The cold chill of winter is coming but that is no reason to quit exploring the trails, getting active outdoors or winter running.  Embrace the season change and stay fit this winter by ensuring you are well prepared and properly dressed! An adventure store clothing buyer and a seasoned winter runner share their tips for staying toasty during your winter runs.

My first competitive running event was the appropriately named Hypothermic Half Marathon in Winnipeg, Manitoba. On the morning of the race, the temperature was a bone-chilling -35C, dropping to -45C when those famous Prairie winds whipped up. Runners at the start line looked as though they were dressed for a polar expedition rather than a twenty one kilometer jaunt through the city’s streets.

Granted, most runners in Canada aren’t planning something as adventurous as a mid-winter race, but as the mercury starts to dip, there’s also no reason to hang up your shoes for the season. Winter running can be safe – and even fun – when you take the steps to dress appropriately for the weather.

All About That Base (Layer)

Staying comfortable during your winter runs starts with choosing a sweat-wicking base layer. While synthetic materials like polyester are fine for fair weather running, merino wool is a better choice for winter exercise.

“I am a big fan of merino wool. Unlike synthetic materials, it always feels warm. Even when it does get damp it still keeps me warm,” says Trailhead Kingston’s clothing buyer, Michelle McShane. In fact, this super soft natural fibre can absorb up to 30% of its own weight before you feel wet.

Another reason to opt for merino? It doesn’t hold on to odours the way synthetic fibres do – no matter how much or how often you sweat in it. This means you can wear your merino base layer several times before washing it.

While you can expect to shell out $20 for a pair of socks, $40 for a touque and $100 each for a shirt and tights, McShane says it’s money well spent because clothes made from merino last longer than those made of synthetics (plus the benefit of not having to do laundry as often!).

Expert Layering Tips 

“Your outer layer should be what protects you from the elements,” says McShane. Ideally, this wind- and rain-resistant layer should be breathable, allowing moisture to escape. Look for reflective details on your coat, pants and mittens that will increase your visibility during early morning and evening runs.

Of course, the true secret for dressing for winter running is finding the balance between being too hot and too cold. My own rule of thumb is to dress as though the temperature is 10 degrees warmer than it actually is. On very cold and windy days, I wear a mid-layer of lightweight fleece between my jacket and base layer.

“The trick is to not wear too much,” says McShane, who only wears a merino base layer and an outer layer. “If you wear too much, you tend to overheat and sweat more, which could actually lead to being too cold, especially if you stop or slow down during your run.”

The Cold Weather Injury No One Expects

Barring any wardrobe malfunctions, your clothing choices will protect you against hypothermia and frostbite, but McShane says that that runners who sweat it out outdoors in the winter months should be careful to not get dehydrated.

“Often in the cold, we don’t always feel thirsty. We also may not notice that we are sweating, because our clothes are wicking the sweat off of our body in a way that we don’t notice when we are in shorts and tanks in the summer,” advises McShane.

Because your body is working harder to stay warming, fueling with extra calories is critical during long runs. To prevent your water bottles from freezing, fill them with hot water. If you use a bladder-type hydration system like a CamelBak, insulate your tubes to prevent them freezing (a rookie mistake I made during my first Hypothermic Half Marathon).

There’s no feeling as rewarding as coming back from a frosty run, knowing you’ve conquered the elements. Just make sure you’re prepared before you head out the door. Happy running!

SOURCES: Michelle McShane – Buyer/Product Manager, Trailhead Kingston

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