Coping with the Cold

This is the time of year where I start getting a ton of questions, from runners and non-runners alike, about how I can stand running the cold.

The “secret” to running in the cold is knowing what to wear and what not to wear.  (Despising running a treadmill helps, too.)

For those of us who train in the tortuous Texas heat, where all you need are shorts and tank top for 9 months out of the year, figuring out what to wear is not as easy as it sounds.  And, you usually get the hang of it right about the time that Winter ends.

My solution :: A “What to Wear” spreadsheet, of course!

I know what you’re thinking…  When I proudly share this with people, I usually get a lot of “Wow, you’re even crazier than I thought” faces.  To underscore the importance of knowing what to wear and to justify my OCD solution (or, perhaps, just to confirm that I am, in fact, crazy), I’d like to share a story from my very first marathon.

If you just want to know more about the spreadsheet solution, you can skip my witty story by scrolling down to the bottom or checking out my spiffy new Training Tips page. But, you know you want to hit “Continue Reading” and find out how it all began. Don’t you? 😉


The Story Behind Beth’s OCD

Scene 1

{October 10, 2009 at 10:00 p.m.  The night before the 2009 Chicago Marathon — Beth’s first marathon.  After enjoying a surprise celebratory dinner at the Four Seasons, Brad and Beth retreat to a tiny hotel room in Chicago, Illinois.  Beth has laid out every article of running clothing she packed neatly onto the bed, and is staring at them in despair.}

Beth :  Oh my god, I still have no idea what to wear in the morning!  I had a plan.  I was supposed to wear the same thing I trained in all summer — my running my skirt, a tank top with pockets for my gu, and a pair gloves.  But, it’s supposed to be below freezing at the start.  I’ve never done a long run in that kind of cold!  What if I’m too cold?!?  What if I never warm up?!?  Maybe I should wear my capris and a shirt with sleeves?  But, if I wear too much, I might overheat and that’d be even worse!

Brad:  You need to calm down, and you need to get some sleep.  Just leave your clothes out; wait and see what the weather is in the morning; and you can decide then.

Beth:  This is serious!  If I wear my other shirt, where will I put my gu?  My tank has pockets, but my other shirts don’t.  If I wear both shirts, which shirt will I pin my bib on?  I get hot and want to take one of the shirts off.  I don’t want to wear so many layers that I’m uncomfortable, but I can’t afford to waste too much energy trying to warm up those first few miles.  What do I do?!?

Brad: You go to sleep, and you decide in the morning.

Beth: (Defeated) Fine.

{Beth moves the clothes to the floor and crawls in bed.}

Scene 2

{October 11, 2009 at 5:00 a.m.  Still in the hotel.  Beth checks the weather, and discovers it is currently 30 degrees and overcast, and it is expected to warm up to a mere 33 degrees by noon.  Beth moves the clothes back to the bed and stares.}

{October 11, 2009 at 5:10 a.m.  Beth is still staring at the bed.  She has not said a word.  Brad turns on the lights.}

{October 11, 2009 at 5:15 a.m.  Beth is still starting, silently at the bed, and looks like she is about to cry.}

Brad: Here’s the thing.  You can’t run the marathon naked … Well, you could, but you probably don’t want to.  So, you have to make a decision.

Beth: (Sniffling) But I don’t know what to do.

{October 11, 2009 at 5:45 a.m.  Beth has showered and resumed staring at the clothes on the bed.  Brad is already dressed and ready to run.}

Brad: You can’t stand here and stare at the bed all morning.  You’re going to miss it!  Just make a decision and let’s go.

{Beth puts on her capris, tank top, a technical tee over the tank, arm warmers, gloves and ear warmers.  She pins her bib to the tee-shirt; layers on a pair of throw-away sweatpants and a jacket; and they begin the walk to the start line.}

The End


I had a great run in Chicago, but I never fully recovered from my pre-race panic.  When I lined up at the start of the race, I had been running for one year (almost to the day), so it’s safe to say that I learned a LOT of things from that race.  One of the biggest things was that I needed to take the guesswork out of deciding what to wear.

Today, in addition to my usual training log, I keep a “What To Wear” log of all my Winter runs.  I created a spreadsheet where I record the following:

  • Date and time
  • Weather conditions – temperature, wind chill, humidity, and whether it was sunny/cloudy/dark
  • My run – distance and pace
  • What I wore – down to which pair of ear warmers and gloves
  • How I felt – too cold, too hot, about right
  • What I wish I had worn (if applicable)

Sound like overkill?  Maybe it is.  But, I always* know what to wear.

Because of this spreadsheet, as I stood at the 35-degree start line for the White Rock Half Marathon in December, shivering in my capris, sleeveless tank, arm warmers and gloves, I knew — with absolutely certainty — that once I got moving, I’d be dressed perfectly.  I know I looked crazy.  Before the race, I had about 50 people tell me I was nuts.  After the race, at least as many people confessed that they over-heated because they wore too much.

Not sure how to start?  Here are a few tried and true “Running Rules” to follow:

1.  Dress as if it 20 degrees warmer. Once you get moving and increase your heart rate, that’s about what you will feel like.

1a.  Unless it is windy, in which case, add a vest. Don’t forget to check the wind when you check the temperature!  When it’s cold and windy, it can take longer for your core to warm up, so I recommend adding a vest or light wind-breaker to what you would otherwise wear applying the 20-degree rule.

2.  Learn to love layers. If you can’t stand being cold at the start, go ahead and add an extra shirt, hat, or even an extra pair of gloves.  Be prepared to shed them as soon as you warm up, which means you also must learn to love running with a pair of gloves tucked in your shorts or a shirt tied around your waist.

3.  When in doubt, make sure you feel cold before you start running. If you are “comfortable” when you first walk out the door, then you’re sure to be too warm once you get moving!

… Armed with this knowledge, I actually prefer running in the cold.  Hopefully, you can learn to love it — or at least tolerate it — too!

*None of this applies on a day like we are supposed to have tomorrow.  The predicted temperature is 22 and the wind chill 6 to 11.  My trusty spreadsheet has no data points for this insanity.  Even applying the 20-degree rule, I’ll be wearing every piece of thermal I own, and hoping my lips don’t stick to my water bottle.  Wish me luck!




About Beth

Wife, daughter, big sis, aunt, friend, attorney, runner, cyclist, amateur chef & aspiring photographer. Thanks for keeping up with my life on the run!
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5 Responses to Coping with the Cold

  1. Hillary says:

    Remind me of these days if I ever complain about how hot it is in August. PS I still wear my summer tank under a long sleeve bc it has the coolest pockets and built-in bra and keeps the draft away.

    • Beth says:

      I keep reminding myself of the miserable heat we endured this Summer, but then I just feel like we’re getting the worst of both worlds! 😉 Good call on the tank. I wore my thermal top and vest as planned, and was shocked that I got warm enough to unzip them both. If only there was a way to shield my nose and cheeks while still breathing!!

  2. The Husband says:

    You forgot the part where he reminded you of the cold weather we trained in when you were doing 1/2 marathon training. (even down to to the ear warmers) Which is how you then came to the conclusion of what to wear; you were not stuck out in the cold without any help…

    • Beth says:

      Wow, I love that you’ve become nameless! This is true, but somehow I still completely lost my head that morning!! It’s no secret that you helped me throughout training and that morning too – whether by giving me gear tips or applying tough love to knock some common sense back into me – but I’m glad you (publicly) set the record straight! :-p

  3. The Husband says:


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