Q:What do you wear on a run?
A: The short answer is whatever you’re comfortable in.
But you know I hate short answers.
How do you know what will feel good three miles from now, once you’ve broken a sweat and the sun has risen, when you’re standing at your front door in your jammies in the dark at 6am on a chilly October morning? It’s hard being a runner. In addition to being nuts, we also have to be able to see the future.
As we head into the chillier months, remember that if you are comfortably warm at the start of your run, you are wearing too much. It’s never a bad idea to wear a hat or ear warmer and gloves if you are on the fence, as these items will make your run sooo much more comfortable if you need them and are easily carried if you don’t.
As far as exactly how many layers and what weight fabric you should wear- that is personal. What feels comfortable to one may feel way too hot or way too cold to another. The first winter I lived in North Carolina, I would run with my roommate, who was from Florida. Coming from New England, I thought the crisp January air was refreshing. She thought it was downright Arctic. Together, we ran around the track, me in shorts and, a thin long sleeve top, and gloves, she in track pants, a long sleeve top, a jacket, a fuzzy hat, and gloves. We must have looked ridiculous together.
If, like me, you live in a place where you experience all four seasons, here are the pieces I think you need to have in your repertoire:
A lightweight, wicking tank top. Be sure to run in your tank top in various conditions prior to race day, as this type of top is most likely to find you with underarm chafing issues.
A lightweight, wicking short sleeve. It’s hard to go wrong. I have purchased a few that I love, but more often than not, my new running t-shirts are emblazoned with race logos. I must not be the only one whose bulky cotton race t-shirts go straight from the swag bag to the nearest goodwill. I don’t mind paying a little extra in race fees if it means I will get a women’s cut, wicking shirt.
A medium weight, wicking short sleeve. Trust me, there is a difference between the lighter and heavier fabrics. Hence, I bared my midriff on a run for the first time in maybe ever, during a particularly humid race one Fourth of July.
A light or medium weight wicking long sleeve. Oftentimes, you can get one of these in your race bag, if the event is a 10k or longer. But if I had to choose just one of these to own, I would buy a Smartwool merino wool longsleeve. It breathes, it doesn’t hold odors, and if you’re traveling and pressed for suitcase space, you can wear it with jeans.
A heavier long sleeve. The Brooks essential zip III is one that I love.At least, it is is the closest thing I can find to one of my personal favorites, which I purchased in 2006. It has held up through about a thousand runs and washings since then and still looks (and smells) brand new. If I were to get a new one for this season, I am really into this sprint start run hoody I found on Sweaty Betty. It has cuffs that convert to mittens. (Swoon!)
A wicking/windproof top or jacket. I have one like the Sugoi women’s firewall 180 jacket, which I absolutely love for super windy/cold winter days. This may sound obvious, but if you’re really committed to running through the winter, get a legit women’s running jacket. And vice versa; get the jacket so you can fully commit to running in cold weather. Appropriate gear = no excuses.
A hat or ear warmer. I am so excited for the weather to cool off so I can wear my new running Sublime beanie from Lole , which features a hole for my ponytail! Yes I know I could have cut a slit in any hat I already own, but I am all for an excuse for a new hat.
Running gloves. I am jonesing for a pair of Shanta running gloves from Lole, which can be work as gloves OR mittens. I had a great stretchy synthetic wool pair which Dan stretched out when he borrowed them without prior authorization. I will have to remind of this when he asks me whether I really needed to purchase a new pair of gloves.
Running shorts. Get the kind with the underwear built in. Once you figure out which ones are most comfortable, you might as well buy a few more in the same style, because they are not meant to be worn with underwear. Also, if you wash them in cold water in a mesh bag and hang them to dry, they will last a very long time. I got my first real pair of running shorts in 2001 and never looked back.
Running capris. in 2012, I wore that year’s version of the Lucy endurance run capris constantly. (In 2013, I wore maternity pants! I am not one of those runners who runs up till the day she delivers. I’m good to run for a few weeks after I take a pregnancy test, but that’s it.)
The only drawback is the crotch isn’t gusseted, so you have to wear underwear with them. On the other hand, this allows you to wear them multiple times between washings.
Medium weight running tights. My favorite are by Hind. I bought them years ago, before the thick waistband became popular. If I were to buy a new pair, I’d get this snazzy looking pair of pace run tights from Sweaty Betty, featuring a comfy looking, flattering waistband and a back zip pocket. Also, the fun color would be a nice change from the half dozen black pairs I already own. (Pssst Dan. My birthday is coming up…)
Fleece lined running tights. I have a pair of Zoot ultra-run thermo tights that I randomly found at Sierra Trading Post. I lived without them for a long time, and while I survived just fine, I really appreciate them now that I have them for when the temps are really frigid.
As the weather cools off, experiment with different combinations to determine what works best for you in different conditions. If you really aren’t sure what to wear, or you are running long at a time of day when the temp is sure to change (dusk or dawn) you could plan a route that loops around your house or your car, where you can drop excess layers, or grab an additional layer. And of course, you can always tie an extra shirt around your waist, or drop it on the ground if you happen to be running around a track.
In cooler weather, it’s especially important to find fabrics that wick moisture away from your skin. Although they are more expensive, and tend to absorb body odor, it’s seriously uncomfortable to run into the wind as the sweat on your body turns cold. I never pay full price for running clothes, though. I usually find good deals at Sierra Trading Post.
If I weren’t all about the thrill of the bargain hunt, I would love to fill my virtual cart with Sweaty Betty’s women’s running clothes.
Also- I know I failed to mention the layer that is the foundation of every woman’s running wardrobe- the sports bra. I think that topic deserves a post of its own.
What are your favorite clothes to run in? Where do you love to shop for running clothes? Have you ever had a major outfit malfunction during a run? Someday I will have to blog about the time I had to get a ride home with a stranger because I underestimated how cold it would be and stopped feeling my fingers when I was six miles from home.