>2/3/14: Marathon Sports Tip of the Week - Dealing with the Polar Vortex

written by Dan Soleau


This past weekend’s mild temperatures gave us some great weather for long runs. But, we’re barely into February and with 6 more weeks of winter (according to the groundhogs), I guarantee you that we will be doing battle with that pesky Polar Vortex before we head into the final stretch of spring.

So, how do we dress for cold weather running? For those of us who avoid the "dreadmill" – especially for those long runs – getting outside is an important part of our training. Here are a few guidelines for suiting up and facing the freezing temperatures:

- Cotton is rotten: Cotton may be the fabric of our lives, but it’s not the fabric for running. Cotton is a porous fiber, which means that as we sweat, cotton acts like a sponge and absorbs our perspiration, keeping it right next to the skin.

- Dry Skin equals warmth: Instead of cotton, choose apparel made of synthetic fibers. Synthetic fibers are non-porous and pull moisture away from the skin, allowing it to evaporate into the air and keeping your skin dry.

- Layers equal warmth and versatility: Dressing in layers is a great way to add multiple layers of insulation, as well as giving us an option to shed layers if the temperature increases during the course of our run. Combinations of layers will give you options, and help you to face a wide variety of weather conditions. Here's a review:

  • Base layer: The first layer which sits directly against the skin. The baselayer’s job is to act as the first layer of insulation, and to pull the perspiration away from the skin keeping us dry. It should fit snugly, but should not affect your range of motion. If you feel like a sausage in a casing, go up a size. Avoid higher spandex/lycra contents for cold weather.
  • Mid-layer: The second layer (and sometimes all you need in addition to a baselayer). The mid-layer’s job is to act as the second layer of insulation, and to continue pulling the perspiration away from our body. Midlayers will often feature a half zip – this is a great way to vent excess body heat so we can regulate our core temperature. Look for reflective features for visibility in low light conditions. It should be fitted, but not quite as snug as your baselayer.
  • Shell: The third layer, generally only needed during more extreme weather conditions. Shell’s will typically be made of a tightly woven nylon and will have a water-repellent treatment. Don’t opt for “waterproof”, as that will mean the garment is seam-sealed and much less breathable than a “water resistant” jacket. Look for reflective features, and pockets for storage.

- Tights vs. pants: Tights are always warmer than pants. The closer a garment sits against the skin, the more effective it is at insulating. If a garment is loose, it allows cold air to get in between the fabric and skin every time you move.

- Cold hands: Gloves are a great option for taking the chill off of your fingers. If your hands tend to get very cold, or if you suffer from poor circulation (Raynaud’s, etc), opt for mittens. If mittens aren’t warm enough, try a pair of liner gloves inside mittens.

- Cold feet: Opt for wool socks. Wool has great insulating properties, and like synthetic fabrics it is non-porous, so it will help to keep your skin dry.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the information – you likely already have some pieces in your active wardrobe that will work just fine for your winter running needs. Think about what you already own (for skiing, snowboarding, tailgating) and how you can supplement those things with a few new pieces to make your closet more complete.