A New Life with Winter Gear (or a Winter Life with New Gear)

I was slow to catch on to our absurdly cold and snowy winter. I kept thinking we'd shift back into a normal pattern after the next storm. No? Maybe the next one. With February dawning and a new slate of storms lining up to ice us in until April, I have finally given up on all that and accepted the tenacity of this assholishly cold winter.

Running through the winter is typically pretty straightforward in NY. It an average year, I can maintain a 40 - 50 mile per week winter average and still avoid the worst of the cold or precipitation. This year, the only way to approach that kind of training base is to run on days that are too cold or too wet to be enjoyable. I have a tough time talking myself into running during a storm, but I have steeled myself to running in icy or slushy conditions. For me, such running requires different gear. Gear that I've typically eschewed as unnecessary or wasteful now seems like the only possible way to get through the door and onto the road. Could be my age and skittishness about injury are catching up with me.

I wear a pretty standard outfit for anything less than 30 degrees. My favorites pants are Asics Thermopolis LT tights. Asics makes a variety of tights and pants, but the LT is the right combination of heat trapping and windblocking for me. I have tried the rather phenomenal Sugoi Storm Shelter 220 pant and Asics Storm Shelter pants, but they're each a bit too bulky for me as I really do prefer tights in winter. Plus, I don't really need truly waterproof and windproof pants even in the crummiest weather.

For upper body, I generally wear a Thermopolis LT half zip top over which I'll layer a vest. I do this to retain core heat, to increase visibility, and to add a few pockets to my get-up. On days below 20—or for chillier night runs—I switch to the Thermopolis XP half zip which I can wear as a single-layer in even the worst NYC conditions. Thermopolis gear is well constructed and should last several winter seasons if well cared for. It's also pretty ubiquitous at running and sporting goods shops and can often be found competitively priced if not discounted. This time of year can be a bonanza for finding discounted winter gear as shops move to stock up for the busy spring running season. Check out EMS or REI right now and you'll likely see some of your favorites for more than 50% off. 

This is the first year I felt like I need a dedicated pair of trail shoes. After a few crummy runs through lingering slush and snow in my beloved Kayanos, I knew I wanted full Gore Tex protection. I hunted around for the two-year-old model of the Asics Gel Trabuco with Gore Tex and then found the Montrail Mountain Masochist GTX. For a trail model, this shoe is surprising light weight and flexible. The fact that it's warm and dry are sufficient for my dry-feet needs, but the strap closure system and gusseted tongue ensure a comfortable fit that is free of rocks, sticks, and ice chunks. The closest I get to trail running these days is packed ice and snow that conceals a path or road beneath, but I have found these shoes to be comfortable and responsive on both concrete and macadam. The fit is snug through the midfoot with a comfortably open toebox. While this model is listed for $115, I found mine at EMS for $55.

For extra coziness, I wear a combination of Smartwool PhD ski socks and ultra light running socks. I'll occasionally wear my lightweight Pearl Izumi cycling socks as a second layer on cold days, but I'm so hooked on my Smartwool socks that I often wash them as soon as I return from a run so that I can wear them again the next day.  

I recently purchased a reflective "buff" to try to keep my jaw and cheeks warm. My jaw tends to freeze when I'm running in extreme cold and I've never really found a comfortable solution. The buff is essentially a fabric tube constructed out of a thin layer of polyester microfiber. Mine, the Speed Reflective Buff, has a Scotchlite strip for visibility. It can be worn as a hat, neck-gaiter, balaclava, headband, or helmet liner. I tend to wear it on my neck and pull it up over my face when my jaw starts to get numb. It was a great addition to today's windy run and would have been a godsend during the bone-chilling Manhattan Half a few weeks ago. 

For a hat, I wear an under-helmet skullcap from my cycling days that is lightweight, windproof, and made from something sufficiently spacey that it keeps my skull feeling warm and dry on even the sweatiest runs on the coldest days. If I know it's going to be especially cold, I add an old Pearl Izumi Transfer headband underneath the skullcap to protect my ears. I'm usually sweating like mad with two layers on my head, but it's better than frozen ears and my daughter enjoys watching the steam rise from my scalp when I return. 

Finally, gloves. Seems like I could write an entire chapter somewhere on gloves and mittens. I prefer an extremely lightweight glove liner for almost all cold weather running. The Terramar Thermolator II glove liner, made from a blend of microfilament polyester and spandex, is soft and sufficiently warm for all but the coldest days. If I am running in temperatures below 20 degrees, I'll switch to one of a couple of pair of winter cycling gloves I still have. They're bulky, but few things beat a cycling glove for warmth and windblocking capability. 

So, that's that. Yes, it's stinking bloody cold and icy and snowy and crappy and on and on and on. So what? Let's go running.