Oh Brrr.... Winter Running

by Jodi

Two weeks ago I made an unplanned trip to the frozen tundra of Northern Minnesota to celebrate my Grandpa George's life and legacy and to grieve his passing from this earth.  I grew up in the Midwest and should be used to the extreme cold and piles and piles of snow and ice.  However these five years in the Pacific Northwest have turned me into a certifiable wimp.  BRRR!!!!
I ran once in Great Falls, Montana, where I stopped to pick up my big brother Shane.
I'm training for a June 1st marathon and am back on a pretty intense training schedule.  The week I was in Minnesota called for three three-mile runs, three six-mile runs (one at pace), and a thirteen miler.  My focus for the trip was to spend time with my family and help out my Grandma.  I had no idea if I would end up logging any miles at all, but I wanted to be equipped if the opportunity came up.

I ended up running every other day while I was traveling.  I ditched all the three milers and grabbed the longer distances since I was bundled up and making the effort.  The weather was consistently cold but HOW cold varied considerably from day to day.  The warmest temperature I ran in was 20 degrees F.  The coldest was zero degrees F plus windchill, and that just happened to be the day I ran thirteen miles.  The water in my water bottles actually froze solid on that run which made getting a drink rather difficult. 
After I got home - my water was frozen solid
The bitterly cold day was also the most beautiful.  It was sunny with bright blue skies and so peaceful (but too cold to take pictures.)  I ran on clear, dry roads and was able to bang out thirteen miles at below race pace.  Two of the days when I ran six miles it was clear, but the trails and roads were a mixture of dry, snow, and packed ice.  I slowed my pace considerably and had to watch each step to avoid falling flat on my face.  One of those days I ran on the Gateway Trail, a trail system in the St. Paul suburbs where I had my first date with my husband.  My route took me past the parking lot where we met for our first date and to the exact spot where he proposed a little over a year later.  Talk about a stroll down memory lane!  I spent the run praising God for the story He has written in our lives in the almost seventeen years since we had our first date.
The map is in the parking lot where we had our first date - rollerblading (if that doesn't date us!)  Thirteen months later Curt re-created our first date and proposed to me at the junction of the paved trail and the horse trail.  How cool to retrace those steps seventeen years later, this time on foot because I'm a runner now.
My last winter run (also six miles) was in the early morning, something I very rarely do.  The roads were covered with an inch or two of fresh snow and it was still snowing gently.  The night was slowly giving way to a sleepy morning and I felt very alive as I softly padded down the road in the grayness of a new day dawning.  Each step left a footprint in the untouched snow and I worshipped as I ran through this private sanctuary with my Jesus.  Halfway through my run I wondered why my eyelashes felt so heavy.  I used my camera as a mirror and realized I had snow icicles on my eyelashes and crusted all over my hair.  I had forgotten that happens when it's really cold outside!
eyelash icicles

beautiful barn

untouched morning
I texted Carissa a picture of my icy water bottles and she replied, "I'm surprised you have the proper gear to run in such extreme cold."  I was surprised too.  I had gear that was close enough to what I needed to stay relatively warm on my runs.   Never mind that I wore the same outfit every time and had to wear it twice in a row without washing it.  (There's a first time for everything.)   Here's what I wore and why it worked.

1.  LEGS:  Skirt Sports Tough Girl pants and my Nike running tights.  I kicked around in my Skirt Sports pants cause they're so cute and cozy and I ran in my Nike running tights.  They kept my legs wrapped up nice and tight and blocked out the wind for the most part.  My legs don't get cold though so I don't need a lot of coverage there.

2.  FEET:  I don't have any running shoes that are made for winter running.  I brought my Nike LunarGlide 4's because they're the heaviest of my running shoes.  I also brought my  Smartwool socks and my Kirkland (Costco) version of Smartwool socks.  Normally I wear running specific socks but even in the mild 40 degree F weather in Portland, my toes are often like little icicles.  I knew I needed to risk blisters on my feet to keep my toes warm.  Surprisingly, running in the Smartwool and Kirkland socks was fine.  I didn't get blisters and my feet stayed warm.  What an unexpected surprise!

3.  BRA:  Of course I ran in my Handful bras.  Is there another kind?  (Well maybe.  Stay tuned for a review of Skirt Sports new bras).   I live in my Handfuls, especially when it's cold outside, because I know that even in the sub-zero temps I don't have to worry about coverage issues.

4.  SHIRT:  Oops.  I totally forgot to pack running shirts.  I skipped that drawer completely when I was packing.  Thankfully, I wore my new Kirkland Active Jacket that I picked up at Costco on the airplane.

**SIDE NOTE/MINI-REVIEW** This coat is a screaming deal.  Run - don't walk - to your nearest Costco and grab one before they are gone.  It retails for $25 and looks exactly the same as Lululemon's Define Jacket which retails for $99.  The quality is incredible and I L-O-V-E the fact that it not only has thumb holes but it also has a little flap that flips over to make mittens.  I'm not sure I could have survived my thirteen mile run without the extra mitten flap.  I loved my Active Jacket so much that I picked up another one when I was in Minnesota to compensate for my lack of intelligence when I was packing. **END SIDE NOTE/MINI-REVIEW**

My sister-in-law also happened to have an UnderArmor base layer long-sleeve shirt that she never wore and she gave it to me.  What a life saver.  I wore my Handful bra, the UnderArmor base layer, and my Kirkland Active Jacket as shirts.

5.  HANDS:  I have Renaud's syndrome and my fingers and toes feel and look like icicles from about October through June of every year.  When my fingers and toes get cold, the rest of me gets cold and it can take me hours to warm up.  I never go anywhere without gloves, even in Portland.  Not exactly a great condition to have when heading out into the winter snow. I wore my Mountain Hardware Momentum running gloves as a base.  Then I pulled the thumb holes from my Active Jacket over the top of them to give an added layer of warmth to my palm.  Finally I pulled the mitten portion of the Active Jacket over the top of my gloves.  Once I had all that in place, I wadded my fingers up into a ball and tried to keep my fingers moving consistently while I was running.  Even with all this, my fingers were frozen solid in under thirty minutes.  I should have added Hotties hand warmers to my gloves - a mistake I definitely won't make next time.

6.  JACKET:  I packed two winter coats, but never wore them to run.  Instead, I added my North Face Windwall vest to the top of three layers.  It blocked out the icy wind and kept my core really warm.  The only time I felt like I should have chosen a winter coat instead was when the wind picked up for four miles on my long run.  It was cold enough that it cut through all my layers and I found myself wishing I would have grabbed a full coat instead of just the vest.

7.  ACCESSORIES:  Of course I can't run without my Garmin.  She's an old lady now, but I still take her on every run and she tracks my mileage.  I don't ever go out on a run over four miles without water.  My Nathan Hydration and Speed 2 water belt is tried and true and I love it, even if the water froze in the bottles.  I alternated hats between my Nike Cold Weather Beanie and my tried-and-true Columbia Fast Trek Fleece hat.

I survived my Winter Running in the frozen tundra.  The novelty of doing something unfamiliar made it fun and I felt like a real Tough Cookie running thirteen miles in COLD weather.  However, winter running also made me very thankful for the moderate climate in Portland.  Running outside in extreme cold, snow and ice is doable, but challenging.  If I lived in the Midwest I would be forced to alter my training routine pretty dramatically in the winter.  I would probably run less winter/spring races and more summer/fall races since I abhor running on the treadmill.
This picture was taken three days after I arrived back in Portland.  I ran in a t-shirt, compression sleeves and capris.  That's more like it, but I still wore my gloves (and my fingers were still cold).

Sole Sisters who are laughing at how wimpy I am, tell us how to do it right.  What do you do to survive the cold and still get your miles in?  What must-have gear was I missing?  KUDOS to you strong women who run in this every day.  You are true Studs.


  1. That is very frigid weather to be running in. I would have wimped out and opted for the TM instead. Even where I live the weather gets in the teens and I won't run outside. I can't imagine running in anything that is below freezing.

    1. I will do anything to avoid the treadmill. Plus I didn't have access to one so it was outside or don't exercise. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

  2. I'm impressed that you ran in the tundra! I'm a total wimp and would have stayed on the treadmill for every run!

    1. Thanks Kim. I am not friends with the treadmill. Honestly, it's been years since I've run on one and I think the longest distance I've logged on a treadmill is 4 miles. I'd rather run outside, even if it's cold. Isn't it funny how we all have different preferences?