakes and start to freeze, not something that you want when you're in the middle of a long run, miles from your car and a hot shower.

Choose layers that are thin and made of wicking material such as wool, silk or polyester. Depending on the temperatures, you might wear both a base layer AND an insulating layer. Consider wearing a wind breaker or light nylon jacket if necessary.

For example, if it's 30 degrees out, I'll wear a wicking sports bra, short sleeve running shirt and a warmer, long sleeved insulating layer over that.

For the bottom layer, I'll choose a pair of compression (meaning they fit snugly) tights. Again, all articles of clothing on the top and bottom are specifically designed to wick away the sweat. Depending on just how cold it is, either my top insulating layer or my running tights might have a light layer of plushness to it. That peach fuzz on the inside helps keep me warm.

Arm warmers like these ones I have from Oiselle are another great way to layer and add warmth to your running outfit.  They can really provide a lot of different options if you're exactly sure what to wear.

Sometimes if I don't want to wear two top layers, I might wear the arm warmers with a t-shirt. When I get toasty, I just roll them down to my wrists. And if I need to take them off, it's easy enough to tuck them around my waist without bothering me.

3. Protect your hands.

Never underestimate the power of gloves. I've been on really cold runs where it was the gloves that kept me warm. Conversely, I've been on runs when I was wearing all the right layers, but didn't have gloves on. As a result I could never warm up and felt cold during the entire run.

Just because you're wearing a long sleeved shirt with really long sleeves and thumbholes, it doesn't mean that your hand will be warm. Worse, cold air can sneak up your sleeves and cool your body down.

Before the temperatures take a nosedive, all it takes is a pair of $2 cheap-o finger gloves from Target (with the smartphone texting fingertips of course) to keep you warm.

4. Add 10 more minutes to your getting ready routine

Layering (and unlayering) takes time.

I pride myself on not taking too long to get ready. But when that cold front moves in, it's a whole other story about getting me out the door.

Putting on all the extra layers, the time to check and then double check the weather (is it really 17 degrees outside?) and sometimes just the extra psyche needed to take that first step out the door happens a lot slower when it's colder out.

5. Dress as if it's 20 degrees warmer outside.

When dressing for a run outside in the cold weather, always add 20 degrees to whatever the temperature is. It's something I do regardless of how hot or cold the temperature is at the start of my run. There's nothing worse than overheating at mile 2 of a 12 mile run or running 12 miles and ending the run with the shivers.

Overheating or freezing like that means you didn't dress right for the weather.

Yes, it takes awhile to train yourself NOT to overdress.

"17 degrees outside? Say what?!

I'll wear this and this and this and this, oh and can't forget this scarf, neck warmer, gloves, double mittens, extra wool socks and two hats."

No matter what you're wearing when you run in the cold, winter months, don't overlook sunblock, lip protector and sunglasses. Your face will thank you later.

Coming next week, 5 Tips to Stay Safe When Running in the Cold - Part II of the Polar Vortex Winter Running Series.

Don't want to miss it? Get on my list and you'll get part II delivered right to your inbox.

(Did you miss Part II of the series? Click HERE to read about how to stay safe while running this winter)

(Did you miss Part III of the series? Click HERE to read about how to motivate to run in the cold.)