My ‘Polar Vortex’ Running Clothes Challenge!

Polar Vortex Run

Is it just me or does the incessant naming of storms make them all lose their meaning? I don’t remember when news stations started naming storm events like ‘January Juggernaut’ and so on … so while I suppose having named arctic storm systems similar to tropical storms is better, it all just gets lost after a while. At least ‘Polar Vortex’ has an actual meaning, even though I think the best part was having Danny dancing around the living room pretending he was a new comic book super-villain named ‘Polar Vortex’ loaded with bad puns!

While I had planned to take Tuesday off as a rest day due to the ‘Polar Vortex’ driving temperatures to -30F wind chills, the forecast had Wednesday morning being in the 10F range with greatly diminished winds. Well, apparently the polar vortex had other plans and it became clear that Wednesday morning was going to feature near-zero temperatures and sub-zero wind chills.

Of course I had myself determined to go out running.

Whether that decision was strong, stubborn or stupid depends on your point of view, to paraphrase Obi-Wan. I’m going with stubborn, whereas Lisa made her opinion clear this morning – and basically, considering the kids DID have a two-hour school delay due to dangerous wind chills, it is hard to argue her point.

Anyway. So I went for a run this morning. My iPhone told me it was 2F and -12 Wind Chill … but looking outside at the branches I thought it might be colder (OK, I was prepared for -20 wind chill).

First, there was a great deal of mental preparation involved, in terms of what to wear and also what route to take. The route was important because I wanted to be sure I had an ‘easy out’ at all times – fortunately the way my general runs are routed I have fantastic access back to my house and am never more than 0.75 miles away.

How long did I plan to run? At least 1.5 miles, based on how I started out. After that all bets were off.

I call this a ‘clothes challenge’ because I was going to wear some things I had never worn and others that had never seen these temperatures. That made my choice of route more important – because with this level of cold you are dealing with a serious time factor.

So what did I wear? Let’s start from the ground up:
– New Balance Minimus shoes
– 2XU Compression Socks
– Under Armour Extreme Coldgear Infrared running tights
– Nike base layer
– Nike ‘Pro Combat’ top layer
– Nike Livestrong ‘Pro Combat’ tech hoodie
– Under Armour Extreme Coldgear Infrared gloves
– Brooks balaclava
– EMS Hat
– Magellan Echo watch and heart-rate monitor

OK, so now to the nuts and bolts: how far I ran and how I felt.

Let’s start with distance – I ran 6.75 miles, and grabbed the picture right as I got home.

As for how I felt, let me say ‘it varied’.

What does that mean? Well, for 95% of my body I felt great – cool at times but never cold, and never overheated. As I got to the last couple of miles I could feel a bit of a chill around my knees just above where the compression socks ended, but nothing even remotely cold. I knew I was a bit sweaty on my bottom layer, but again nothing that I felt when I turned into the wind. So for 95% of me it was a total success.

The other 5% of me almost sent me home twice. I have remarked how my hands get cold easily, especially for the last 5 years or so. Just pumping gas in my car and Lisa’s was enough to get them really cold last night and this morning. I have also noted that the Under Armour Extreme Coldgear Infrared gloves leave your hands a bit cool for the first mile or so … and that was absolutely true this morning.

In fact, after just over a mile my hands were cold, and I nearly headed home. In fact, I actually turned around twice as I was heading up the hill about 1.25 miles from the start – which would have resulted in a 0.25 mile run home. But I made a deal with myself – I would finish that neighborhood loop and if I was still cold I would head straight home, which would then be around 3 miles. One important thing I knew was that I was just cold – not dangerously cold because I was covered and moving. I kept my hands and arms in constant motion, and by the end of that loop I felt great – so I kept going.

Around 4.5 miles my left hand was feeling cool again – but not as cold as before, so I made another deal for the breakpoint between 5.75 and 6.75 miles. As it worked out, I was warm again, and felt pretty good for the rest of my run, to the poi nt that I took off my gloves in my driveway to stop the Magellan.

As I mentioned, Lisa was annoyed and thought my decision to go out was stupid and that I could have gotten hurt – and she is right. Wind chills low enough to delay all of the area schools should really have been my cue – and although I have run in colder weather, the lack of bad results doesn’t make a decision any less risky.

Which gets back to my #1 goal for running – making sure I can get up to run tomorrow. And while certainly there is always a risk of injury when doing almost any activity, it only seems logical to avoid a situation that unnecessarily increases that risk – like days where the Weather Channel has a big read ‘severe wind chill alert’ across it and schools are delayed to keep kids safe.

What do you think? What are your temperature/ wind chill limits?

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12 thoughts on “My ‘Polar Vortex’ Running Clothes Challenge!

  1. I need to get a balaclava, and I think my limits would change, because right now about 20degrees is my tipping point. I don’t currently run distances that would keep me outside for terribly long, but I’d like to, and boy does your face freeze quick!

    • Absolutely – I have a wool neck-wrap I used for years that does a good job under the hat, but once I got the balaclava last year it really made a huge difference! I saw that Under Armour has one in their Infrared lineup, which would be good to check out.

  2. Oh you know me. I’m a big wuss and 20 degrees is about my limit and that’s if I’m signed up for a race. Otherwise I usually opt for the treadmill. Luckily it should be in the 30’s here around lunch tomorrow and it rained enough that the snow has been mostly erased so I should be able to hit the trail! (And this weekend should be even warmer in the morning for my long run, though possibly raining. I don’t mind a little rain though.)

    That’s great that your neighborhood routes never take you too far from home! I need to set up more like that. I have a couple different options planned in case I want to make a run longer or shorter, but at those points, I’m usually around 3 miles away. I think the farthest I actually get is around 6 miles before I start looping back. I travel with my phone just in case my husband needs to come pick me up. πŸ™‚

    I am laughing at the mental image of Danny and the Polar Vortex!

    • Thanks – and you have to think that Danny is ~6’3″ tall at this point with shoulders about 1.5x the width of mine – and even though he is 17 there is plenty of little boy left in him!

      I know your limits – and they are what many people would call ‘sensible’. πŸ™‚

  3. Running in less than 20 degrees is a no go. I don’t know how you did it! I’m more comfortable with the hotter temperatures, 3 years in Miami will do that to a person.

  4. Good post and good choice on the layering of the clothes :-). Personally when I have to wear a face mask or pull the balaclava over my nose and loose the ability to see out of my glasses, that is when it is too cold to run. I can’t see much running without the glasses and become more of a danger to myself because of limited vision :-).

  5. I don’t think I would run outside if the wind chill made it feel below 0. But then again I don’t think I have ran outside in anything under 20 degrees, so I might have to take back my answer! But I am pretty stubborn about getting my run in, and I really don’t like the treadmill.

  6. Our windchill has been in the -40’sC here for the last few days and I wouldn’t dare step outside unless I absolutely had to. The warnings we had were extreme, winds gusting upwards of 90 km/hr and exposed skin freezing in less than 5 minutes. I haven’t been outside for a run in over a month but we are heading into the positives for the weekend so I’ll be back out soon.

    We were stuck on the mainland Monday night because our ferry to the island shut down due to high winds and low visibility and spent the night in a hotel.

  7. I generally don’t run in weather under 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Partially it’s because I’m a big wuss, but mainly it’s because I don’t have much in the way of cold gear. I live in Richmond, VA and our winters just don’t get very wintery. I keep meaning to pick up base layers and good gloves and such, but it’s hard to justify the expense when I know how infrequently I would use it.

  8. Pingback: Motivation Monday & Weekly Summary | Running Around the Bend

  9. Pingback: Just Another -20F Run Day … | Running Around the Bend

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