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Winter Running Advice From the Coldest Places in America

For these runners, staying inside is not an option.

What does it take to get a dedicated runner to stay inside on a blustery winter day?

Well, we found a few runners in some of the coldest places in the United States. And the answer is not clear, because brutal sideways wind, slippery streets coated in ice and temperatures way, way below zero are not enough to keep them indoors. Frozen beards and eyelashes won’t do it. The lack of daylight doesn’t matter, either—the runs must go on. Heck, there are even running camps in places like Wisconsin that celebrate the conditions.

Clearly, hibernation is not an option.

Our conversations with runners in states like Alaska, Minnesota and Montana revealed the spirit of dedicated runners, and how habit often trumps outside factors. Most shrugged at their ability to withstand brutal weather. All had a few funny stories to tell, followed by great wisdom for those looking to find comfort in what could otherwise be uncomfortable winter running.

Here are their stories—and their advice:

Fairbanks, Alaska — Cathi

It’s just minutes before the Fahrenheit Be Darned running group takes off on their Wednesday 8-mile run, well after the sun sets in the Alaskan winter (it’s never up for long this time of year).

“It’s 10 degrees right now,” says Cathi Batchelder, a loyal member of the group who’s also on the Running Club North board of directors.

Adding that the windchill is 4 degrees, she boasts, “This is perfect. We love this.”

Talking to Batchelder, you quickly realize that Alaska runners—and particularly those in Fairbanks—are just a little bit tougher than the rest of us. Batchelder admits that she usually doesn’t cover her face up during a run, even as temperatures dip to 20-below zero and beyond. She shrugs off the side effects (though non-Alaskans probably shouldn’t).

“Your eyelashes freeze, of course,” she deadpans. “But you can still see.”

With the support of a tight-knit running fraternity, it never gets too cold for Alaskan runners who stick together. Batchelder runs regularly year-round, even on days where zero seems like a warm temperature far, far away. In fact, she credits the Fairbanks running community for keeping her away from a certain piece of equipment that now collects cobwebs in her home.

“I haven’t been on my treadmill,” she says, “in three years.”

3 Questions With Cathi Batchelder

Coldest Temperature You’ve Run In

“It was 42-below, Fahrenheit. But the first time I ran in 40-below weather, I overdressed. Your body keeps you warm as long as you keep moving.”

What Do You Wear on Cold-Weather Runs?

Top: Layering is key. The number of layers depends on the temperatures, but none of the layers are too thick. A Brooks jacket is go-to for the coldest days. For her hands, she wears two layers of gloves, and the outer layer is a mitten so the fingers can stay close together.
Bottoms: “I wear my regular running pants.”
Feet: Compression socks, and possibly a second pair of socks if it gets to 10-below. Her shoes of choice are Icebugs. (“You can run across pure ice, and they’re insulated so you keep warm.”) Others in her running group wear Salomon Speedcross shoes.
Head: A moisture-wicking ski hat. If it gets to 20-below, she’ll wear a face mask. She often wears a buff around her neck that she can pull up over her face if the wind is particularly fierce.

Advice for Cold-Weather Running

“Layers, layers, layers. It’s surprising how much heat your body can put off.”

Duluth, Minnesota — Clint

The weather gets so frigid in Duluth, Minnesota that the Duluth Running Company, just a block away from Lake Superior, often goes outside of the running apparel industry to find the winter gear that its customers want. One example is the Sugoi Lobster Gloves, which the brand markets toward cyclists.

“We sell heavier stuff,” said Clint Agar, owner of Duluth Running Company. “We end up crossing over into different industries with what we’re buying because it’s better for us.”

Duluth is a charming town of about 80,000 on the western tip of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. It’s about 150 miles north of Minneapolis and about 150 miles from the Canadian border. Its location comes at a price—it gets really, really cold in the wintertime, many nights below zero with lots of snow and lots of wind.

“Last year, we had 10 days where it didn’t get above zero. For a high,” Agar said.

Nonetheless, runners still run in Duluth. Agar’s business has a spring marathon training group that gets more than 100 runners showing up in January and February no matter the temperatures. In addition, lots of cross-country skiers are in the area, and when there aren’t good snow conditions, they stay in shape during the winter months by running—at least until the next snowfall.

3 Questions With Clint Agar

Coldest Temperature You’ve Run In

“Minus-30, without the windchill. That was a snowshoe race. I ended up having to stop halfway through to put a footwarmer next to my groin.”

What Do You Wear on Cold-Weather Runs?

Top: A Mizuno base layer and a half-zip (for easy de-layering). If it’s windy, a North Face Stormy Jacket to seal off the wind. If it’s not windy and just cold, a super-thin jacket like the Brooks LSD Lite. For the hands, Sugoi Lobster Gloves and possibly SmartWool liner gloves underneath.
Bottoms: Wind briefs, sometimes two pairs if it’s below zero. Above that, Craft Storm Tights (“just an awesome pant.”)
Feet: New Balance 110 shoes with thick SmartWool socks (three-quarter crew to cover the ankles)
Head: A SmartWool neck gaiter pulled up to the lips, and a thick stocking cap. Also, he prefers his shell has a hood that he can use if he wants to.

Advice for Cold-Weather Running

“You’ve got to be willing to start a little cold. If you’re layered and you start a little cold, you’re not going to get colder. The big mistake is that people overdress, and they overdress without the ability to de-layer.”

Des Moines, Iowa — Brad

The Capital Striders is a vibrant running club in Des Moines, Iowa. Leading up to the Des Moines Marathon each October, the club’s Saturday group runs can have more than 100 runners participating.

The winter months then follow, and the Iowa winter weather is brutal—dozens of nights below zero, lots of wind, lots of snow and ice.

But, remarkably, the participation drop-off isn’t that huge.

“You’d be very surprised,” said Brad Dains, president of the Capital Striders. “We do get some people that pull the reins back a little. But once January hits, people are getting ready for the spring marathons. We do a winter training group, January through April. There were mornings where we would have 60 to 75 people.”

For many in Iowa, the running must go on.

3 Questions With Brad Dains

Coldest Temperature You’ve Run In:

“Last year, I went out for a 10-mile run. With the wind chill, it was 30-below. Without the wind chill, I think it was about 5-below.”

What Do You Wear on Cold-Weather Runs?

Top: A base layer with moisture-wicking material. A tech shirt above that and a light-weight jacket above that (recently, he’s been testing the UVU Stamina jacket coming out in 2015). If it’s really cold, compression sleeves and a traditional pair of running gloves with handwarmers slipped inside.
Bottoms: Compression shorts and full-length tights.
Feet: Injinji socks are usually enough (“I’m pretty lucky that my feet don’t get super cold”) but on frigid days he’ll layer his feet with SmartWool socks too.
Head: A buff around his neck he can bring up to cover his face, and a nylon stocking cap.
Advice for Cold-Weather running:

“Use some sort of lotion or Vaseline to provide another layer on your skin. You don’t want any exposed skin. Put Vaseline on your cheeks or forehead where the cold might have some contact with your skin.”

Billings, Montana — Ryan

The winter weather only affects Ryan Grubb’s running in one way—he typically stays off the trails until the freezing temperatures have passed.

“I’d rather not be running on icy terrain,” Grubb said.

Beyond that, Grubb is a year-round runner who projects a no-big-deal attitude about going outside in the frigid Montana winters.

He is the president of the Yellowstone Rimrunners, a running club in Billings with a schedule that’s more fitting for a warm-weather climate. They host several races during the cold season—a turkey trot, a December Toys for Tots 5K, a Shamrock Run in March—as well as a New Year’s Day fun run, a Christmas Light Run and a “Frozen Nose” run in February.

Winter hibernation? There’s no such thing in Billings.

3 Questions With Ryan Grubb

Coldest Temperature You’ve Run In

“It was 10-below, but it was a nice, sunny day. I actually enjoyed it.”

What Do You Wear on Cold-Weather Runs?

Top: Dri-fit clothing, two layers. For the hands, a pair of wool mittens.
Bottoms: Compression shorts and pants. (“I’ve never had a problem with my legs getting cold.”)
Feet: Mostly shoes that are insulated. The one thing he splurges on is a good pair of running socks—$15 a pair.
Head: A fleece hood that covers both his head and his neck. (“I hate my neck getting cold.”)

Advice for Cold-Weather Running

“If it’s cold, we figure out the direction of the wind and run into the wind for the first half, then turn around and have the wind to our backs heading back. That way we avoid turning into the wind. That’s the worst.”