On Saturday I wrote a “Running Nugget” about re-using a Mylar blanket as a way to stay warm before a race. Given last week’s winter storm that blanketed a good portion of the country (and the deep freeze this week that stopped the South in its tracks), I realized there’s plenty more to cover on the subject of dealing with cold weather (before and during a race). So I decided to quickly re-visit the subject. This is a bit of a follow-up or epilogue to the “Friend of Foil” post.

Scott at Atlanta Half Marathon

Not so photogenic that day.

Back on Thanksgiving Day I ran the Atlanta Half Marathon (earning my Turkey). Unfortunately, the weather in the Big Peach can be a crapshoot that time of year. In 2012, I ran the race in shorts and a T-shirt as the temperature was well into the 60s.

For 2013, winter decided to come early to the South. Predictions for race morning were for 20 degrees with a wind chill in the low teens. It would be the coldest race I had ever run (previous coldest for me was the Chicago Marathon in 2009 when the weather was a “tropical” 28 degrees).

So, how do you deal with the cold weather on race day?

Every person has their own tolerance for cold conditions and having grown up on the East Coast and Midwest (Wisconsin winters can be brutal) I’m no stranger to frigid conditions. You need to decide (probably through trial and error) what your limits truly are.

The one thing I will say is you can probably handle much colder weather than you think. The advice I’ve heard and subscribe to is to dress so you can just barely stand the temperature at the start of the race. The idea being that your body will quickly warm up as you run and you’ll be in good shape. If you want a “down & dirty” gauge, just think that by one mile into the race it will feel to your body like the temperature is 20 degrees warmer than it really is. 30 becomes 50, 40 becomes 60 and so on.

The quote I’ve heard time and again, “Dress for the second mile.”

I’ve run several winter races where I see people dying 3 miles in because they dressed to be comfortable at the start and were now running in their own personal saunas. I could tell they’d love to strip off their extra clothing and cast it aside, but spent way too much money on that cool Nike top to offer it up as a sacrifice to the running gods.

Be sure to check the “hourly” weather report for race day. Many races start just around sunrise. And you’d be surprised how quickly things can heat up once you shed a little light on the subject. I ran the Holiday Half Marathon last December in Pomona and while the temperature was 45 degrees at the start, within 90 minutes things were well into the upper 60s. I saw a lot of sweaty Santas that day.

Back to the Turkey Day race, I didn’t dress for 20-degree weather. I followed the guideline and dressed for the second mile and 40 degrees, which is still the breaking point for shorts for me. I ended up opting to break out the dreaded man-tights (I’m not happy about it either) along with a long-sleeve compression shirt under my race shirt, gloves and a skullcap. Yup, function over fashion.

And I was plenty warm during the race; in fact I could have done it in shorts. So even after five years of running my temperature limits can still use a little “tweaking” (please don’t confuse that with twerking).

The real question about staying warm is how do you keep from freezing for the hour or so from the time you arrive at a race until the gun actually goes off.

If you’ve got a friend hanging with you at the start, then they can be your own personal clothing Sherpa, who takes your extra layers just before the race begins. But what if they’re out somewhere on the course waiting for you to run by… or what if you’re running solo? What do you do?

Gear check is an option, but it might be tough to stuff all of your stuff in the bag they give you. Also, bag check is typically for storing post-race items and often needs to be done 30-45 minutes before the race starts, leaving you plenty of time to still freeze off your various bits. So, cross that off the list.

In the previous post I suggested re-using a Mylar race blanket as a no-cost option. But sometimes a tinfoil-ish wrap isn’t enough to keep you from turning blue. So what then?

Pre-Race Clothing

Warm and toasty.

A low-cost option is to visit your local thrift store days before the race and purchase a “throwaway” sweatshirt and sweatpants. If you shop wisely, you can pick up what you need for $5 -$10. Well worth it.

Simply wear that clothing until about 5 minutes before the gun goes off, and then do a little runner’s striptease while your fellow racers cheer you on and throw dollar bills. At the Turkey Day race I not only hummed appropriate stripper music, but I also tossed the clothing away like a “wannabe” Gypsy Rose Lee. Don’t worry about “clothing litter” as you won’t be alone in your exhibitionism. And most races collect discarded clothing to donate to thrift stores or shelters. Circle of life indeed.

When I ran the Chicago Marathon, I’ll never forget seeing all of the bundled up runners huddled together in their corrals. When the announcer stated we were two minutes from the start of the race, the show began. I joined 45,000 other runners in one of the biggest synchronized stripteases you will ever witness. So much clothing was tossed over the barricades it truly looked like a tidal wave of cotton.

I will offer you one additional bit of advice with the sweatpants. You might want to take a pair of scissors and cut a few inches up the bottom cuff of each leg to make it easier to slip them off over your running shoes.

And here’s one final tip to keep your extremities warm before race time. When you pick up your throwaway clothing at the thrift store, buy a pair of cheap gloves too. You can also get basic gloves at many 99-cent stores or at most marathon expos (usually for about $2 a pair). Then pick-up one of those disposable hand warmer packets at a local sporting goods store (also about $2 and located in the camping section). Come race day, put the hand warmer inside your gloves. Ahh, cozy. Again, you can toss those away just before you start to run, or you can even keep wearing them until a mile or so into the race when you can finally feel your fingers again.

And there you have it, a few more hints on how to keep Jack Frost at bay and be a little more delightful when the weather outside is frightful.

Run on!

(Please add any additional cold weather clothing tips)

Posted on January 31, 2014, in General, Running Nuggets and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Good tips, luckily I don’t need them as I live in mostly warm weather. I don’t have any tolerance for cold weather.

    • Yeah… I’m also kind of spoiled (living in SoCal), but you can get the occasional nippy raceday morning. And I do travel to some races, so it’s good to be prepared.

      • See I had already even commented to your post… 🙂 I’m going to wear shorts to the race, I’ve made up my mind. But I will take a throwaway sweatshirt (or even a blanket, is that crazy?). Wish they sold disposable arm warmers here, I hadn’t even heard of those.

  2. Again, timely. Fortunately, living in Southern California, I don’t typically have to deal with “extreme” cold. I usually wear my good sweats and a jacket on race morning, then stuff them in my gear back and check it before the gun goes off. That still leaves me up to 45 minutes to deal with the elements (such as they are) in my race outfit. This Sunday at Surf City, I’m doing what you mentioned here, having already shelled out eight bucks for a throw-away pair of sweat pants and sweatshirt. I will take your advice about cutting the cuffs for easy removal . . . hadn’t thought of that.

    • We’re looking at about 51 degrees around the start of Surf City…I’ll probably just mylar blanket it, but I’m going to bring down a throwaway sweatshirt just in case. And the cut the cuffs thing makes it so much easier. Ideally we’d have those basketball stripper pants that we could just rip off, but since I’m not sponsored by Nike, that’d be a little hard on the wallet. See you in Surf City!

  3. And remember, Scott, since you’ve lost weight, your tolerances on temperature are going to change….

    • True… I have happily noticed that I don’t have the “insulation” I once did and do get colder more easily. But taking off a sweatshirt is much easier than taking off poundage.

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