I once ran the Big Sur Trail Marathon when the official race day temperature was 100 degrees. I have also done a training run in -10 degrees. I’ve run marathons where it was snowing and raining with a freezing wind chill factor at the start, then hot and sunny by the finish. Whether you are new to running or a veteran runner, you recognize that weather conditions play a big part in your training and racing — especially when deciding what to wear.
I wish I could say that I know exactly what to wear in every weather situation, but at times it really is a bit of a crap shoot. Still, I do have a very good idea of what apparel does and does not work for all the different weather scenarios you will encounter.
One thing you must take into account is that everyone reacts differently to the temperature.
I have been out running in shorts and a light long sleeve t-shirt, and another person will come running in the opposite direction wearing the same type of gear I would wear if it was only 15 degrees with a high wind chill factor. I also have been running in 30 degree weather wearing a couple layers of warm clothing, and I’ve seen a runner fly by me wearing shorts and no shirt! So, find what clothing works best for you. As with so many things in the sport of running, this too will come from trial and error.
While trial and error may play a part in finding what is most comfortable for you, I can still provide some decent suggestions on what works best when it comes to running apparel and the weather conditions.
Cotton is a No-No!
As a runner who started during the running boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s, I can tell you that running clothing has made tremendous leaps and bounds for comfort — no matter the weather. During that running boom, most runners basically assembled whatever clothing they had used in high school and college gym class for working out. Most of this clothing was bulky and almost always made of cotton.
I’ve stated this a few times before and I’ll say it again — cotton is rotten! If that sounds a bit harsh, just go out for a run wearing a cotton t-shirt, sweat shirt, sweat pants or socks, and you’ll then find out what harsh is. By the time you’ve finished running, especially if you went for a long run, your clothing will feel heavy because the cotton absorbed all of your sweat. It will make you colder in cold weather or hotter in hot weather. Plus, you will more than likely have skin chafing in unmentionable spots or blisters on your feet.
Technical clothing and gear are something the sporting companies have developed over the last couple decades, almost to the point of perfection. For example, I got tight-fitting base layer shirt many years ago that, without exaggeration, is the most perfect piece of cold weather running gear I have ever owned. I wear it on almost every cold weather run. It is made with a combination of polyester, acrylic and spandex, plus it has thousands of tiny threads containing the element silver. Not only does this shirt keep my core temperature in a comfortable range, but the silver threads help to distribute my body temperature evenly.
Almost all top-notch technical gear does this, allowing my sweat to wick away from my skin, which greatly reduces the chance of getting too cold. Fortuantely, there are many, many great tops, pants, tights and even sports underwear that are now available for you to choose from that will keep you comfortable no matter the weather conditions.
Don’t Forget the Socks
Even socks have radically changed over the years for the benefit and health of runner’s feet. Most of us grew up with our parents buying six packs of cotton socks to wear to school and the gym, but today’s running and athletic socks are composed of polyester and acrylics. One of the most popular types of running socks now are made of merino wool, which not only wick the sweat away from your feet but also keep your feet warm in the cold and cool in the heat. There is even a brand of sock that contains a chemical component that vastly reduces the water retention in the sock fibers, therefore greatly reducing the chance of blistering.
And then there are the shoes, oh man running shoes! Virtually all running shoes are designed with super lightweight mesh to allow your feet to breath. Even in super cold weather, most runners have no problem with lightweight mesh shoes — unless they run through deep water causing their feet to get soaked and consequently cold.
For the really tough conditions like deep snow and mud running, almost all running shoe companies have developed shoes that are either water-resistant or water-proof with pronounced tread patterns for better traction. Most of these types of shoes qualify as trail running shoes. While this category of running shoe used to be bulky, stiff and hot, technical advancements have made them light, flexible and breathable, yet they still protect your feet from the elements.
As a modern runner, you have available to you the best possible technical clothing and gear at the click of your computer mouse or at your local running specialty shop. Find out what works for you to keep you comfortable and issue-free during every run you do!