Lessons from Florida: Cold weather running is all about the gear

This was the weather in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday. Add a wind chill to that and no gear, and this Canadian could not get herself out for the usual early-morning run.

On Sunday morning I woke up to complaints about the weather from all over the place. In the north, people lamented the wind chill and the winter driving conditions. But I’m in the south, in Florida right now, and yesterday my weather app showed that it “felt like” 5 degrees C in the morning. As some aggrieved friends in the south said, the weather came as a bit of an affront.

Now, to me, 5 degrees C is usually great running weather. I’ve been suffering a bit here in the heat and humidity, and given a choice between cold-weather running and hot-weather running, I’ll take cold. I know how to handle it: I throw on my light winter tights, a t-shirt, and a long-sleeved top or jacket, maybe a buff to cover my ears, and away I go. But I’m in Florida. And I packed for Florida. That means my gear is all about tank tops and running shorts. Nary a long sleeved running top in sight. So there was just no way I could get out there first thing in the morning.

I did get out for a walk in the morning though, throwing on a pair of jeans, layering a tank top, swimsuit cover-up (for it’s longer sleeves!), lacy cardigan, and a shawl that I always put into my luggage when traveling because I’m all too familiar with the air conditioning blues. I wore thick socks and running shoes and still I felt the cold.

People on the beach path dealt with the cold in their own way. Some were indistinguishable from the winter runners I pass on the only city-cleared path in London, Ontario — with their winter tights, gloves, toques (yes, I saw folks in toques–that’s Canadian for a winter hat for those who don’t know). I would have been content with a long sleeved shirt. I saw one woman who had her own lacy cardigan over a running tank. Clearly she was traveling to Fort Lauderdale for the weekend and didn’t want to forgo her Sunday run despite not packing appropriately for it.

I waited it out until later in the day when the temperature climbed to a comfortable 18 degrees C. Yes, the wind was still gusty. At one point I almost lost my hat. Some people still had on their tights and their jackets and sweaters. But it was nothing like what Anita was experiencing up in Collingwood. We touched base that day and she said the windchill was a biting -21C.

All of this got me reflecting about how it really is all about the gear. And the good thing about winter running is that usually, you can gear up for it. If it’s very icy, you can wear your yak traks. If it’s cold, add a layer or three. My usual mid-winter top layers include an undershirt, a wicking t-shirt, a long-sleeved technical shirt (thickness depends on temperatures), and a running jacket that’s cut longer in the back to cover my butt.) If it’s very cold and windy, the jacket with appropriate layers under it does the trick. Put on some gloves and a hat or an ear warmer. In the very brutal conditions, you can even wear a face mask (or go inside — we all have our limits).

Purple reflective jacket with longer back and pockets from the Running Room. This is my exact fall/winter running jacket and I wish I had it with me in Fort Lauderdale this weekend.

You can’t gear up in the same way for summer running. I did my 21K training run on Thursday last week on a very hot and humid morning. It just about killed me. I stuck mostly to the beach walk and felt immense gratitude for the showers at regular intervals along the beach. I needed them. I’ve got my fingers crossed that we won’t experience the same conditions next week in Key West for the Half Marathon.

So yes, it’s all about the gear. Even a relatively balmy cold snap in Florida can defeat a Canadian used to much colder temperatures if she doesn’t have the layers she needs.

What are your winter running gear go-tos? And if you’re from somewhere warmer, like Florida, do you keep some back-up stuff on hand in case unseasonable cold hits?

4 thoughts on “Lessons from Florida: Cold weather running is all about the gear

  1. Unlike Ontario and British Columbia, Calgary has extreme temperature changes in 1 day, often. The temperature can rise or drop by 15 to 20 degrees C within 6 hrs. in 1 day. We get the chinook winds off from the Rocky Mountains….our area is only 1 of 3 locations worldwide that experiences this phenomena. 🙂

    For Florida, I would be packing 1 short sleeve (I don’t wear tank tops even in 100% summer humidity in southern Ontario summers), I long sleeve, 1 thin vest and light cycling jacket similar to your running jacket. I can wear vest + long sleeved jersey and cycling jacket to zero degrees fall.

    My body usually “hardened” by early fall. Or at most a thin long sleeve fleecy with short sleeve jersey and cycling jacket. Would give enough variety temperature fluctuations. This is what I brought with me and wore in Hawaii.

    Then I peel off what is needed. I think running is abit different than cycling, since cycling generates some air movement to cool off for cyclist.

    In Calgary can be a real hassle to carry a lot of peelable layered clothing during the day on a ride that extends over several hrs.
    Just a thought since we’ve done a lot of cycle touring on our own and haul our own clothing.

    As for my legs, it’s shorts, for Florida, I would carry on bike, light outdoor water resilent pants that aren’t totally waterproof but nice and light for breezy cool beach weather or light rain. I do wear shorts down to -8 degrees C by late summer. Again it’s body hardening after cycling often after a very cold winter to get to this place. At early spring, I bundle up more warmly at same temp. It’s psychological for me.

    All of this is after years of cycling in Canada and overseas.

    I believe growing up and exercising in southern Ontario gives a person a very wide breadth of climatic experiences/adjustments: cold /but not super cold winters with experience of snow, lovely spring, humid summers. It makes it easier to adjust when travelling worldwide.

  2. When I lived in the North East, I kept a spreadsheet of weather conditions, what I wore on each run, and how I felt during the run (too hot? too cold? just right?). It was a big motivational help on the coldest days to know that not only had I survived that weather before, but actually enjoyed the run and felt warm (even too warm, sometimes). Now I live in Texas and rejoice on our coldest days!

  3. HI Tracy– first, good luck to you and friends with the Key West Half Marathon! We’re all looking forward to your report and wishing y’all a great day out there.

    I don’t run but do xc ski in winter, and the key thing I have to worry about is not dressing too warmly, as I don’t want to get too sweaty (and I tend to run hotter than a lot of folks). If that happens, I cool down immediately and the outing is either cut short or becomes miserable. So I wear multiple layers that I can peel off, and/or an outer windproof layer over my torso. I adjust also by bringing a hat and headband, usually switching former for latter early on. Last Sunday I wore a balaclava plus hat (it was -7 C with a little wind), and then took off hat for just balaclava to protect ears and cover neck area.
    Some kind of tights alone (I have regular and more thermal ones) generally work fine for me, and I have wind pants and rain paints, too, if there is threat of snow or sleet (but I will get sweaty). I have various levels of winter gloves, but also tend not to need lobster gloves. My feet, also luckily, don’t really get cold.

    Do you worry about getting too hot on cool/cold weather runs? If so, what do you do about it? Curious about everyone’s thermal regulation strategies.

    1. Good question about getting too hot when dressed for cold. It’s all about layers. And experience. I check the weather and have different weights of tops and bottoms for different conditions. I even have different head coverings. I often have to remove my gloves partway through a run on all but the very coldest day. Occasionally I have overdressed but that usually happens when the season is changing. Especially when it’s going from fall to winter those first few cold runs I have a tendency to exaggerate and dress for the arctic! But it’s nothing like cross country skiing, which I recall from childhood as being s very hot sport where the clothing demands are much lighter than an outsider would think.

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