As winter approaches, new runners ask, “What should I wear to run in cold
weather?” and I ask, “How cold does it get here?” The record low in Santa Monica is
35 degrees and the average low in December and January is 49 degrees. The only
ice you find here is on the skate rink at Fifth and Arizona and it closes on January
Opinion varies regarding the ideal temperature for running, and based on marathon
finish times, the most often cited temperatures are in the high 40’s. Understandably,
this ideal temperature applies only when we are running, not when standing still. So,
before and after a long run, you need to stay warm. And heated car seats are very
nice for driving home. So, on calm, sunny days, you can get by with shorts, and a
It gets rainy, or windy, or both. And how often does it rain? According to the National
Weather Service, in Santa Monica, on average, it rains 13.5 inches a year, of which
11.5 inches fall on 49 of the 151 days comprising November through March. And the
variation? Last year, July through June, it rained 25.1 inches, and in 2020-21, only
Stated simply, expect rain during one out of three days through the LA Marathon, but
not necessarily at the time when we run. That said, in my opinion, plan to get
drenched on at least three Legger Saturdays, more mid-week, and possibly on
With a simple experiment on the beach in Santa Monica, we can demonstrate the
problems encountered in wind and rain. First, run in your usual running shirt, shorts,
and shoes. Get overheated and sweaty. Notice that you are wet on the inside and
the outside already. Rain won’t change this. You will get wet whatever raingear you
Second, now notice that you are standing in the wind. When you are wet, the wind
can make you very cold, and at worst, you can get hypothermia, a dangerous
condition. When wet, those breathable microfiber fabrics will feel like the wind is
blowing right through them. And becoming chilled by the wind is the problem that
should concern you most.
Third, stand under a beach shower and get soaked. Notice that you are still cold, but
also that your clothes may soak up a lot of water too. Remember, if you wear long
sleeve shirts or running pants made of material that soaks up water, in the rain, they
get heavier, sag, and make you feel wetter and colder for longer. You will prefer
wearing layers of thinner, less absorbent fabrics. Not fleece. Not puffer jackets.
At least, you will want an outer, wind-proof layer, a windbreaker, one long enough to
cover your torso, but not so long as to interfere with your legs. And to state the
obvious, try these items on before you buy. Be certain your raingear is loose enough
that you can run easily in it. This wind-proof gear doesn’t stretch, and you will not
want it too tight or too small.
Fourth, blast the shower at your head. You may agree that keeping rain out of your
eyes and off the back of your neck is a good idea too, and you may like wearing a
windbreaker with a hood and a hat with a brim, but not a beany. Your hands may get
cold, and maybe you’ll add thin gloves. Rain pants are less a priority here when
you’re running, but you may want them.
And a warning, do not use a product like Rain-X on your glasses. Although great on
windshields, these can remove the protective coatings from eyeglasses and damage
Lastly, notice your shoes. Shoes and socks soak up water, and we blister easily in
wet socks. Keeping our shoes snuggly laced helps. I like wool socks that retain
thickness and cushioning when wet, but everyone has their own preference with
socks, so experiment to find your own preferences. And please don’t step in puddles
deliberately, especially while trying to splash your running partners. They retaliate.
So now, we own all this gear. How do we know when to wear it? We will end up
wearing it when we don’t need it, or not having it, when we do. So, we want gear that
is easy to carry, perhaps in our water belt, vest, or pack, available when we need it.
And if you are like me, you hate spending money, you wait to the last minute, you
never plan, and you’ve lost your rain jacket. And for these reasons, on the spur of
the moment, we can run in a trash bag. I understand that none of you ever hope to
appear apres-ski in Aspen wearing a trash bag, but trust me, here on the beach in
Santa Monica, no one will notice.
And do not just slip the trash bag over your head and try to run in it without reading
the warnings on the bags, and don’t let your children play in one. Instead, first, make
three holes in the bottom, and I mean make a hole in the middle for your head and
one on each side for your arms.
Now the downsides, trash bags come in mostly one color, black, and in only one
design, hoodless and sleeveless. And no, they do not breathe, unless you get
creative with your snippy scissors and make tiny vents; just don’t defeat your
purpose. And worst of all, everyone will see you running in a trash bag. The upside,
trash bags are very cheap, easy to find at the last minute, easy to carry, to some
degree, reusable, and at some point, in desperation, all of us may find ourselves
running in one.
Surprisingly, not all trash bags work. First, you need a trash bag with a straight, flat
bottom seal, and drawstring bags fit this requirement. In contrast, bags with “star-
seal” bottoms do not work. A star-seal bottom is folded and fused in a knot, so
attempting to cut a hole in the bottom seal only cuts off the bottom of the bag. Star-
seal bags either have quick-ties at the top, or close with twist-ties. You cannot use
Second, as to size, you want a 30 to 33-gallon bag, just long enough to cover your
torso. Kitchen bags are too narrow and larger bags are too long. On my last price
check at Ralphs, a box of thirty-two 30-gallon drawstring trash bags cost $9.99, or
less than $0.32 per trash bag. Or, for only $0.38 per bag, you can opt for Hefty bags
with White Pine Breeze scent and Arm & Hammer Continuous Odor Control.
Okay, so you hate the trash bag look. You may hate me for suggesting it. You will not
wear a trash bag at Aspen, not on the beach, not anywhere. In fact, you will tell me
that you won’t be caught dead wearing a trash bag, ever. There are other options.
Our second choice is the emergency plastic rain poncho, but you need to plan and
buy these ahead of time. These are made in five colors, clear, white, yellow, pink,
and blue, with hoods and sleeves, and best of all, they come in packages small and
light enough to store in your water belt, vest, or backpack, waiting patiently for the
moment when it starts to rain. I found the Juvale Emergency Rain Poncho in a 20-
pack at Target for $21.99, or $1.10 per rain poncho. You may find one at the 99-Cent
Store or similar outlet.
And if you insist and are satisfied with nothing else, just buy a rain jacket. Clothing
retailers offer many choices. And they want to tell you all about them too, so I don’t
have to. Nevertheless, at Road Runner Sports, I found the Women’s Korsa FieldTech
Run Dry Jacket with a hood for $149.00 each. Target featured a women’s ASICS
Waterproof Jacket for $110.00. Or perhaps, you may find the Brooks Women’s Run
Visible ½ Zip Jacket at $100.00 each.
And there is no need to confine your choice to a “running” jacket either. Try on some
multisport jackets as well; you may prefer them. For example, at REI.com, I found
the Patagonia Women’s TorrentShell 3L Jacket for $179.00 each. Many jackets are
available at discounted prices in limited sizes and colors. Again, you want to try
these on first, and think carefully before buying.
In truth, the higher-priced jackets have many useful features: multilayer breathable
rain fabric, adjustable hoods, soft-lined necks, mesh lining, snag-resistant zippers,
Velcro® closures, storm flaps, water-proof pockets, and my personal favorite,
adjustable ventilation. And they can be versatile; rain shells work in all weather
conditions, from blizzards to tropical rain showers, and for all sports from running, to
hiking, to apres-ski in Aspen.
But seriously, aren’t all these fancy jackets just nose-bleed-expensive compared to a
trash bag? And I already hear you wise guys telling me, “Yeah, and you can’t afford
to ski at Aspen either.” True, and you can choose for yourself what you wear.