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Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend Newsletter
Current Issue: November 2012


November 2012

The Tao of Layering

Running outside during a typically frigid Canadian winter can be taxing. Cold, damp and dark are generally not the stuff that running dreams are made of… But going for a long night run through snowy neighbourhoods lit up by coloured lights and holiday cheer, or wending your way through an empty evergreen forest at dawn can also be exhilarating. That is, if you’re prepared for the chilly temps.

The secret to keeping misery (and hypothermia) at bay during the colder months is layering – the way you layer your gear to stay dry and conserve warmth. Think of it as a simple recipe with four main ingredients: the base layer, the mid layer (sometimes called an insulating layer), a shell or outer layer, and protection for your extremities (head, face, hands and feet).

Base Layer. The base layer wicks moisture away and provides comfort next to the skin – basically, we’re talking about high-tech long underwear. This layer should be made of a synthetic material, like a polyester blend. There are many different trademarked synthetics out there, like Patagonia’s Capilene Polyester or Polartec’s Power Dry fabric. Explore until you find the right fit and feel at the right price point. 

Mid Layer. A light fleece (not too bulky) works well for your mid layer, which should provide additional insulation while still allowing your skin to breathe. A mid layer may only be necessary in very cold conditions, but you can judge for yourself how much protection you need based on your internal thermostat (how you tend to experience the cold) and the actual temperature outside.

Photo: Ian Hunter

Outer Layer. The outer layer should protect you against wind and wet while maintaining breathability. A light nylon or Goretex shell works nicely, though again, there are many different fabric options and styles out there to choose from. It helps if you can unzip your shell when you start to overheat, and zips along the armpits for additional ventilation are another welcome feature. 

Extremities. Lastly, don’t forget your extremities. A fleece toque for your head, a neck warmer if it’s frigid or windy, and gloves or mitts for your hands will help to keep you cozy as you work on your winter running game. Also, lip balm or Vaseline will protect your lips from drying out in extreme cold and/or wind. As for your feet, slip-on cleats over your regular running shoes provide additional traction in icy conditions, while trail running shoes tend to offer more grip and overall support over wet, slushy or uneven terrain.
Run Ottawa Club