Anatomy of an ‘Extreme Sub-Zero’ Runner – The $750 of Gear That Keeps Me Safe and ‘Warm’

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As I mentioned on Saturday, I loved Amanda’s post at Miss Zippy about how to make running more affordable. After reading it I was thinking through just how expensive all of my gear is … and then Laura posted about not being able to afford being an Ultramarathoner at And This Is Thirty.

I recounted my cost estimate of what I wore out to run in -15F weather – putting the cost at an estimated ~$750 … not including my iPhone. I thought … that is worth breaking down for a post! Follow along through my breakdown or head straight to the botton to see the actual total!So here goes.

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1. Headlamp – $30 – I have a great multi-beam P-Tec lamp very similar to this one at Amazon

2. EMS Thermal Hat – $25 – OK, my great blue EMS hat is now old enough that I can’t find anything similar, but the closest I could get was this one.

3. Brooks Balaclava $25 – I got this for Christmas 2012, and it is the same one found at Roadrunner Sports.

4. Nike Livestrong ‘Pro Combat’ hoodie – $80 – The LiveStrong brand is pretty much dead thanks to the fall of Lance Armstrong, but this hoodie is just amazingly light and wind/weather resistant. Based on what I know it once cost it is most comparable to this one at East Bay

5. Nike ‘Pro Combat’ Hyperwarm heavy base layer – $50 – Another one from Christmas 2012, pretty much the same as this one at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

6. Nike ‘Pro Combat’ fitted base layer – $50 – Got this from my brother for Christmas 2013, most similar thing I can find is this one at Amazon.

Outer Gear_1

7. Reflective vest – $20 – not exactly the same thing, but fairly similar to this Nathan vest at Amazon

8. Under Armour Extreme Coldgear Infrared Gloves = $40 – I have gone on and on about these things (currently sold out at Under Armour and elsewhere), but the reason is that my hands are my ‘#1 cold point’, so how well these work for me is just … incedible.

9. Under Armour Compression shorts – $45 – The ones I wear are apparrently not specifically for running, but are similar to these ones at Dick’s Sporting Goods, and are a great set of shorts – I ran the PA Grand Canyon Marathon in them.

10. Under Armour Extreme Coldgear Infrared Fitted Running Tights – $70 – These tights are incredible … on sale at Under Armour now, they are the only outer layer I have worn in the very coldest weather. And never gotten cold.

11. 2XU Compression Socks – $45 – I started hearing about the benefits of compression in 2012, and after talking to my doctor last year she suggested trying compression socks to maintain blood flow in my legs. These are similar to the onesfrom Amazon, and I have not run without them since Christmas.

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12. New Balance Minimus MR10 shoes – $100 – Some would debate the wisdom of shoes that allow so much slushy water into them, but I am loving how quickly the water also gets OUT of them. Shoe prices are variable, but MSRP remains at $100 at Running Warehouse and Joe’s New Balance Outlet, where they sell for $70 on sale.

13. Lock Laces – $7 – After getting these for Christmas I have now decided they are absolutely essential. Why? Once you have your laces untie in the middle of a sub-zero run and you are actually contemplating how bad it would be to NOT re-tie them … you will understand!

14. SpiBeltRunning belt – $20 – the one I have is not exactly the same as this one from Amazon, but having a belt to carry my phone and maybe a couple of GU packs is essential.

15. Magellan Echo GPS – Yes, this isn’t exactly ‘required’, but I have found tracking and accountability to be critically important, and my favorite setup right now is Magellan Echo just like this one at Amazon.

MY TOTAL? – $807. Of course, I could cut that by $100 or so based on buying stuff on sale and using coupons and so on … but it puts in perspective just how much it can cost to keep safe and protected during winter runs.

One thing missing – YakTrax, selling at Amazon for ~$25. For snow/ice running they are definitely worth checking into!

Comparison to ‘Summer Gear’
Of course, if I go back to last July, my cost would plummet – $25 shirt, $35 shorts, $10 socks, $100 shoes, and $130 watch – to $300. OK, so maybe ‘plummet’ isn’t the right word!

So what do YOU wear as essential gear for YOUR runs?

Keeping Warm vs. Not Getting Cold

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Across much of the east and north there was some really significant cold this week along with a dump of snow. This morning it was a bit of a ‘warm up’ – it was 6F when I headed out for my run and 9F when I returned, but with no wind. Somewhere between the extreme cold and the snow and my various outfits I thought about the differences between Keeping Warm and Not Getting Cold and dressing for each.

Next month marks 25 years since I started running – and the image above from Real Genius is very representative of a ‘track suit’ from the 80s that would have been seen everywhere. Running in the cold back then meant layers – thermal underwear with sweats and perhaps more top layers over that … all made from cotton, and all of which STUNK after a couple of wearings.

Yesterday I ran with a thin base-layer and another ‘base layer’ on top, with running tights on the bottom. I had a hat and my new Under Armour ColdGear InfraRed gloves. And in spite of the appearance of not wearing much I was never cold, and by the end was warm enough to take off my hat for my final half-mile dash! I ran a great 12.5 miles including hills and flats and felt the cold on the exposed areas of my face by the time I was within a few miles of home – and my hands felt the chill as I started the run.

For many people one of the toughest things about winter running is stepping out the door into the nasty cold temperatures. But if you ask people who actually DO get out there, they will tell you that once they are running they warm up and enjoy the run.

So what is the difference between the two?

Keeping Warm:

If you are going to watch a football game, go ice fishing, or otherwise pretty much stand around outside in the cold for an extended time period, you want to keep warm. Typically we do this with heavy clothes, thermal socks, heavier shoes, thick insulated gloves and hat, and a jacket that uses a combination of bulk and thermal materials such as Thinsulate to trap body heat.

This is why the term ‘bundling up’ is used – you want to have systems in place to trap all warmth inside and minimize loss, for one simple reason:

You will NEVER be as warm as the moment you leave the house.

Since you will not be very active, you will not be generating much warmth, so the goal is to keep what you already have from escaping, which is tricky since some portion of your body is likely exposed, and there are likely parts of your clothing that leak heat (have you ever used a thermal imaging camera to check this? A few old work friends and I did once). As a result you end up jumping around, shaking, and so on in order to regain some warmth … or deciding that perhaps ice fishing isn’t for you after all!

Not Getting Cold:

When you are going for a run, the conventional wisdom is to dress as if the temperature was 10-20F higher than the thermometer says. I tend to go more by the wind chill because I find that has a greater impact on my comfort.

But what does it MEAN to dress for running? That is a tougher one – because everyone feels different in the cold and heats up to a different extent while running. As I said I dress for wind chill – which can be a problem if the wind dies down or is erratic.

But regardless of your ‘temperature target’, modern athletic ‘tech’ fabrics mean that you are working with thin layers that are designed to wick moisture away from the skin and keep your body warmth in. I’ve mentioned Coldgear Infrared from Under Armour, but all of my Nike stuff does the same basic thing, as do clothes from Brooks, Reebock and so on.

I mentioned going running yesterday morning, and what I was wearing in 6F temperatures was the equivalent of two t-shirts stacked on top, thin thermals on bottom, basic socks, thin hat and light gloves. And yet running nearly an hour and a half I never got too cold.

I started off a bit cool – especially in my hands – but as I ran I warmed up, and my clothes made sure to keep that heat trapped inside so I would be comfortable. The sun was a major factor, because when it went in I felt the air cool down, and when it came out I was warmer.

My hands are my worst point in terms of getting cold – and I would have been miserable with cold hands for a long run, but after a couple of miles, all of that thermal energy was reflected back.

As I was completing my run the wind was starting to come up a bit, and I could feel it – which reminded me: these clothes are there so I don’t get cold, NOT to warm me up. Sure my goal is comfort, but it is important that I don’t overheat.

Implications for Runners:

I had started and planned to write this on Sunday, but am finishing it Monday night after a very long couple of days for various reasons. This morning I headed out when it was 50F at 4AM, and I could tell it was windy. Since I knew the brutal cold was coming I over-dressed a bit – I wore shorts and a thin top, but wore light winter gloves and a light winter hat. And I am glad I did – at first I was a bit warm, but neither the hat nor the gloves are very efficient at trapping heat, they are more about basic warmth.

So I ended up with my hands feeling colder in 50F temperatures this morning than at 6F yesterday, because the gloves are more about ‘keeping warm’ than ‘not getting cold’.

When it comes to clothes for running, be sure to understand what you are buying and what the basic function is – is it going to bock wind, wick sweat and trap heat, or is it just part of ‘bundling up’?