Running on ice can be treacherous, and sometimes even dangerous. For many years, I have been carrying a set of Yaktrax for those days where the paths were just too icy to run comfortably. However, I never felt I had stable and solid footing while running with these on, and most of the time, I ended up running much slower than desired. Running intervals with these on was simply just out of the question.
Since running on icy and snowy surfaces north of the 49th parallel is frequent, I started looking for other options. Among them are the IceSpikes. Unfortunately, I was never able to test them since they are, at least in my area, only available through online purchase.
Last Spring, as I was resigned to keep doing my best with my Yaktrax for many more years, I stumbled on a very good deal for a pair of Salomon Snowcross CS. I had known about these shoes for over two years, but their price tag ($200) was, at least back then, just too high for the family budget. This time though (under 100$), I did not hesitate.
These shoes stayed in my closet until this past November, where Ottawa started having some relatively inclement weather, which left us with quite a bit of snow, lots of ice and some cold temperature, but still not enough to get the cross country skis out, for about a month.
Not expecting much, I took the Snowcross out for many spins over that month… and I don’t think I will be able to live without them ever again.
On the ice, the nine carbide spikes on each shoes offered unprecedented grip, to a point where my brain actually had problems adjusting to it (“lots of ice. Should be slippery. Very slippery, but… not slippery. Not at all… can’t compute.”) Honestly, it took me about four or five runs over a week to understand that these would keep me going on the ice as fast as if I was on clear roads.
In the snow, the aggressive cleat pattern also got me going pretty fast. The integrated gate design, borrowed from the cross country ski world, also kept the snow out while keeping me warm and cozy.
Frankly, I am now in love with these shoes. If you have to run on icy and snowy roads on your way to work, they offer amazing grip while keeping you warm.
Since I have to keep a minimum of critical sense, the low points of these shoes are:
- the integrated gate is water resistant, but not waterproof. It will keep you dry through snow, but not through puddle of slushy water.
- the white lines are not reflective. For shoes of that price, this would be expected.
Last, but not least; with the carbide spikes*, make sure you do not walk on wooden floors.
*The Salomon Snowcross CS share their soles with carbide spikes with the Salomon Spikecross. The latest are basically the same shoes as the Snowcross, but without the integrated gate. Therefore, a clever alternative to the Snowcross would be a pair of Spikecross combined with a set of short gators. The company Inov-8 also has two models with integrated carbide spikes (Oroc 280 and Oroc 340), which could also be used in conjunction with a short set of gators for similar results.
I, like so many, have since my first tentative steps as a runner dreaded this happening to me. During an out-and-back segment of my first ultra, 24-ish miles into a grueling 50K, a runner in the opposite direction had upon his face not fatigue but wide-eyed fear mingled with agony. I understood why. Upon his white shirt: twin red streams trailing toward his waistband. And he had six more miles to go.
Bloody nipples. Nipple chafe (clinically: nipple fissures). Hell, chafe in general, as Meghann writes, in any of the body’s geography. Every runner harbors this terror in the heart and the skin above it, and holds forth numerous methods of mitigation: adhesive bandages; sport tape; petroleum jelly. But I give you today Red11 Sport, an anti-chafe agent unlike others I have known, a salve to save your nipples and nethers from being churned to hamburger when you run.
The Run Commuter team has been using Red11 Sport for several months now, putting it on our delicate tissues, then putting this through the wringer. My first impression was a chuckle for its clever, snarky name. (Think about my description above of the afflicted gent.) Red11 Sport is a New York City-based newcomer, cheeky in its marketing and seems so in its company culture, judging by our correspondence with them. That is a good beginning to recommend it to runners: they’re like us.
But they can get away with it because the product works, and works extremely well. Red11 Sport is composed of shea butter (main ingredient), vitamin E, coconut, mineral wax and peppermint. In fact, the peppermint scent was among the first things we noticed, as soon as we popped the tin open. It’s present but not strong, just enough to notice. You won’t feel it on your skin, and don’t worry that your areolas will smell like candy canes: they won’t.
Red11 Sport feels to the touch like a lip balm: a bit waxy, smooth, but spreadable. In fact, one of our contributors, Nic, has used it just so when he forgot his lip balm at home. Rub some on the end of a finger; rub the finger on your nipple(s); go running: simple. Both sizes come in tins small enough to fit in a pocket.
Here’s the meat of this review: it works. This tiny tin of chafe-halting nectar works so much better than anything I have found. I’ll explain by way of comparison, then tout Red11 Sport’s merits.
The primary anti-chafe methods, anecdotally and from experience, are bandages/sport tape, petroleum jelly and BodyGlide. The latter will likely be Red11 Sport’s main competitor. Bandages/sport tape will protect nipples from being rubbed raw, but sweating will dislodge them. That’s been my experience with bandages, anyway, though sport tape usually stays put. Unfortunately, you can’t put them in your armpits, butt crack, upper thighs, and balls, all areas prone to chafe.
Petroleum jelly always works but it stains shirts, leaving competitors and onlookers to wonder why you’re lactating. I slathered it on my thighs mid-race in the 2011 Detroit Marathon, experiencing some chafe then, and it again worked but my shorts clung to it, riding waaaaay up into the nethers. And my shorts are short enough already; there’s little room to travel.
I’ve never been a fan of BodyGlide. It wears off too quickly. I’ve tried it, tried it again to be certain, but it seems to slough off maybe 5-10 miles into a long run or race. I’ve seen teammates and competitors in longer ultras reapply it periodically, which I never had to do with petroleum jelly. It always leaves me disappointed and raw.
Red11 Sport came to us just before the crush of southern summer. Most of my use has been on run commutes, but I’ve used this precious goo on shorter and moderate runs, about 5-10 miles, and several times on long efforts, up to and past 20 miles. No issues. No need to reapply. And nary a hint of chafe! Nor has there been any stain or mark on my shirts, any time that I have applied Red11 Sport. That is hugely important. Stains in no way alter the function of tech shirts but it is embarrassing and ruins some very cool race shirts.
It also has proved effective with irritation from heart rate monitors. Hall has used applied it in that way and had none of his usual chafing. We passed it along to a female friend who was experiencing significant chafe from her monitor whenever she ran. She says, “I ran twice last week with the heart rate monitor strap and used your special cream. I was free of all irritation!”
Here’s what one of our contributors, Nic, had to say:
“I have used the Red11 for about 150 km since I received it, and it is great. Seriously, it is the best anti-chaffing stuff I ever used (I got absolutely no chafing at all last week, and I ran a total of 114 km). My only comment would be to replace “nipple protection” on the container by something more gender neutral, but beside that, I liked the product and the format of the container. And I even used it as lip balm this morning since I could not find my usual one!
“I wore my chafing shorts for a 15 km interval training/run commute. (These shorts are very old, and I always have problems with them, even with Vaseline and Nok). So I decided to wear them, over a generous coating of Red11. And I am glad to report … nothing! Nothing at all! Baby skin throughout. I am very, VERY impressed.”
Heed Nic’s suggestion to alter the “nipple protection” labeling on the tins. That’s how Red11 Sport is primarily marketing the product — indeed, that is the top-tier trouble zone — but I’ve used it everywhere, as Nic has. Thoroughly saturated by sweat in 95-degree heat and maximum humidity after 18 miles: I felt nothing in any of the typical problem spots. If you see Red11 Sport at your running store, snap some up. Your nipples/genitals/miscellaneous, and anyone who has to see them, will thank you.
DISCLOSURE: Red11 Sport provided gratis samples for our review.
If, like me, you have poor eyesight, you may have to run with prescription glasses. Running with spectacles that are not made for running quickly becomes annoying, as they start sliding down a sweaty nose. Luckily, good prescription glasses for runners do exist. Run-commuting adds some complexity to all of this. North of the 49th parallel, it is not uncommon to run in total darkness during winter months. Therefore, clear lens prescription glasses made for runners are required. Dark lens glasses are preferable for the rest of the year.
Three years ago, I bought Switch Vision prescription glasses. They came with interchangeable lenses; one clear set and one darker set for sunny days. These are made of ballistic material, which means they can also be used as safety glasses. Switch Vision uses small magnets inserted in the frame and around the lenses to keep them firmly in place. In my opinion, this feature places Switch Vision in a category of their own in terms of sports glasses. Switch Vision glasses’ design is great for people that needs sports prescription glasses for dark and sunny days. However, I have a bit of a bad aftertaste with the durability of the H wall model I purchased. The exposed metal rusted out after only a few months. When that happened, I took them back to the store, where they were replaced. Just like the first one, however, the second pair showed signs of rust after only a few months. Therefore, I would recommend avoiding these particular Switch Vision frames that expose portions of the magnets – they tend to rust over time, as shown below. I would also avoid frames with a soft nose mount and choose one with a plastic one instead.
Finally, depending on the number of dealers in your area, these can be pretty expensive (myself, I paid $700 Cdn, which is an outrageous amount of money for any pair of glasses when I think about it). I could probably have bought 2 pairs of sport prescription glasses, 1 clear and 1 dark, for less money than that. I really like the Switch Vision magnetic system, but not enough to pay such a premium to get it again the next time around. Hopefully, prices will have come down to a more reasonable level. ********************* Characteristics of good run-commuting prescription glasses: -durable -interchangeable lenses -light -lenses held firmly in place -resistance to fogging (good luck finding that!)
I was as a young man waaaay into Dungeons & Dragons, as well as video game RPGs like the Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior series. There was always some bottled liquid to cure your ailments and even restore life, should your mighty berserker be somehow felled by an elf. Those indoors-for-hours days rushed to my memory when we received our latest product to review: Purinize, a potion promising to render water potable by vanquishing microscopic assailants and coagulating sediments.
How does Purinize manage these extraordinary feats? Why, by the sensible and scientific application of VOLCANO SALTS.
As the weather warms, the coverage we look for in running clothes drops off dramatically. It seems so freeing to run with as little on as possible. I will be faster! I’m like a wild animal! It’s not until I get home and survey the damage from skin rubbing on skin or cloth that I realize it wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Chafing! Miles and miles of it. Burning, stinging, oozing, and bleeding in some very sensitive regions of my body. Add a run commuter backpack to the mix and there is bound to be chafing in areas of which you’d never thought.
We put together a list of problem areas and anti-chafing solutions, as well as a some additional fixes you can make, to keep your run commute as smooth and irritation-free as possible.
Running with a backpack requires some adjustment. Even if you haven’t paid much attention to your form before, you will immediately recognize if adjustments to your stride or posture need to be made. Runner’s World recently reposted one of the best articles on form that I have ever read. It was written in 2005, and there have certainly been lots of others since, but not many with advice that you can so easily apply on your own.
Your pack, with sternum and waist straps buckled and cinched, will normally pull your shoulders back and straighten your posture while you run. Run with strides too far apart under this setup however, and no matter how well your pack fits, it will rub somewhere. Practice running with good form and you will not only reduce the likelihood of backpack chafe, you’ll also find yourself to be a more effective runner without the pack.
Chafing Problem Areas
Under arms: Device cases and backpack straps are the worst offenders here. To borrow from a recent very popular animated film in which the main character suffers from complex icy architecture shooting from her fingers unsolicited, “Conceal it. Don’t feel it.” A layer of clothing between you and the offending strap and a good bit of lube is the only way to prevent this if running with these items is desired or required. For these hot summer months, try an ultra-lightweight moisture wicking shirt. Take your pack and device case with you to the store to try on new running clothes. That way you can see if they fit comfortably together and ensure that your trouble spots are covered.
Shoulders, Lower Back and Stomach: These are all from backpack straps. We here at TRC are of at least two different schools of thought on this one. Josh likes his straps tight; I like mine kinda loose. Again, look at your form and your pack and make adjustments on the fly. If your pack is rubbing a hole in your back, it is moving around. If it is moving around, either you are bouncing or wasting tons of energy with side-to-side motion, or your pack it too loose, or possibly both.
Here is Josh’s advice to a new run commuter suffering from backpack-related chafing:
‘First of all, cinch everything down like crazy. In order, tighten your waist strap, then shoulder straps, then sternum strap… All of these can be adjusted on the run as well. Usually, I readjust everything once I’ve been running for a few minutes.
Wear polyester-based shirts; either 100% poly, or at a minimum, a 50/50 poly/cotton blend. After you start sweating, these types of shirts tend to stick to your skin better than cotton, and provide a slippery, non-irritating surface for your pack to slide over if it is loose.’
Nipples: Chafed nipples are mostly commonly a problem for men, but women can get them too from wearing an ill-fitting or poorly supporting bra, but that may need to be addressed in a later post. The cause is the same though: bouncing. Noticing a theme here? Some guys stick Band-Aids over their nips, others use Vaseline or an anti-chafe product, such as Red11Sport. And then, some just deal with it until their nipples become less sensitive. One or two good long, sweaty runs will result in painfully raw, possibly bleeding, nipples. Thankfully they heal quickly and will be tougher and less likely to chafe again. As long you keep running regularly, they will stay that way. As a mother who has breastfed two children, I have to say that this last option is probably the easiest in the long run if you can handle it.
Inner thighs: I am a normal-sized human being, and my thighs touch. They did when I was a little girl, and they will until the day I die, or, God-forbid, only have one leg. This is arguably the most common spot for chafing on a woman. Do an internet search on chafing (like I did for this post) and most of what comes up are blog posts from women whose thighs touch and means by which they’ve tried to prevent it. You must do one or both of two things: cover them or lube them.
“I feel like such a sexy beast standing at the trailhead lubing up my thighs before a run,” said no one ever. But no one ever managed a sexy walk while suffering from inner thigh chafe either. Compression-style gear is tight-fitting, like bike shorts without the chamois, and acts like a second skin, so all the friction will be on it and not your sensitive bits. However if heading out of doors wearing what feels [looks] like sausage casing doesn’t appeal to you, try a loose, lightweight layer on top. You may also notice that shortening your stride length helps keep your shorts down on/between your legs. I don’t know who told running clothes manufactures that everyone likes (and can wear) short shorts for running. Some companies are getting better about making slightly longer lengths, but I for one do not want very short or very tight. Rubbing a friction reducing product on the areas that touch will not only help keep your thigh skin from rubbing off, but also your shorts from riding up, and you from walking like a monkey for a couple of days.
Try out different kinds of anti-friction products. You can often buy small/trial sizes of different kinds to help you find one you like. When you do find one that works, buy several so you’re never stuck without it.
Aquaphor and Vaseline are my favorite products because they have so many uses. They are also affordable and easy to find. Before I head out on a run, I smear it on my lips, under the band of my sports bra and shorts, and on my thighs. If, despite all my preventative measures, I still get a raw spot, Aquaphor is very soothing as well.
Here are some products we like, and where to find them:
- Aquaphor – drugstores, anywhere lotions are sold
- Vaseline – drugstores and anywhere lotions are sold
- Body Glide
- Nip Guards
- Band-Aids, Elastoplasts, plasters – nearly every store in the universe
On-the-Run Chafing Emergencies
I may scandalize or otherwise shock you here, but picture this: you’re headed home from work. It’s been a fine day, relatively normal, but you are eagerly anticipating leaving on vacation on Friday. It is only Tuesday, but you have much on your mind- saltwater fishing, that chef that’s going to come cook an amazing dinner for y’all, which books are you going to read, how many pairs of running shoes can bring without your partner mocking you…Anyway, the run home will be great for thinking about those things.
It’s pretty hot, and you are getting ridiculously sweaty, because in this story you are me and I sweat. A lot. Suddenly, a twinge of something, a tiny prick of stinging pain rouses you from your pleasant thoughts. You realize you forgot to put on your anti-chafing stuff! DAMMMMMITTTT! Pleasant thoughts instantly change to – cute new bathing suit is ruined, ocean water is going to burn like acid, how am I going to look amazing wearing shorts and walking like someone who is just getting used to standing upright? If you can get over how gross this idea is, you still can. Raise your hand up to your mouth and spit a big glob of saliva on it, cough something up if you have to. Then rub it on the spot that’s starting to chafe (in this story, your thighs, but I’ve used it under my arms, my bra band, and my pack shoulder straps too – don’t judge), and every time it dries out, do it again until you get home. Disgusting? Yes, absolutely, but it’s better than the alternative in my book.
So, there it is. I hope these tips and ideas will get you through a long, hot summer of run commuting without losing too much skin. I’d love to hear how you manage chafing and your high friction areas too.
This unique, smart bag transforms a heavy-duty garment carrier into a securely rolled-up backpack, making it a mobile gear transportation system for runners, cyclists, and walkers alike.
Though a bit expensive, cyclists have sworn by the messenger-style Wingman for years. Listening to customer feedback, Henty decided to add backpack straps to make the bag more appealing to cyclists who preferred that setup to carry their bags. With that simple modification, the Wingman Backpack opened up to the running market. I ran with it multiple times over several weeks under varying conditions to see how it performed. Here are the results.
Test Scenario 1: Suit coats and a laptop
I chose to test the Henty Wingman Backpack out on the run commute home, so I dressed in my normal business casual attire, packed up my lunch and gear, then headed to the train station.
The Wingman Backpack consists of two pieces – the garment bag, and the duffel. The garment bag seems like it is full of secret pouches, velcro attachments, straps, buckles and zippers. One pouch even contains an integrated raincover!
One of the zippers reveals this quick-access area, complete with a detachable passport-style organizer. This is a great feature if you are a run commuter who combines running and transit (easy access to bus/train pass).
Overall, there is a lot of space in this pack. The duffel is extremely durable yet simple, with no extra pockets or gadgets within. It held everything I needed to pack into it and had remaining space left over. The duffel bag buckles inside the empty, center space of the rolled-up unit.
The hanger system is awesome, consisting of a single, high-grade plastic hanger that pivots to allow you to pack the curved “hanger part” away when not being used. Henty recommends one suit jacket and one shirt, or three shirts as the maximum load for the garment bag.
The pack felt different when I donned it, but not in a bad way. I was unused to wearing a cylindrical-shaped backpack, and the feel of it against my back was unusual and tight, but out of the way of my swinging arms. It felt great while walking, though when I started to run, I could feel the effect of the change in center of gravity away from my back due to the extra weight of the suit coats and laptop. The laptop also altered the fit against my back, making the contact width wider than it would have been without a laptop.
The laptop protective sleeve is fantastic and kept sweat out like a champ. Around mile three, the shoulder straps started chafing under my arms a bit, but not terribly bad. I tried it again a few days later under the same conditions and had the same results. It works well for shorter distances under this configuration.
Also, the suit coats looked great when I pulled them out after arriving at home.
Ideal Distance (no laptop, no suit(s), normal clothes): 1 – 3 miles
Test Scenario 2: Regular clothes, no laptop, normal daily items
For the second test, I again took the train to work dressed in my normal business casual attire, and packed my lunch and running clothes in the duffel. At the end of the day, I hung the clothes on the hanger, packed away my things, cinched everything up, and headed out.
Without the laptop, the bag fit much better. It rested on my back in between my shoulder blades and maintained body contact down to my lower back. And, since it was a bit lighter this time without the suit coats and laptop, the pack’s center of gravity changed to a more normal location.
On the run, I had to occasionally adjust the straps to keep the pack in place. That is a fairly common thing to have to do, and why we recommend choosing a running backpack with easily adjustable straps for on-the-fly cinching.
Unlike a regular pack, the Henty Wingman Backpack did not affect my arm swing, and it was a comfortable run for the entire 5.2 miles back to the train station.
I did not use the sternum strap very frequently, however, as it is a bit too short. I have a small chest, and it was tight on me. It could probably use another 5 inches of length, but the pack fit securely enough without using it all.
The only other thing I could see that might affect runners with a different body shape than mine is how far it extends down beyond the lower back. It might rub if the runner has a larger backside. With a standard cargo load, the Henty Wingman works well for medium distances.
Ideal Distance (no laptop, normal clothes): 3 – 6 miles
Overall, it is extremely well-made, durable, and works pretty well for running. It would be ideal for run commuters who bring a suit or two in on Monday, and bring it back home on Friday. I would forgo carrying a laptop, as it will change the fit a bit too much for running. It’s also perfect for those run commuters who cycle in on Monday morning with clothes for a few days, and run home and to work until they need to change out clothing or supplies.
The cool part about the Wingman Backpack for me is that it combines two things that I normally use – a clothing carrier (Eagle Creek Pack-It Folder 15) AND a backpack (Osprey Manta 20) – into one easy-to-use system.
As always please try on a running pack to ensure that it fits your body properly and comfortably before you commit to it.
We sometimes are offered opportunity to review products, usually running-related ones. Some are unrelated, or so at first it would seem, but, hey, we’re running to work here, gang; we’re doing something outside the norm. We can look at some seemingly-unrelated-to-running products and review them in that light.
And so I offer for your consideration Skulltec.
During my run back home today, I saw a lady running with a fully loaded Osprey Stratos 34 (2,000 cubic inches – 34 litres) on her back. Osprey makes amazing backpacks, but that particular one on this lady’s back – whom was no more than 125 pounds after a good meal (50 kg), was just too big, to a point where her running stride was clearly impeded by it as the weight of the pack was constantly shifting from one side to the other.
Choosing a backpack to run commute is not just like choosing any pack back. First, you want it as light as possible, even when packed. And, not only does it have to be well-adjusted, but it has to stay well-adjusted WHILE RUNNING. Finally, it must also be slim enough on your back as to not impede your running action, particularly your arm movements. This normally translates into packs that are between 500 and 1,200 cubic inches (10 to 20 litres), depending on your body type and size. This is well below the traditional day hike back pack size, which is around 1,350 cubic inches (22 litres). In summary, good run commuting back packs are:
- tightly-adjusted to the body
Over the years, companies have built more and more packs that fit these requirements. My personal choice: the Deuter Race X.
At 5’10” and 160 pounds (1,78 m, 73 kg), the Deuter Race X (730 cubic inches – 12 litres) is the perfect run-commuting backpack for me. This bag is light (1.5 pounds – 600 g), and it fits well between my shoulder blades. Even if I load it to its fullest, it rarely weighs more than 10 pounds (4 kg). The shoulder straps are thin but comfortable and well adjusted, and the waiste and chest straps help keeping it snug against my back. Its compact size does not affect my running stride, and my arms can move as freely as if I had nothing on. In winter, it fits just as nicely over all the layers required to run through any kind of nasty weather (see Running Gear Fit to Face A Canadian Winter for more information on these layers).
The Deuter Race X fits me like a glove, but it has other very interesting characteristics. First, it is extremely durable – I have used it constantly, through all kinds of weather, for the past five years, over 6,000 kilometres (4,000 miles). The only thing that let go was the top pocket zipper, which I had fixed by a shoe maker.
The Deuter Race X has another interesting quality…it is very affordable (64$ Cdn at MEC; oddly, it appears to be more expensive in the US, at a cost of around 80$ US). Osprey (Raptor), Gregory (Miwok) and many other companies have bags just as good as this one, but none cheaper (at least in Canada). This bag also comes with an integrated rain cover and is pre-fitted for an hydration pocket (sold separately).
In conclusion, the Deuter Race X is the right size, the right fit and at the right price for most run commuters.
I mentioned above that I had my pack repaired by a shoe maker after the top pocket zipper gave up on me. I actually get lots of modifications or repairs done on my kit. I am a creature of habit, and I don’t like to change gear that much. If anything breaks or annoys me, I always look for a way to fix it before thinking about getting newer equipment. There are all kinds of good reasons for doing it, but I mainly do it because I don’t like changing things too much! Many years ago, on a long hike, I grabbed the wrong backpack and threw it on. Despite the fact that it was the exact same pack, I knew right away it was not mine, and I did not like that feeling. I then found my pack and put it on; the feeling was amazing, a bit like meeting an old friend you had not seen for a long time. All that to say that I like my gear and that I take super special care of it!
To get modifications or repairs done, I used to go to a normal shoe maker, but lately, I found a shoe maker that specializes in outdoor gear. The cool thing about that, is not only does the kit gets fixed, but it comes back just as good as new. Since gear can become expensive, I strongly encourage you to look for that kind of shop in your area. (if you live in the Ottawa region, check out Atelier hors Piste http://www.atelierhorspiste.com).
We’re excited to introduce a new contributor to the The Run Commuter! Nick Pedneault joins us from Ottawa, Canada and will be writing about running in harsh winter conditions up north, as well as sharing tips, advice, and gear reviews from which all run commuters, in any climate, can benefit. Welcome to TRC, Nick!
My name is Nicolas Pedneault, and I am a run commuter from the Ottawa area, Canada. I have been run commuting for 6 years now, and I am planning on doing so for as long as I can. Run commuting for me was the result of many factors: I wanted to keep doing sports like I used to before I was married and had kids, but without neglecting family life; I did not have a parking spot at work; and I wanted a solution to get to work which was valid year round. One year, I cycled to work in the winter; in May, my bike was as good as junk because of the salt they use to de-ice roads. Public transit was a solution, but there is not much sports involved in taking the bus. To make matters worse, OC Transpo – the Ottawa public transport company – went on a 2-month long strike in 2009. That was the last straw for me: I started running to get to and from work.
My total daily commute is between 16 and 24 kilometres (10-15 miles), every day of the week. Running in Ottawa year-round means facing temperatures as high as 36ºC (97ºF) and as low as -35ºC (-31ºF). Consequently, it requires a wide variety of gear to face the elements.
Running year-round in Ottawa means running through some pretty harsh weather – snowstorms, freezing rain, blistering cold, tornados, etc. However, in the present post, I will stick to the blistering cold, describing the gear I use to run at temperatures between -30 ºC and -35ºC (-22 ºF and -31ºF). I have no preferences in terms of brands; consequently, the pictures included in this post and the brands are mentioned for general information purposes only. However, the brands mentioned are the ones I use.
To prevent my feet from freezing, I combine a pair of thin liner socks (Wigwam Ultimate Liner Pro) with a pair of heavier merino wool socks (Great Canadian sox company super-wool hiker GX socks). Although I wear 2 pairs of socks, it all fits nicely in my normal running shoes. For winter, I use standard trail runners (either Saucony Peregrine or Brooks Cascadia). I know speciality shoes are now available for cold running (for example, Salomon SnoCross CS), but I have yet to venture on that road since outside winter, these are of no use.
In that order, I wear a pair of thermal tights (MEC Mercury tights), a pair of running shorts on top of the tights and a pair of very generic wind pants (MEC Flux pants). I experimented once during a winter marathon (Ottawa Winterman, February 2013, -29ºC / -20ºF) without the shorts between the 2 layers; I ended up having to stick my mitts in my pants to warm up my manhood. Suffice to say that I highly recommend wearing shorts over the tights in winter. In my backpack, I also carry an extra pair of wind pants which are a size larger than the first one; if it gets really windy or suddenly colder than expected, I can throw them on over everything else.
As always, I make sure to use many layers. My base layer is a 150-weight merino wool long sleeve shirt. My second layer is a 150-weight merino wool t-shirt. Over time, I found this combination of merino wool garment to be the best in terms of weight and sweat absorption. My third layer is either an old long sleeve polar fleece shirt or a Polartec power dry hoody with thumb holes (MEC T3 hoodie). The principle behind this combination of layers is pretty simple: the natural fibre near my skin is less susceptible to develop bad odours than the synthetic fibres. My final layer is a soft shell jacket with a hood (Patagonia Ascensionist or Outdoor Research Enchainment.) In cold weather, I prefer soft shells to hard shells because they are much better at letting perspiration out.
Mitts. No gloves. Just mitts. Again, I use a small pair of mitt (hand knitted by my wife’s aunt) and a bigger one on top of it (MEC overlord mitts.)
One day, it was so cold, my watch display totally froze. To avoid that, I now wear it on top of my jacket at the wrist, and I throw the bottom portion of my mitt over the watch. If you are doing intervals, it is a bit annoying to have to push your mitt up to press the buttons, but it is far less annoying than a frozen watch.
The next piece of kit is by far the most important one for me, and this time, the brand is important. My Sonic Outdoor Research Balaclava allows me to stay warm while being able to breathe properly although the air is very cold. Many years ago, I was running with a small scarf over my mouth. Over time, it would get wet and I would eventually auto-waterboard myself from time to time. This was awful, and I looked for a balaclava that would allow me to breathe while keeping me warm. The Sonic has a special screen in front of the mouth that never freezes. It is also far away enough from my mouth to create a warm up chamber just in front of it. Because of that, I end up breathing air which is a few degrees warmer than the ambient one. Since I tend to suffer from performance induced asthma in the winter, these few degrees mean the difference between coughing all day or not at all. Over it, I will normally use a Buff around my neck, and another one over my head. For good measure, I also carry a third safety Buff in my backpack, just in case.
I currently use a Deuter Race X backpack. It is a bit small (12 litres or 730 cubic inches), but for a bag that cost me CAD$54, I think it is near perfect. I always carry a safety jacket in it (MEC Uplink jacket with hood), which I can throw on top of everything if get too cold or if I suddenly have to stop running. As mentioned above, I also carry in it an oversized pair of wind pants, an extra Buff, my lunch and some clothes. A point worth mentioning: in winter, the simple fact of having a bag on your back will keep you warmer as it offers an additional layer of insulation.
That’s it! You’re ready to run in the midst of the Canadian winter or the polar vertex. Now, I must be honest: running in these temperatures is never that great, but I have found that these somewhat miserable runs made all summer runs great no matter what afterwards.