Running in the Cold + ThermaJock

(Image originally posted by Mark Iocchelli at Complete Running)

Recently, Q posted about running in the winter. And, while I gave him a hard time (because he’s Canadian, a hunky blogger dad, intelligent, and he can take it), many of us are now thinking about cold weather and exercise. Treadmill or outdoors?

Gentlemen, if you’re going to run, consider the ThermaJock, designed to protect your valuables from freezing or chafing. Kind of funny, because towards the end of high school, a friend and I designed a “pepé wetsuit,” for protection while surfing in cold water. It never got beyond the talking phase, but this ThermaJock is for real. I’ve requested a sample and, if it is forthcoming, will review and post in the future.

Perusing the Web, I came across this basic list over at It’s nothing earth-shattering, but I’m reposting the list slightly edited) in its entirety for your enjoyment and edification.

The 20 degree rule. A good approximation is to dress for temperatures that are 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the actual temperature. So if it’s 20 degrees out, dress for walking in 40 degrees.

Dress in layers. Layers will keep you warmer than a single layer, and allow for flexibility of removing some of your insulation.

Shed after warm-up. If practical, you can overdress for the first mile or so, until you warm up. This requires you having somewhere to discard the extra clothes, or a way of carrying them.

If your hands are cold, wear a hat. This is an old boy scout saying, but it works. If you core temperature starts to drop, your body will protect your vital functions by sacrificing your extremities, such as hands and feet.

Don’t sweat through. If you wear too many clothes and sweat too much, you will sweat through your clothes. Once your clothes are soaked, you will become suddenly chilled. This means you will probably have to dress to be slightly cold, rather than toasty warm.

Windproof layers are a mixed blessing. A windproof layer will boost the insulation value of the underlying layers, which can really help keep you warm. Unfortunately a windproof layer also stops sweat evaporating, which regulates your temperature. This makes it much more likely that you will sweat though and become cold. I use a windproof layer, but open it up as soon as I warm up, then try to stay slightly cool. A windproof layer is very useful as an extra layer, as it can be wrapped around your waist easily. I will wear it until I warm up, then carry it in case I need some extra warmth later in the run.

Hydrate. Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you don’t need to drink.

Try to stay dry. Rain can chill you very quickly, so in cooler conditions, you need some rain protection.

Your lungs are fine. Your lungs will not freeze, not even at -40 degrees. Your lungs may get irritated by the low humidity, but they will get used to that. It is possible to get exercised induced asthma, which is a narrowing of the airways when exercising. If you suspect you have this condition, seek medical advice.

No cotton. This is true for any conditions, but worth restating here. Wear clothes made from synthetic, wicking fibers.

Watch for frostbite. Your extremities may go numb early in your run, but they should warm up. Anything that stays numb needs to be checked.

Watch for ice. Slipping on ice can pull muscles or cause falls. You can get traction aids to attach to your shoes if ice is a significant problem.

Hat and gloves. These are important to keep you warm, but they can also be taken off and tucked in a waist band easily. This allows you to adjust your insulation for the conditions. I like gloves that convert into mittens.

Vaseline. If you are still having problems with your hands and feet, spreading Vaseline over them before putting on your socks or gloves will dramatically improve the insulation. It’s a bit strange the first time you do it, but it works very well.

Sunglasses. Keeping your eyes protected can help you keep a little warmer, and reduce how runny your nose gets. Use sunglasses with interchangeable lenses, so you can use clear glass when it’s dark.

Chemical Warmers. Using chemical warmers can help keep your hands from getting too cold. These seem to not only keep hands warm, but also provide some extra warmth to the rest of the body and a little psychological boost.

Neck Warmer. A fleece neck warmer can protect your face and neck from the cold.

Warm Up Inside. Often the first mile or so is the worst, as your body has not started to produce sufficient heat to offset the cold. Warming up for 10 minutes inside, by running up and down stairs, doing a jump rope, or using a treadmill.

Start into the wind. If it’s windy, start your run into the wind so that on the way back, you won’t freeze due to sweating.

Suck then blow. If you have a problem with the tube on your hydration bladder freezing up, blow air back down the tube each time you have finished drinking. The drink is unlikely to freeze in the bladder itself, but the tube is very hard to keep warm. Insulation around the tube helps a bit, but not enough.

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