Getting Ready for Wonderful Winter Running

Getting Ready for Wonderful Winter Running

Running in winter can be hugely rewarding, the crisp cold mornings on a bright winter’s day can provide those Instagram pictures everyone wants.  In reality, it is probably going to be mild and wet most of the time.  The inconsistent winters in the UK can make choosing the right kit difficult.  Too many layers and you will be sweating profusely in the first couple kilometres, not enough and it can feel like your nose is going to freeze off your face.

I run all year round and having completed several winter races, so I have learnt what works for me.  In 2017 I qualified for a European Championship Spartan Race in Andorra, that year the winter came early and when huddled in at the start line, the air temperature was -3 oC.  I have run the Winter Fan Dance Race twice, both times it was well into the minus degrees at the top of Pen y Fan.  Last year I ran the Cheviot Goat Winter Ultra in December, which was cold, wet, and unrelenting.

In this post I am going to explain what works for me, what I always carry and what I take depending on the environment.  First, I always think:  Be Bold, Start Cold.  Even when it is very cold, you warm up quickly running.  It is best not start in all your layers.  Start cold and you will soon warm up, save those warm dry layers for when you really need them.  Your future self will thank you.

Layering.  It is better to wear many light layers than to have an extra thick one.  Having multiple layers will enable you to open and close zips and, remove outer layer accordingly.  Being able to “fine tune” your kit on the move will help keep you comfortable on the trail.  If you just have a monster fleece, you could find you are too hot in it and too cold out.  A conundrum you do not want when many kilometres from home.

What do I wear?

It is important to know what you are up against before choosing your running attire.  Is it going to be raining, frosty, muddy, or windy?  I will give detail on what I wear when it is Warm and Wet, Cold and Wet and Cold and Dry (sub-zero).

Warm and Wet:

When it is warm and wet, staying warm is not as crucial as keeping dry.  Trail Shoes, if you are going to wear waterproof shoes, they are amazing until you run into a deep puddle where the water flows over the top.  Once the water is in, it does not get out.  I have a couple pairs of ankle gaiters, one Gore-Tex which are fully waterproof but a bit bigger and a pair specially for running but not 100% waterproof.  I used to run with wet feet, but I ran a couple ultras where my feet got wet early on and it really got to me, so it is something I try to avoid.

Getting the right socks is crucial.  Do not wear normal cotton as you will shred your feet to pieces.  There are hundreds of dedicated running socks available.  I really like Bridgedale trail running socks, I have racked up some serious milage in them and rarely suffer with any blisters (the only time was because my shoes were wearing out and pinched). 

Next the legs. I do not wear waterproof trousers as I find I get too hot but lightweight shorts and calf sleeves dry quickly when there is respite from the rain and provide ample warmth. 

Runderwear are a great addition to any runners’ kit.  They make seamless underwear which helps avoid unpleasant chafing. 

I always wear a base layer/compression long sleeve.  I have a couple Under Armour compression tops that wick the sweat away from your skin.  I wear a long sleeve as I hate the feeling of a coat on my bear skin.  On top of the long sleeve, I will wear a trail jacket.  It needs to be water and wind proof to give it any value on the trail. 

Finally, the cap or beanie.  If the rain is bad, I like wearing a cap as it can stop the rain from hitting my face, otherwise in the colder months I wear a beanie or buff.  The Ciele caps are awesome as they are washable and look cool!!

Cold and Wet:

  • Salomon GTX Speedcross 4 Trail Shoes
  • Ankle Gaiter
  • Bridgedale Trail Sports Socks
  • Skins Compression Calf Sleeves or Lightweight leggings
  • Runderwear underwear
  • Shorts – Anything lightweight
  • Long Sleeve Compression top
  • T-Shirt
  • Montane VIA Trail Ultra Waterproof Jacket
  • Buff on neck
  • Either Ciele Cap or a beanie
  • Running Gloves

When it is cold and wet, I do not change much of my clothing if any.  Firstly, I might trade my compression calf sleeves for a pair of lightweight running leggings.  Again, I keep them lightweight such as the Nike Pro Running Leggings, so they dry quickly but do add extra warmth.

Next the layering begins.  I will wear a suitable t-shirt, something synthetic and wicking, over my long sleeve.  If it is colder, I might opt to wear a micro fleece instead or as well as the t-shirt. 

Extra bits to keep warm include a buff, which I wear around my neck.  When it rains, it helps stop water getting into your coat and keeps the heat in.  I also wear lightweight trail gloves, Innov8, Montane and GoreTex make great options.  I always wear lightweight gloves to stop my hands getting hot.  Like the t-shirts, I layer my gloves in winter instead of having 1 think pair (more below on gloves)

Sub Zero:

  • Salomon GTX Speedcross 4 Trail Shoes
  • Bridgedale Trail Sports Socks
  • Medium/Lightweight leggings
  • Berghaus Waterproof Trousers
  • Runderwear underwear
  • Shorts – Anything lightweight
  • Long Sleeve Compression top
  • T-Shirt
  • Micro Fleece
  • Montane VIA Trail Ultra Waterproof Jacket
  • Buff on neck
  • Beanie
  • Running Gloves
  • Warmer Hiking/Mountaineering Gloves

Now when it is really cold, whether you are running at night or it is sub-zero out, you need to look after yourself.  If you must stop, it is going to get cold fast. 

I will not change my shoe and sock combination but if it is icy and dry, I might drop the gaiter.  However, now is the time to upgrade the leggings.  I have a medium weight pair of Nike leggings which are excellent in winter.  I then carry my lightweight Berghaus Gore-Tex Waterproof trousers in my running bag (I will discuss that soon).  I tend not to wear the waterproof trousers but if there is a biting wind it can cut through me so, I put them on to give protection from the cold.

The upper layering really begins here.  Same long sleeve, then a synthetic t-shirt and then to top it off a micro fleece.  I try to wear fleeces with full body zips so I can open and shut further to regulate my temperature as required.  I own a North Face Summit Series L2 fleece hoodie.  It was expensive but a blessing on a cold day as it is tight, with a compact hood providing warmth when needed.  After this the Montane VIA Trail Ultra Waterproof jacket.

For the fine tuning, I will take 2 pairs of gloves.  1 lightweight running pair and then one that I will use hiking/mountaineering that will fit over the top.  Having 2 pairs means I can add or remove depending on how hot or cold I am.  It also means if 1 pair gets wet, I have a backup.  Finally, I will top it off with a good beanie and possibly 2 buffs.  One for neck and an extra for the ears is required.

What I Carry.

I have a Salomon Skin Pro 10l Trail Running vest.  The 10-litre capacity, so far, has been more than enough for all my running adventures.  There are certain items I always, regardless of the weather, take with me on the trails.  There are:

I will not head onto the trail without them, especially the thermal blanket.  Even in summer, if you have a fall and must wait hours for rescue, it could get cold.  The snacks in case you do have to wait.  You will need the energy.  Finally, the whistle, to alert anyone nearby that you need help.

The next are items I will take with me most of the time but definitely when running ultra-marathons or long training runs:

  • Dry Bag containing:
    • Socks and dry top
    • Another fleece (if it is really cold)
  • Map and compass
  • Mini first aid kit including blister pads
  • Spare buff
  • Headtorch
  • Waterproof Trousers

This is what works for me on the trials in the less enjoyable weather in the UK.  I really recommend making the most of a crisp day on the trails but be prepared.  You do not want to get caught out and be calling the mountain rescue because you were not adequately prepared. 

If you have any questions, send me an email via the Contact Me page or comment below.  Get out there and have fun.

Running the Warm and Wet Two Moors Ultra in my OMM Jacket.
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