The Casual Runner

A Casual Runner’s Guide to Staying Warm

Casual Runner has dedicated a lot of ink—errr, virtual ink—to describing the experience of running, from the First Miles ever run to reviewing the products you use while running.  We have even covered training in the coldracing in conditions so cold your IPhone can freeze, and preventing the dreaded nipple chafe disaster. What has received less attention, however, is the time spent before running; specifically, what to do to stay warm before you race?

Guest Contributor - Allison Douglas - My First Mile Pic D

Just looking at Allison in this race pic makes us shiver.

Regardless of what time of year a race is, chances are that the temperature outside will be colder before the race than during.  How is a Casual Runner to handle this fact?  Well, we here at Casual Runner have run our fair share of races, and we’ve encountered a wide array of strategies for coping with that pre-race freeze.  Here are some of the options that a runner has.

Option #1: Tough it Out and Dress for the Race

The first option is to elect not to wear any additional layers while waiting to start the race.  Whether you are running in just shorts and a t-shirt, or in a sweatshirt, sweatpants, gloves, and a hat, that is what you will wear to the starting chute and nothing more!

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Huddling up inside before a race is not always an option.

Pros: Keeps the focus on the whole reason for being there.  In contrast to the 30 minutes or less that you will be standing around waiting to run, you are likely to be actually running for longer than that—anywhere up to hours at a time if you are running a longer race like the half or full marathon.

Some recommend not dressing for the temperatures at the start of the race, but how you will feel once you get underway during race (taking into account the rise in temperatures plus your added body heat while running).

Toughing out a few uncomfortable minutes without added layers lets you focus on maximizing your comfort over a longer period of time, as well as during a time when comfort will be at a premium (i.e, exhausted from running for all that time!).  Plus, there is no risk of losing some article of clothing or gear; you cannot leave behind what you do not bring.

Cons: Even though it is true that the running is the longer part of your race day experience (than the pre-race that is), the fact is that you still need to wait for the race to actually start.  And if there is a big enough difference between the pre-race and in-race temperature, you are bound to be a little cold.  This is particularly pronounced in summer races; it is not hard to picture a race on a day forecasted to be in the 80’s, but the early, pre-sunrise temperature is in the low 50’s or high 40’s.  And if you cannot seek shelter from the elements in a car or nearby building (neither of which are ever a guarantee), you will have another reason to be anxious for the race to start.

Option #2: Layer Up and Dress for the Wait

This is the other side of the coin.  You check the temperature the night before and you see that a warm race will be preceded by a cool overnight low, so you pack a hoodie or some other warmer item of clothing to get you to the starting gun.

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You can always snuggle up with a cute running buddy to keep each other warm.

Pros: Maximize comfort.  Anticipating a warmer race?  Wear shorter sleeves and shorts.  But the waiting period is cool enough to make standing around too uncomfortable to you?  Add some layers where they are needed!  It is true that the race is the “main event,” but you should not be miserable beforehand if it is possible to be comfortable for both.  Having the additional layer could also prove useful if the forecast is wrong.  For instance, if you wear a jacket to stay warm pre-race, but then it turns out that unanticipated rain hits during the race, then you are covered too.

Cons: The downside, of course, is that any additional layers need to be accounted for.  Tossing it to the side is risky at best and conceding that you won’t recover the item of clothing at worst.  Assuming you want to keep whatever you wore before the race started, you need to make sure that your added clothing makes it back with you after the race.  That means you either need to pass it off to somebody that came to watch you race (assuming that you have fans that came to watch) or carry it yourself throughout your race.  Depending on how long you plan to run, that could prove to be a hassle.

Option #3: Disposable Trash Can Liner/Heat Blanket/Etc

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Ah the inevitable freezing cold pre-race wait…look closely and you will see one brave sole in shorts.

Think of it as a variant of Option #2: layers for the waiting around time that you don’t need to worry about losing.  When the race starts, just toss the disposable layer to the side and start running.

Pros: Removes the downside from Option #2 in that you do not need to worry about the logistics of securing your added layer post-race.  No need to backtrack to the start of the race to find something that can be thrown away.  This option also lends itself to variety and adaptability.  I’ve seen trash can liner vests on rainy days, old pillowcases converted into vests on dry ones, and people using all sorts of creative ideas to temporarily warm themselves.  And, in the case of the thinner items like trash can liners, you can do an awesome Superman/Hulk impression ripping it away as you start.

Cons: Requires a little additional preparation.  Whereas you can grab a hooded sweatshirt on the way out the door, trash bags aren’t usually equipped with arm holes.  You’ll need to provide your own either the night before or day of.  Also, of all the different things I’ve seen as temporary layers like this, each strikes me as lighter than actual clothing.  While a trash bag might be good for staving off rain, I am less confident that it can take the full sting out of cold wind.  There’s also the littering considerations; you wouldn’t want to callously toss a ripped trash bag aside for the race volunteers to clean up after the fact.

Option #4: Charity Clothing Drive

Race organizers collect hooded sweatshirts or sweatpants, either through donations or purchased from a Goodwill.  Then, during the race expo, the clothing is given away to runners who make a donation to the sponsored charity.  The runners then toss the clothing aside near the starting line, and the volunteers collect the gently worn clothing, and donate it and the money raised to a local charity.  This is a great idea, and credit needs to be given where it is due: I encountered this option during the weekend that I ran the Gold Jacket 5K and the Hall of Fame Half Marathon in Canton, Ohio.

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Of course, you can always get creative with how you choose to stay warm.

Pros: There is so much to like about this option because of the charitable angle.  But even tabling that huge advantage, this poses the best of the other three options.  When you leave in the morning, you bring your charity hoodie worn over only the clothing you want to wear in the race, much like Option #1.  You wear the hoodie before the race and then toss it aside as soon as the race starts, much like Option #3.  And, like Option #2, you don’t need to worry about carrying it around with you during the race.  Just wear it until it’s time to run.

Cons: Are there any?  The cost?  In Canton, a minimum donation of $1 was required—hardly onerous, and in any event went to a good cause.  If there is a downside, it is its novelty.  This is an amazing idea that both solves the pre-race comfort issue for the runners and allows the race organizers to make a positive change in the race’s community.  Casual Runner hopes that more races will follow the lead of the race organizers for the Canton Gold Jacket 5K and the Hall of Fame Half Marathon.

These are just a few of the many strategies that runners can use to stay warm before a race.  Have a tip for us?  Share it in the comments!

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