As winter approaches, new runners ask, “What should I wear to run in cold weather?” and I ask you, “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 will find here is at Fifth and Arizona and it closes on January 16th.
In any case, there is a range of opinion regarding the ideal temperature for running, and the most often the cited ideal, based on marathon finish times, is in the high 40’s. Understandably, this ideal applies only when we are moving, not when we are standing still. So, first off, before and after a long run, you need to stay warm. Those heated car seats are very nice. Nevertheless, while running, you can get by, unless…
It gets rainy, or windy, or both. And how often does it rain? According to Weather.com, 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. Stated more simply, on average, it rains roughly one out of three days through the LA Marathon, not necessarily at the hour when you run. That said, in my opinion, expect to get drenched on at least three Legger Saturdays each season, more mid-week, and possibly on Marathon Day.
With a simple experiment, we can demonstrate the problems encountered in wind and rain. First, run on Saturday in your usual running shirt, shorts, and shoes. Get overheated and sweaty. Notice that you are wet on the inside already. Rain won’t change this.
Second, stand in the wind. Notice immediately that the wind makes you very cold, and when wet in the wind, you can get hypothermia, a dangerous condition. Those breathable, microfiber wicking fabrics you’re wearing. When wet and cold, “breathable” translates as “wind-
Third, stand under a beach shower, get soaking wet, and remain standing in the wind. Notice that you are still cold, and you don’t like clothes that soak up water either, so you want lighter fabrics, no fleece, no puffer jackets. Dress like a baklava, in thin layers, skipping the nuts and honey. At least, you need an outer, wind-proof layer, a windbreaker, one long enough to cover your torso. And to state the obvious, try everything on before you buy. Be certain your raingear is loose enough you can run easily in it. This wind-proof stuff doesn’t stretch, and some is made too tight.
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, so maybe you’ll add thin gloves. Rain pants are less a priority here when you’re running, but you may want them. Remember, if you wear long sleeve shirts, running tights, or running pants that soak up water, if uncovered wet in the wind, they may make you colder.
Lastly, if you’re still with me, notice your shoes. Shoes and socks soak up water, and we blister easily in wet socks. Keeping our shoes snuggly laced helps. I like those wool socks that retain thickness and cushioning when wet, but everyone has their own preference with socks, so experiment to find your own. And please don’t step in puddles deliberately, especially trying to splash your running partners. They retaliate. There will be collateral damage. So now, we own all this gear. How do we know when to wear it? We end up wearing it
when we don’t need it. So, we want gear that is light enough to carry, perhaps on our water belt.
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 for all that’s holy, do not just slip the trash bag over your head and try to run in it. Please read the warnings on the bags, and don’t let your children play in one. Instead, first, make three holes in the bottom, and if you need guidance, 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 lastly, of course, everyone sees that you are running in a trash bag. The upside, trash bags are very cheap, easy to find at the last minute, easy to carry, and to some degree, reusable.
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 tie at the top, or close with twist-ties, so you can’t use these.
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 longer. On my last price check at Smart & Final, a box of fifty 30-gallon drawstring trash bags cost $14.49, or about $0.32 per trash bag.
You may be thinking, “John, you forgot compostable bags.” No, I did not forget, but I did find two problems with them: first, I can find only compostable bags with star-seal bottoms, which don’t work, and second, Santa Monica bans compostable bags. Neither Wal-Mart nor Amazon will deliver them to my house; I had to smuggle mine in. And I tested for a third problem: compostable bags only begin composting–when they get wet. I soaked one in water, and it didn’t dissolve, so they could work in theory, if made with flat-seal bottoms.
Okay, so you don’t like the trash bag look, not at Aspen, not on the beach, not anywhere. In fact, you say that you won’t be caught dead wearing a trash bag. 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 $19.99, or $1.00 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 Champion Women’s Packable Running Jacket with a hood for $44.99 each. Target has something similar from ASICS. Or perhaps, you prefer the Brooks Women’s Run Visible Convertible Jacket at $179.99 each.
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 $149.00 each. I also found the Arc’teryx Women’s Beta
AR Jacket for $600.00 each. This jacket features embedded Recco® reflectors that help search-and-rescue teams find your body buried under the snow, but I imagine, only Canadian runners will need them. In any case, you will want to try them on first, and think carefully before throwing your coins at any of these.
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 they all just nose-bleed-expensive, compared to a trash bag? And I already hear you wise guys telling me, “Yeah, and you can’t afford Aspen either.” True, and you can decide for yourself what you wear.