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I'm going to be traveling to Chicago, IL in early December and I'm training for a marathon. What kind of preparation and equipment do I need to continue training while I am there? I have run several marathons and I have run through the winter in the Southern US. I am prepared to run in weather down to about 35 degrees Fahrenheit, with minimal wind, rain, or snow. During the week I will be in Chicago, I plan to run at least 5-7 miles most days, with a long run of 15-20 miles one day. Historical weather shows that the average temperature in Chicago in December is 20 degrees.

  • Should I expect to be running on ice, and if so, do I need special shoes?
  • If it is icy or snowy outside, do people just go to the gym and completely avoid running outside?
  • If I am running in ice or snow, is there a special method of layering that helps the most?
  • I have been planning to do my long run on the lake. If it is 20 degrees outside and windy, is that feasible or will it be far too cold?
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An entry from Runner's World: runnersworld.com/article/…-766910--01032012-_-What%20to%20Wear%20In%20the%20Cold –  Tonny Madsen Jan 3 '12 at 6:55

8 Answers 8

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Running in the cold is perfectly fine, and I've run all the days of this season, including when it was down to 15°F so far, with not a ton of extra equipment. I don't know how recommended it is if you are going to be travelling from the southern weather winter to a northern weather winter suddenly might be a shock to the system.

  • Protect your extremities more than you think you should. In 30°F weather, for example, I am running in shorts and a long-sleeve shirt, but I also wear a hat and gloves. If it's windy, I also wear a windbreaker over my top.

  • If it's really cold, think in Layers. A Compression top is great to wear under your normal running tee, it will block a lot of the wind and also provide some insulation while wicking away the sweat and keeping you dry. The same goes for the bottoms - get a set of running tights, which will normally work fine down to about 0°-10°F, and then add some shorts on top of them to block wind, and if it's really cold and you want to protect your man-parts, get some thermal boxer shorts too, that block the wind even more. It's pretty easy to take layers off if you get too hot when you're running, but frostbite is a serious concern when it gets below 20°F.

  • Don't run in only cotton or another non-wicking material when it's cold, it is dangerous. Your sweat will freeze and you can get Hypothermia. Wool is better, and even then I use polyester wicking fabrics as the base layer.

  • Running on ice is tricky, go slower than you expect, and only do it in the daylight. I have never trusted any light to keep a path lit enough for making sure that you have sure footing when there is a lot of ice. You can get some Yaktrax to go over your normal running shoes, or if you have an old pair of shoes that you are willing to sacrifice, there is nothing better than putting some Sheet Metal Screws directly into the shoe.

  • Speaking of light, it gets very dark very early in the northern states in the winter. Here in Minnesota, sunset is before 5pm already (mid-november) and I expect it to be almost 4pm later this year. If there isn't ice outside, you will need some lights and/or reflective strips so that you are visible to cars and other runners while you run.

I don't expect to fall back on the treadmill option unless it's seriously snowy outside, or my streets and trails have more than a foot of snow on them and haven't been plowed. I don't usually worry about rain in the summer, and just run outside unless it is really coming down and I can't see.

Wind can be a problem, especially if you are running around a lake where the wind can pick up considerably over the sheet of ice that will form in December. Outer layers that are of a wind-breaking material like Goretex or just a standard wind-blocking nylon can make all the difference.

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Good tips. With socks, do you layer? I tend to only wear a single pair of thin tech socks (nylon, polyester). Also, how about gloves? I have a pair of thin, Nike gloves, but they are not very thick and the cold seeps through, even in the South. I've heard mittens recommended so your fingers share heat, but I can't stand them. With tops, I normally wear only a wicking tech shirt, long sleeve, down to 35 degrees or so. Are you saying you layer a wool layer over a tech shirt like this? –  cisellis Nov 20 '11 at 18:08
    
I don't layer with socks, but I will switch to a wool sock in the winter when it gets really cold. Usually I have less trouble with my feet / legs getting cold than my top, it's more important to keep the core warm. I have a pair of gloves which have a mitten thing on top which is optional, so the fingers can share heat but are still separated. Usually I will layer a compression shirt under the tech tee first, and then if it's REALLY cold (-10F or lower) I will add a coat on top. If it's windy, I add a coat on top of just the tech tee for the wind-blocking ability. –  jamuraa Nov 20 '11 at 20:14
    
Awesome. I'll look at some wool socks and maybe some gloves like yours. Thanks! –  cisellis Nov 20 '11 at 23:14
    
This is all great advice, especially the parts about taking hypothermia seriously. The Alaskan Natives have a saying... "the weather goes hunting for people who don't respect it". Respect it. –  kce Nov 22 '11 at 9:05

My cold weather running essentials:

1) First and foremost, I bought this neoprene suit I used to dread running in the cold. Now I'm more comfortable than in the summer.

2) This balaclava keeps my head, ears, and nose warm. It also helps with excessively cold air.

3) Finally, these gloves keep my hands warm and my playlist changing.

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Tip for the wind: If you are doing an out-and-back, check the direction of the wind. The second half of your run is likely to entail some level of fatigue. Better to go out INTO the wind and come home with the wind. If you fatigue yourself, only to return into a stiff wind you run the risk hypothermia or increased fatigue trying to stay warm/comfortable.

Other tips here, including the wind tip: Winter Running Tips.

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Another tip is to use the cheap chemical handwarmers when it gets cold. I wear a pair of fingered running gloves with a wind proof mitten shell over them.

Handwarmer packets, which are available for less than $1 a pair here, are light enough not to notice and work great for keeping fingers warm and easily last for several hours

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You have to factor in wind, a good wind(wind chill) can drop the temp 20 to 30 degrees so wear something that can block wind but doesn't get clammy while you sweat.

Also you may want to consider something to cover your neck such as a neck gaiter or even something over your mouth when the weather dips well below 0. You can burn your throat by breathing in to much cold air to fast in addition to increased mucus production it can make it difficult to breathe while standing still.

Winter running is fun, no on else is usually out so you'll have alot of peace and quiet. If you run on trails you'll often be breaking in the trails yourself so be prepared slow down while running through fresh powder, you'll often be trying to run while lifting your legs out of the snow.

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As an Alaskan I have a few things to add. (General temperature before windchill in the winter around these parts is 5-15 F... which is mild by Alaskan and most standards).

  • Wear wool. The old timers wore wool because it worked. Synthetics are great in warmer climates because they're light weight and dry fast, but they are not insulting the way wool is. Polypropylene (the most common synthetic base layer) primarily functions by wicking moisture away from your skin. It is not in of itself a insulating layer. If you find wool hard to wear, I suggest some quality marino wool (I'm partial to Smartwool or Icebreaker myself)
  • Wear gloves and a hat. This is way more important than you think it is. I'm also a huge fan of the neckie (sometimes called a neck gaitor)
  • Do not neglect a layer that can break the wind. This should be light, non-insulating (otherwise you'll overheat) and preferably have pit-zips or some other method of venting.
  • Use layering and venting (i.e., pit zips) to prevent sweating as much as possible. The saying in the Arctic goes, "to sweat is to die"... here's why...
  • Be prepared for a huge drop in body temperature as soon as your exertion level drops. It's pretty common for me when I'm hiking or snow-shoeing somewhere in the winter to be stripped down to base layer up top with my full length vents open on my snow pants and still be comfortable while I'm exerting myself. As soon as I stop moving, I immediately pile on everything I'm carrying and I'm still cold for at least 15 minutes. Just be prepared for this, you'll be uncomfortable at the very least if you don't.
  • Watch the ice. Seriously. (I just destroyed my ankle this morning)
  • Watch the cars, trees, and moose. (Wear lights! And invest in a good headlamp that's comfortable to run with.)
  • This is SUPER IMPORTANT. Tell someone where you are going, when you expect to be back and then stick to your "flight plan". Better yet go with a buddy. I know Alaska is far cry from Chicago (Hell, I know I couldn't survive there); but this is just cold weather basics. People up here routinely die because no one knows where to look for them when they don't come back for dinner.
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This seems like sound advice but its just made me really glad that I live in suburban London and I don't have to watch out for moose when I go running :) –  Richard Nov 23 '11 at 10:10
    
Just so you know I'm not making the last point up... UAA Runner who froze feet.... Unfortunately both his feet were amputated. Pretty sad story. –  kce Jan 5 '12 at 1:12

I'm going to add to M. Cypher's excellent answer. I run a lot in Vancouver, BC which has similar temperatures. I also used to run in Wellington, New Zealand which is about as windy and cold as Chicago, Il:

  • Layering: When you start you will probably feel cold but you should expect to warm up quickly. In those conditions I run with a merino top from Icebreaker. It has a zip-up turtleneck collar and thumb hooks on the sleeves so I can vary the temperature as I need. If it's windy or raining then I wear a shell on top. I used that on a very cold race with rain, wind and elevation.
  • Gloves: Get ones that fit - if the material isn't close then they don't work.
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+1 for your gloves recommendation. If the gloves don't fit snugly there is too much air space for your hands (which are particularly far away from your core and just that much colder) to heat up. Insulating is all about being able to heat air trapped next to your body. Fitment is important! –  kce Nov 22 '11 at 9:01

Running under 40 degrees can be tough, but many enjoy it, and it can be a great kind of training, especially if you're looking for a challenge. Some facts:

  • Running in cold weather puts additional strain on your cardiovascular system: Your heart has to work harder for you to get the same performance as in warm weather. Therefore, your heart rate will be higher (or you'll be slower if you already train at aerobic maximum). In terms of the training effect, running in cold weather is like running at a higher intensity, at least in cardiovascular terms. Do not feel bad if you feel less fit than usual, it's normal.

  • Protect your extremities first and foremost, especially ears and hands. A hat or headband, gloves and thick socks are important. As for the rest, Nike has this "Hyperwarm" line which I think is pretty good.

  • If you use a heart rate monitor that wraps around your chest, make it much tighter than usual, since your body tissues will be more contracted in the cold. It sounds strange, but it's true.

  • If you want to run on ice, it's possible, you could get either ice cleats or Icespike products.

  • Most people don't go running outside in such cold weather, but there are always a few hardcore guys out there.

  • Anything above 20 degrees is definitely feasible if you're prepared. Running under 20 degrees is generally not recommended for most people, although it's also possible with special gear and good conditioning.

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For info: 20 Degrees being -5 Celsuis 40 Degrees being 0 Celsius –  Chmouel Boudjnah Nov 17 '11 at 13:14

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