One of my favourite quotes was a reply to someone complaining about slugs attacking their lettuces. They were told “You don’t have a slug problem. You have a duck deficiency”. And so it is with running in the winter. You don’t have bad weather. You have a kit deficiency.
Kit for trail running is more important than that for road running. On the hills the weather can change in minutes and there is no emergency bus, taxi or kindly partner coming to pick you up. In the long dark evenings there are no street lights and poor footwear can leave you virtually stranded in the cold.
This is how I dress for the winter months (which in the UK can run from the end of August until early June) not just because it is safer but because it is nicer and means I am more likely to leap out of bed in the morning and chip the ice off my running socks.
Head: It is a myth that we lose 80% of our body heat through our head but some kind of cover can make all the difference when the rain is coming down or the wind is howling. I like a buff if it is a cold dry wind as when I warm up it can double as a neck gaiter or head band but if the rain is really coming down I want a cap that keeps the rain out of my eyes. You need visability on technical trails, especially in the wet.
A head torch is a must if there is any chance you will still be out after dark (or in my case, heading out when it is still dark). I like Alpkit who do a range for £15-£20 that gives a good beam for its price. You can pick up head torches that cost hundreds of pounds and one day I might get the chance to give one a go.
Core: This is always the most difficult decision when I get up in the morning. You don’t want to over dress as carrying extra layers is a pain in the butt but too few layers and you could be in trouble, or at least uncomfortable. I like a long-sleeved base layer with a long-sleeved running top over it when it is really cold but a short technical top under and wind-proof jacket is fine for less bitter runs. One advantage of long-sleeved tops is that they can be taken off and tied around the waist.
It is worth investing in a good waterproof jacket. If you get wet you will get cold that much quicker. Look for one with storm zips and elasticated cuffs and hood. I don’t like the thick fleece lined jackets – it has never been cold enough here – as I don’t want the extra weight and they are bulky if you need to stash it in a pack.
Gloves are a must. Numb fingers make re-tying laces, opening food packets and doing up zips almost impossible. Nothing makes me more miserable on a run than red raw fingers.
If you are going to be out on the trails in bad weather I would take a small pack or waist belt so you have somewhere to put fuel of some sort as well as water – even in the cold you need to be drinking. You will sweat less but just breathing has a water cost.
Legs: In many ways I find the leg covering the least important choice. When you are moving your leg muscles produce heat as a by-product so shorts on a cold day are fine. The only issue I find is getting the muscles warmed up at the start to get going so I prefer leggings which do the job and show off my shapely calves.
Feet: I like double layer socks not only to prevent blisters but also to keep my feet warm on those first few miles. For my shoes I always need to decide if I am going for water proof or not. I have a lovely pair of Asics with gore-tex but if water gets in it struggles to get out so I tend to keep these for shorter runs when they are just dealing with long wet grass and the like. If I am splashing through puddles for miles and miles I prefer my basic Asics Gel Enduro. They dry out quickly on the trail, have good enough grip for the terrain I am running on and are very comfortable. Having said that I do have my eye on a pair of Rocklite 315…
So that is how I get out on those cold winter mornings and more importantly how I stay out and stay safe. For more on running in extreme climates I would recommend Mike Stroud’s ‘Extreme Fitness’ – a rivetting and informative read.
What is your favourite piece of winter kit?