When the temperature drops and the flakes fly, many runners spend their exercise hours at the gym, letting the treadmill suffice for a daily endorphin kick. But they’re missing out, because winter running is the sport distilled to its satisfying essence. If you run to clear your mind, for example, what could be better than heading out when the parks are devoid of bustle and the running paths are clear? And if you run to seize on a sense of accomplishment, conquering your favorite route under challenging conditions is far more rewarding. The trick, of course, is outfitting yourself in temperature-regulating gear that minimizes the effects of the elements so you can maximize performance—and fun. We talked to two Tracksmith athletes about how they learned to love the cold.
Start the Process Indoors
Even in the dregs of January, Manhattan-based Tracksmith athlete Rolanda Bell heads out to Central Park every day. “When you run in the wintertime, people are at home hibernating. You feel like the park is your own,” says Bell. “Running the upper loop of the reservoir and seeing the lake covered in a layer of ice with the city skyline in the background—it can be magical.” But to find that special moment, first Bell has to get herself out the door, which, even for a steeplechase runner, can be a hurdle. Her trick: stretching and getting loose indoors before hitting the road. After that, the initial shock of stepping outside fades quickly. “You just have to jump in and remember that within five minutes of running, you’ll heat up,” says Bell.
“The beauty of running is that it’s something you can do throughout the year,” says Ann Arbor, Michigan–based Tracksmith manager and athlete Nick Willis. “It’s actually a nice reprieve, because you can have these epic emotional moments running in winter.” The 1,500-meter Olympic medalist grew up training in Merino wool; he was born in New Zealand—the fabric’s premier source—and vouches for its warmth, breathability, and odor-fighting properties. These days he builds his winter running kit around a Tracksmith Merino-wool-blend base layer—either the Harrier (men/women) on milder days, or the Brighton (men/women) on the chilliest mornings—topped with a shell if the weather calls for it. “The main benefit of Merino, other than the warmth, is that it doesn’t get stinky—you don’t end up with an overflowing laundry basket,” says Willis. For her part, Bell starts with a Merino-wool-blend garment like the Fells Waffle Layer (men/women) or Fells Turtleneck (men/women). “They keep the heat in but don’t feel heavy or get in the way,” she says.
Protect Your Extremities
Important as it is to layer for core warmth, covering extremities like hands and ears is vital, since blood flow is quickly reduced in cold air. “The key for me is really, really good gloves,” says Willis. “There’s nothing worse than not being able to feel your fingers eight miles from home.” To that end, Willis is a fan of Tracksmith’s Harrier Gloves. Bell says she’s a big believer in covering her hands, neck, and ears, and even her ankles. “Those are the places I really feel the cold,” she says. “Even if the temperature is questionable, I’ll cover them. It’s easy to stash the gloves in a pocket or pull earwarmers or a neckwarmer down if you get too warm.”
Traction Is Your Friend
“I’ve had incredible experiences running under the moon lighting up a couple inches of fresh powder, but since it’s dry, you get some grip,” says Willis. “The next day, though, there may be a layer of ice underneath. That’s a no-go.” The lesson: traction is a paramount concern. Check the weather report, consider running in the sunlight when ice is easier to spot, consider switching to a trail run with some gravel underneath, or find a freshly-plowed residential street. “Unless it’s ultra slippery and I’m risking getting injured, I’m throwing on layers and getting out the door,” says Bell.
When it’s truly frigid, look for outerwear that maximizes warmth without adding too much bulk. On the coldest days, Willis dons a jacket like the Tracksmith Nor’Easter, which is lightweight but features a Merino liner. “There’s nothing better,” he says, “because you create a nice big pocket of warm air to buffer you.” Remember, PRs don’t need to be broken while the world is frozen—for most of us, winter runs are maintenance miles that can set you up for success when spring rolls around. Dress prepared, though, and they can become some of your favorite miles of the year.
Founded in Boston in 2014, Tracksmith is an independent running brand built on a deep love for the sport. We craft products, tell stories and create experiences that aim to celebrate, support and add to running’s distinct culture.