Not too long ago I attended a “clinic” at Vertical Runner on an introduction to fall and winter trail running. If you live in the Akron/Cleveland area and would like to attend one for yourself, Grunt Girl Racing is hosting one this Thursday night at Fleet Feet Sports in Northfield.
If you’re not local…here is what I learned from the clinic and my own experiences. ** disclaimer, I am not a doctor nor a sports professional, take my advice at your own risk/pleasure.
You wanna run in the colder months? You’re a brave soul, and here are the basics you should know to keep safe and happy.
1) Dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer out. Once you get moving and your blood is pumping and sweat is pouring out, your core temperature is going to rise and you will feel warmer.
2) If possible have a change of clothes ready for you when you complete your work out. Sitting around in damp clothes will make it feeler cooler and the lack of movement will kill that “20 degrees warmer” sensation.
3) Dress in layers. There are two things to consider when dressing. If you follow these guidelines all other choices are just preferences.
A – you will want a layer close to your body which will wick away sweat (to keep
you warm and dry).
B – if it is windy you will want some type of shell over the wicking layer.
* I went running Sunday morning with some friends. I was freezing, the ground was frosted over. I wore my normal fall leggins with a pair of calf sleeves, wool socks (with thin socks also), regular trail shoes, a long sleeve tech shirt and a regular fleece hoodie with a hat and gloves. At the start I was chilled a mile into it I was warm and by the end of 5 I was glad to be done and over heated. The temp remained 30-40s.
Shoes: Although some trails are going to be OK in the summer with regular shoes, I would seriously suggest getting trail specific shoes for the winter. Not only are you on trails, but you’re with leaves, snow, ice, mud, and whatever else mother nature sees fit. For added traction consider buying a product such as YakTrax. If you don’t like this product or you need something a little more budget friendly, consider putting screws in the bottoms of your shoes. I found a YouTube video to show you what this means.
Shoe Screwing for Winter Traction from Endurance Planet on Vimeo.
An added note, it’s been mentioned using the screws has a slight disadvantage. When you hit solid ground (ice/sidewalk/road) the screws turn your shoes into a type of ice-skate. If you’re going to be switching up terrain, it may be better to invest in a removable product. People also ask/question “Won’t your shoes leak” to which many people reply “You’re running in rain/ice/snow…you’re going to get wet regardless”.
Socks? If you survey 100 people, 101 and will say “wear wool socks”. OK I don’t have the exact link or statistics on this, but it’s a very common statement. Back in the day I swore by SmartWool products myself. Wool socks are designed to keep you feet dry, ventilated and wick moisture away so you do not blister or chafe, all while padding your shoes for long distance comfort. Here is where I am a freak. Wool makes me blister. For the past year the only time I have blistered (and this includes forgetting to wear BodyGlide) is when I wear wool socks. Weird I know. I have found there are so many socks on the market though, it doesn’t matter. I have worn thin “summer” socks with wool over them before. I like this approach for longer races because I can easily peel off the wool sock when it gets nasty and apply a new sock without exposing my feet. I have doubled up on thin to medium socks or have just gotten by with a medium to thick sock of a different material. I would say try wool first, but don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work for you.
Another sock you may try is a compression sock. I have worn compression sleeves by CEP and Tommie Copper and I love them! I think they help tremendously with avoiding cramping and strain. They are also helpful in the woods when you don’t want to encounter strange plants and animals along the path. Sleeves may be good if you have a preference for a favorite sock or feel the need to switch them up season to season. Socks may be better if you have a thing about having your ankles covered, or if you don’t want to plan for both socks and sleeves.
Pants or shorts? It depends obviously on preference and weather. I have found when it’s chilly my compression tights work fine. I know people who will add a pair of shorts to keep the private area better covered (especially important for men). Personally I heat up within ½ a mile of running, so I can easily do shorts and compression sleeves or the tights alone. When it is windy, speed + wind = pain. This is when you want to invest in a type of pant. Some pants have a version of tights with a wind panel in the front. Other pants are thicker and seem like ski pants. If you’re not prone to overheating or feeling restricted these may be a good idea for you. In the past when it’s really nasty out, I’ve worn my tights with a pair of wind pants over them.
Short or long sleeved shirt? Again it depends on what you like. If you stick to the wicking/wind shell rule, you should be fine in whatever you enjoy. Try buying a long sleeve shirt in thin wicking material. If you get overly warm the sleeves can be pushed up. Pair this with a wind shell vest as needed. The vests may easily be folded up if no longer needed, or unzipped for ventilation. You may also think about getting the vest in a version of neon green/yellow for safety precautions. If you’re not a LS person (I am NOT) then a good idea may be to consider the same steps, only add arm sleeves to your list. Arm sleeves come in various thickness and fabrics, but the point is generally equal. It adds warmth and protection as needed and if it gets too warm; they can easily be pushed down to your wrists. I LOVEmy arm sleeves; they are a mandatory staple in my cooler months’ wardrobe. I even wear them under long sleeves for especially colder starts.
Hat or gloves/mittens? Yes, please consider wearing a hat and gloves or mittens. I’m sure you have heard how 60% of your heat escapes from your head? Well, that is a lot of needed warmth before you start running, and it’s probably one of the easiest ways to regulate temperature as you’re going faster/slower on the course. A lot of people will suggest wool again for its wicking purposes. Wool makes me too itchy. I think a lot of the newer microfiber products are just as nice. Ladies, many hats now have a hole for your ponytail! BondiBand makes them or Buff products can be adjusted in a multitude of ways. It is important however to keep the hat as dry as possible. If you find in the middle of the race you’re chilled and go to put on wet fabric, it isn’t going to help you warm up too much. For gloves/mittens, it may be a personal debate. Mittens are good if you need to handle a lot of things, gloves will keep the heat within the fingers. Some products are convertible, where you can place a glove shell over the mitten fingers for added warmth. I’ll be honest, I don’t spend a lot on gloves. 1) I don’t think I need to 2) If I lose them I’m not sad. I go to the local whatever store and I buy a pair of the “Magic Gloves” for $1. Seriously. I have done this for years and it works. I have warm happy fingers for the first part of the race, I heat up, they come off. I tuck them into a pocket or my bra and they don’t come out again unless I am walking. No, they don’t wick, yes, they get a little wet at times. As I get more into my trail running I might need to invest in something better. But for those of you running let’s say under an hour at a time, they will probably work for you….just a heads up on saving a few pennies.
Moving away from clothing there are a few pieces of gear you should consider.
Watch and/or GPS. Basically don’t go out in the winter on a trail for mileage, it’s too unpredictable! Go out with a time in mind and use your watch to keep track. Do not expose yourself to dangerous elements or even safe ones longer than you are prepared.
Phone. In the summer you may have gotten away with running solo for 20 -30 minutes…but see explanation above. You don’t know what’s out there, and unless you want to freeze and be eaten by wolves, have a way to contact someone for help…or to let them know if you’re off schedule so they do not worry. Also LET SOMEONE KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING! Seriously. This goes for running outside in any condition. Tell someone your route, when you’re going and what time you expect to be back.
Hydration. If you’re going to be out there longer than an hour you need hydration. You probably also need fuel. For what to carry, go ahead and review my Nathan write up. I would suggest switching to a version with an insulted cover, but some temps just can’t be fought. I’ve heard of people taking water that is hot from the get go, so it takes longer to freeze and will be cool when you actually need it. I’ve heard of people storing back packs under jackets to help trap additional heat. The biggest issue I hear though, isn’t that the contents are frozen, but the nozzle or opening. If anyone has fool proof suggestions I’m sure we would all love to hear them. I would hope someone doesn’t skip water just because it’s a little tricky in the winter! If you do, at least plan a looped course where you can hit up your car for refreshments. You may not feel tired/thirsty/warm, but your body is sweating and still needs hydration/lubrication!
Fuel. For shorter routes you probably do not need anything other than because you like it. For longer routes, ask yourself what you’re craving or what purpose you want it to serve. Plan accordingly. If you want/need an energy boost, it has been suggested gum with caffeine will get the job done. If you want some carbs with that boost a gel or a chew may be helpful. When replacing protein or other nutrients you may switch to certain other solids or a food item, such as a stinger waffle, an energy bar, or a homemade sandwich. Fuel really is its own post all together and I will write it up one day.
Headlamp. It’s going to be lighter shorter and with tree coverage it can get tricky quickly! A headlamp may feel awkward, but it is going to keep you safe. It is also a staple for any night race, should you get to that point in your career. Things to check for in a lamp.
1) Is it designed for running? Some are going to be too heavy/bulky. They may be great for mountain climbing, but add the constant up and down and it’s a no go.
2) What are the lumens? Generally you’re not going to need more than 60 for running. Unless you need to simulate daylight. This can be an issue since the difference between your path and surroundings will be so great. You will lose peripheral vision. A higher lumen light may be good if you plan to use your lamp for both running and biking (which I do so I bought one at 60)
3) What is the battery life? Many people have told stories about how their lamp dies after 4 runs. Or 10 days with or without use. Yes, things eat batteries! If you’re going to be using your lamp frequently, it may help to invest in a rechargeable battery. The part costs about the same as the lamp itself, but saves 900 batteries in it’s life. A fellow runner told our group he charged his in June and it still has not needed to be recharged (and he uses it at night). If you can’t afford to upgrade, make sure you have plenty of spares in your car and on your person.
Those are the basics on getting through the fall and winter with trail running. I’m sure many more suggestions could be given, and fell free to leave them in the comments section, perhaps I’ll have to do a part two? Did these highlights help you? Tempt you to try winter running? Scare you away from it?