Running below freezing can be fun

I’ve been wanting to get to Colorado for some high altitude cold training, since Utah has been so warm and dry so far this winter (aside from nice ice climbing I got in). Earlier today I got a chance to run at 5 degrees F on a dirt road for emergency and maintenance access to the back lifts at Keystone Resort.

running downhill Keystone Gulch Road
running down Keystone Gulch Road, sun at my back

The Keystone Gulch Road starts at about 9,240′ and at my 2.5 mile turnaround point was 9,850′ for a total of approximately 600′ of gain and loss. Enough stats though, and since a friend on the net asked me about layering for winter running, here’s how I approached running at 27 degrees below freezing.

clothed profile dressed to run at 5 degrees
clothing for running at 5 degrees F at nearly 10,000ft

First of all, the bottom layers. For undies I wore Under Armour Heatgear longsleeve tee, and Boxerjock series O. I also like the series T for hiking and skating, but haven’t tried running in them yet. For socks, I wore my favorite Injinji Toe Sock Crew Liners under Smartwool PHD Compression socks. This is a tough layer to get on right without bunching, since the compression socks fit me quite tightly.

smartwool and injinji sock combo
sock combo detail - smartwool phd compression and injinji crew liner

Over that I wore a pair of Salomon Windstopper tights. For shoes today I’m wearing Hoka One One Mafate WP (goretex) to test for snow traction and warmth with the goretex layer. I considered a midweight baselayer or thin softshell but having run at 10 degrees before and sweated quite a bit in a softshell, I opted instead for a TNF Windstopper Hybrid full zip jacket. It’s a very thin vest-like layer of thinly laminated windstopper with thin fleece back, sleeve, and side panels for ventilation.

For a hat, I wore a TNF Flight Series Beanie that I think is now discontinued, very thin and breathable. Finally, for gloves I wore a pair of Eddie Bauer First Ascent Wind Pro Gloves. I had good experiences with this glove in Alaska, so felt it would work good enough.

running at Keystone Colorado
creek and hills along my left side Breckenridge is way back there behind that ridge

So now, after all of that, how did it work out? I was cold most of the run up, and some of the run down. I prefer to run “dry” in the winter if possible, so I’d rather be a little bit cool and not sweat. This is a fine line to run, and I don’t really recommend it to new runners, or those who’ve never run below freezing before. If you get soaked and have something go wrong and end up sitting in the shade for a while you’ll be quite uncomfortable at the very least.

The Keystone Gulch Road I ran on curves along a creek bed between trees, cliffs, and hills, so you’re in and out of the sun frequently, so you warm in the sun, and cool in the shade. Overall I was quite happy, and never so cold as to feel like bailing. At one point I pulled out my earbuds (cheap Sony and the cables were very very stiff from the cold) and had to pull off my left glove to put them back in, and I ended up having to curl my hand up in the palm of my glove for a few minutes to rewarm my fingers.

sweat at ankles
beads of sweat built up on my ankles at 5 degrees F

Some interesting points I need to mention. With the Goretex shoes and Windstopper front panels on my tights, I got some nice balls of moisture condensed on my ankles. The Mafate shoe has unusually small lugs for a trail shoe (this is not news btw) and I did a small amount of slipping on icier portions of the road (they run trucks and snowmobiles up and down the road, but do not plow). I have asked Hoka One One about it, and they say it would be okay to spike them, so I might try that soon enough.

Finally, I think that without building up to it, without knowing your own body and how it reacts to cold, what you expect for pace and how that will affect your warmth, it would be hard for me to recommend you run with this few clothes on at that cold of a morning. Build up to it slowly, test it out on shorter runs very close to home, so you can bail to safety without hurting yourself. YMMV – enjoy!


Shopping List:

injinji Liner Crew Toesocks
Smartwool PhD Graduated Compression Ultra Light Bike Socks
Men’s HeatGear® Fitted Longsleeve Crew Tops by Under Armour
Men’s O Series Boxerjock® 6″ Bottoms by Under Armour
Hoka One One Mafate WP Trail Running Shoe – Men’s
Eddie Bauer First Ascent First Ascent Wind Pro Glove

2 thoughts on “Running below freezing can be fun

  1. Thanks for the interesting write up. I love the cold, but have never tried to run in this cold of weather. Do you like these gloves?

    1. These gloves are wind and water resistant, and have rubber grids on the fingers and palm, so they’re pretty good for most things. I was a little bit cold, but had used them in Alaska, so I knew they’d be okay for being only a few miles from home, even if I had to ball my fingers up in the palm.

      Thanks!

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