Finding Your Running Weather ‘Break Points’: The Monday Mile

We just passed the start of winter, but in some areas it feels like we’ve been mid-winter for a while. We’ve had some sub-zero wind chill days and it felt more like February than November at times! As things settled down in December, I had to break out more variety of gear and remind myself of my running weather breakpoints!

Arctic Blast Gear

What do I mean? Well, just like with any outdoor activity how you dress depends on the weather. If it is snowing outside, this isn’t really the time for flip-flops, and so on. The difference is that whereas when the kids go to school or we head to work there is a short time factor involved, for me heading out on a run means knowing temperature, precipitation, ground conditions, and wind chill. I wrote a bit about this last year, but wanted to expand it to deal with more types of conditions.

Every year around this time we see loads of posts about ‘Winter Running Essential Tips’ … but I seem to notice that most of those articles are written by people who think there is never any cause for more than two layers, that gloves I wouldn’t call suitable for 20 minutes of shoveling are your ‘extreme weather best bet’ and so on. Bottom line – winter in Miami, Phoenix, Seattle, Baltimore, Buffalo and Boston are all very different!

So what I think is we need to define our clothing strategies based on the actual weather rather than ‘winter’ or ‘summer’.

Some Background Info:
– My hands get cold really fast. I think it is a circulation issue, but basically once I get into late fall my primary strategy involves my hands not feeling frost-bitten.
– On the other hand my feet do not get cold – I use the same socks at -20F as I do at 75F … and never get too cold.
– I run at ~4:30AM. Which means that for me it is dark when I leave the house 365 days per year, and light when I get home at 6AM about 30 days or so. My point? Running in the dark is different, and feels colder – good in summer, bad in winter.
– Where we live in western NY there is pretty much a guaranteed 5-10mph wind, which is always cooler than the air temperature. This is different from many places (including where we lived in Massachusetts)
– I would prefer to be a bit warm than too cold, but my goal is ultimately “never too cold”.

So with that … here are my Weather Breakpoints!

My Weather Breakpoints:

Above 50F

Once the temperature breaks 50F, I am in a tech t-shirt and shorts. (no shirtless or tank-top running for me, if you need more details why, check here). If it is sunny our I have a nice light breathable running hat that I wear, as well as sunglasses (actually use those year round in bright weather. Be careful with the sun and apply sunscreen when running in the sun!

Once it gets above ~75F I tend to use my ultra-light no-show socks, but otherwise I run basically the same way up through 95F (haven’t gone out above that yet).

40F – 50F

Because of our wind and ground freeze conditions, 40-50F presents a challenge: we can have 40F that feels like imminent snow, or 50F that feels on the cusp of summer. Typically in this range I am in shorts, wear a long-sleeve tech shirt or light thermal shirt and possibly my lightest gloves if it is close to 40F.

However – if I am running mid-day in these temperatures chances are good I am in shorts and a short-sleeved tech-shirt. In fact, just after Christmas we had such a day and that was exactly how I dressed.

Inner Gear

30F – 40F

As we get close to the freezing point, I tend to break out my light running tights and put on a base layer. I also wear a light hat and light gloves.

Below 35 it depends on wind, sky, and the ‘trend’ – but I will often wear mid-weight gloves and perhaps a running sweatshirt over my tech shirt. And since we tend to get windy I will often break out ‘runderwear’ at this point.

But as I say, it depends – last week we had 35F but it was warming up and was sunny, whereas this week it was cooling down and the wind was bitter. The temperature was the same but I dressed very differently.

15F – 30F

Now we’re in WINTER temperatures, but still not so cold that it is unreasonable to run. Again, how you dress will depend on the wind, air temperature and trend, but in this range my typical layering strategy is:
– Warm hat
– Two top layers (thickness depends on temperature)
– Runderwear and heavier leggings.
– Normal socks and shoes.
– Under Armor ‘Extreme Coldgear’ gloves (don’t believe the hype, these are just beyond mid-weight gloves.)

Outer Gear

0F – 15F

It is easy for wind chills to dip sub-zero in this range and therefore skin exposure becomes a possible concern. My basic theory is this – better sweaty than frost-nip. So here is my strategy:
– Warm hat plus face/neck protection
– Two heavy top layers, with possible outer layer if needed
– Runderwear and heavier leggings.
– Normal socks and shoes.
– Under Armor ‘Extreme Coldgear’ gloves plus an inner liner.

As you will see in the graph at the end of the post, the colder you get the fast the wind chill accelerates and gets more dangerous. So be careful!

Below 0F

At this point you need to be VERY aware of the amount of time you are outside … below zero the dangers of exposure accumulate quickly, and your ability to think through things drops quickly.

– Warm hat plus balaclava PLUS face/neck protection
– Two heavy top layers, with outer layer
– Runderwear and heavier leggings, occasionally with lighter leggings underneath
– Normal socks and shoes.
– Heavy shoveling gloves plus inner liner gloves, and typically all kept inside my outer later.

Below -10F

If you are out running in this weather … well you are either me, an idiot, or both 🙂 This is dangerous weather and really only meant for limited exposure – so being like me and running ~7.5 miles requires you to be very aware of your body and take time to figure out what works

– Warm hat plus balaclava PLUS face/neck protection
– Two heavy top layers, with outer layer and hood up
– Runderwear and heavier leggings, with lighter leggings underneath
– Normal socks and shoes.
– Heavy shoveling gloves plus inner liner gloves, all kept inside my outer later.

Colder than THAT

Last winter I ran in temperatures as cold as -20F a few days during our ‘Polar Vortex’. It is incredible, from the standpoint of how your body deals with things. Those ultra-cold days were very challenging, I know my pace was slower but the perceived exertion was higher. I ran a ‘tried and true’ route that never had me more than three-quarters of a mile from home (loops are the key!), and if I got COLD I cut it short.

Of course, there really IS a point at which it is ‘too cold to run’, based on the combined temperature and wind chill. The guidance is that anything below -20F wind chill is getting into ‘seriously dangerous’ territory. Here is the chart from the National Weather Service:


What are YOUR Weather Breakpoints:

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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!