December 1, 2008

Well the time has come to discuss what clothing one might consider wearing during the upcoming months where the temperature will most likely dip to extreme temperatures.  We should at all times be aware of the Norwegian Proverb; -THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A BAD WINTER … ONLY BAD CLOTHING.

In discussing this topic, regardless of the degree (pardon the pun) that one is impacted by the cold, the clothing we wear should repel external moisture, allow the body to breath, provide insulating qualities and not be an impediment to motion.  Generally speaking, the clothing one wears should be layered so as to take into account the type of exercise one is undertaking (in the case of running, of course that is continuous, relatively long durations of medium to high work rate) and of course the environmental conditions that might be encountered (including such things as precipitation, temperature, wind conditions and so forth).


In the opinion of this author, the most important thing to be considered is how to keep moisture away from the body.  Moisture comes in two forms, from within and from without.  While it is fairly obvious what the external source of moisture is, the less obvious, at least to the uninitiated is that despite how cold it may be, when we exercise, we perspire.  This fact requires us to replenish our system with fluids and this of course allows for even more perspiration.  What may be good to prevent the body from getting wet as a result of external factors may not be good at allowing the perspiration to escape.  A lot of research has gone into developing “smart clothing” that allows for the body to breath and at the same time protect it from the environment.  If you are in the process of considering your needs then an outer layer in the form of an un-insulated jacket that is both water resistant and permeable is an absolute must.  This jacket should not be skin tight, but rather relatively loosely fitted. 


We have all heard our mothers tell us to keep a hat on.  Well as difficult as it may seem, she was right.  We loose more heat from the top of our head when it is exposed that we do from any other part of the body.  In the opinion of this author, a hat is not an option when the temperature is below minus 5 Celsius.  Again the hat should allow for the perspiration to “wick out” but at the same time it should provide some insulation.  Again a lot of research has gone into the development of very good hats, but let me suggest that you not overlook the simple woolen toque.  Wool is a fabric that keeps the heat of the body despite being wet. 


Underneath the external layer, you need some insulation.  Unlike the jacket, the insulating layer(s) are typically fitted closer to the skin.  I have indicated the possibility of there being more than one layer and in this case the layer closest to the skin should allow for maximum breathability (Lifa underwear or Under Armour gaments are great).  The layers between the skin layer and the jacket actually provide for the insulation and are typically thicker, but still must allow for wicking.  Remember it is the outer layer that provides protection from the elements. 


The age-old question is what to wear on your feet while running.  For 25 years I wore the same shoes that I ran in during the summer, but in the last couple of years I have benefitted from purchasing Trail Shoes or Winter Shoes.  Not only are they a little more rugged and provide some insulating effect for the feet, they provide better traction in the sometimes very slippery conditions.  An alternative that some runners find very useful is to run in regular shoes, but to use traction devises on the bottom of your feet to reduce slippage.  I have not gone to that length, but I have spoken to many who have and they are convinced that this is the way to go.  Whatever you do keep in mind that you should try to both keep your feet warm and get a little extra traction so as to avoid injuries. 


One of the sure fire ways to get cold is to not protect your hands.  It is generally accepted that if your hands are cold, your body is cold.  So, wear something, even if it is an old pair of socks (in a pinch) to keep your hands warm, and your body will thank you. 


We have seen people wearing all sorts of things over their faces.  In fact some of the articles that I have seen would get most people arrested if they were to step into a bank with it on.  Personally, while I accept the requirement to keep the face warm and protected, especially when the wind is blowing, I have seldom if ever have put anything over my face, because when it does get cold enough I find that a runner’s best friend (Vaseline) works better than anything else and it also keeps your face moist.  My suggestion is give it a try. 


Running this winter can actually be enjoyed if you follow some of these simple rules.  So get out and wait to hear the crunch of freshly fallen snow under your feet as you take on the elements.