Thursday, December 31, 2009

Go Hands Free

Remember the days of the Sony Walkman, when running with your favorite music involved carrying a 5x1.5 inch brick of bright yellow?  On today's run, I was appreciating that everything I need and want for a run is worn or strapped, clipped or laced on.

Some running purists recommend running with as little as you can, up to and including going barefoot. I can see their point... up to a point. There's something great about a run in a park or the woods where you can hear your feet (or, in my case, running shoes) hitting the trail and birds singing. But for me, many runs are made better by a little music and, in winter when my park's fountains are off, some water.

Before heading out, think about what you really need. Going as basic as you can and allowing your hands to dangle empty will make getting out the door and staying loose on the trail easier.  What do I need? Sports bra, shorts, socks and running shoes. Those are the basics from which I build.

What do I want? Almost always, a hat for shade or warmth. Depending on the weather, more layers. Usually, my iPod with my favorite running playlists (carried in my OIC iPod case). In the winter, when my park's fountains are off, a small water bottle that I clip to my waistband.

No matter what I need or want, I've reached a point in my running life where, if I can't clip it on, stow it in my shorts pocket or strap it to my arm, I don't want it. You may want a heart-rate monitor, some sort of energy gel, sunglasses, lip balm or whatever. That's cool. Just remember, the less you carry, the less likely something will jiggle, bounce, chafe or generally be a burden. And, as always, anything we can do to make getting out the door less burdensome, the better fort our fitness plans!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

60 at sunrise

Temp: 60, sun just rising
Wind: Little
Precip.,Humidity: No rain, moderately humid
Terrain: Rolling hills to flat
Distance: 3 miles

What I wore: Nike shorts and dri-fit t-shirt, regular sports bra

Did it work: Yes, but I wouldn't have minded either gloves OR a light-weight, long-sleeve tech top, instead of short sleeves. I was pretty chilly when I first stepped out but warmed up after the first half mile. Still, without the sun's heat, my arms and hands were pink by the time I got home.

Wow moment: Thanks to still having a bit of jet lag, I was out as the sun was coming up. Despite the cold, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of the sun reflecting on the low clouds that were clinging to the mountain side here in Queenstown, NZ. Beautiful and a great way to start the day!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Keeping Your Mo’ in the Snow

As I look at the weather across the U.S. this week, I think about how easy it is to lose your workout momentum (the mighty mo’!) when temperatures drop and the snow is deep. Warm inside and cold outside makes us all want to hibernate, perhaps with a cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate and some left over pie. Mmm…

BUT, you will enjoy all of these comforts so much more if you can get outside, even for 20 minutes. The trick is to go easy on yourself, but not so easy that you never get off the couch. So, when the snow is 18-inches deep and the thermometer refuses to break 32 degrees, your bottom layer should be your cold-weather workout clothes: tights
  • a wick-away top
  • a neck gaiter
  • gloves
  • knit hat

Then add “snow clothes” on top:
  • a parka
  • snow pants or ankle gaiters
  • snow boots
Now, head outside for a walk!
There’s probably a mathematical equation out there for how much effort you have to put out to walk for 20 minutes in the snow. I’m going to break it down: a lot! High steeping through drifts will work your legs, keeping your balance on the ice will strengthen your core and throwing snowballs will give you a nice arm workout. Even without the snow fight, you’ll be surprised at the good sweat you work up and how much you enjoy the leftover pie when you get back home!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cotton is Rotten

The Cotton Board has these beautiful commercials for their product. The color is great, the people are gorgeous and the music is cool. The only words are: "The touch...the feel...of cotton. The fabric of your life." Maybe that's true in ordinary circumstances, but not for anything where you might sweat at all. Yesterday, I (accidentally) took a 6-mile trek to see a waterfall. I didn't know that I would be trekking, so I was wearing a lot of cotton. It did not work!

Temp: Upper 70s, sunny, but in shady forest
Wind: None
Precip.,Humidity: No rain, moderately humid
Terrain: Hilly
Distance: 6 miles

What I wore: Cotton t-shirt; cotton Athleta shorts; Ahnu mary jane sporty sandals and a backpack. My partner in crime also wore cotton. Here's his backpack's sweat pattern.

Did it work: No. Everything got sweaty. Because cotton takes longer to dry, the wet fabric just sat against my skin, feeling cold when I stopped moving. The running on the way back was to warm back up after a pause to admire a waterfall. When the shorts got sweaty, they stretched out and were two sizes too big by the time I got home. The sandals held up surprisingly well, even when running.

We didn't know the walk to the waterfall was going to be so long, so it would have been hard to plan better. But, if you know you're going to be running, biking or walking for exercise, don't wear cotton if you can help it. You will end up a soggy, saggy mess with chaffing and possibly a cold due to poor body temperature regulation. Cotton may be the fabric of a sedentary life, but when it comes to being active, cotton is rotten.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

75 and humid

Temp: 75 in sunny Sydney, Australia
Wind: 10 mph
Precip./Humid: No rain but felt humid
Terrain: Hills and stairs mixed with flat
Distance: 5 miles

What I wore: Brimmed hat and sunscreen to protect myself from Australia's notoriously high UV index. Nike dri-fit t-shirt, regular sports bra and shorts.

Did it work: Yes, but I could have easily run in just the sports bra and shorts. The humidity made it feel much warmer, quickly. I love dri-fit though - it really does the job of keeping you comfortable.

The more you know: I travel a fair amount and almost always run outside when I'm on the road. Running in a place that you are visiting is a great way to take in the sights, see what the local running culture is like and get acclimated to a new time zone. However, before I head out, I make sure I know where I'm going, how safe it is and, on long runs, what the water situation is like. I'm not overly cautious - I don't run with Mace or refuse to go out alone - but I usually let someone know the general area that I'll be running and cover those three points (safety, water and route) ahead of time.
The free website is a great source for figuring out your route. The other two may require some scouting and talking to locals. Like I said, running is a great way to get to know your native runners!

Today, I ran along the edge of Sydney's Botanic Garden, along the harbor and around the Opera House. It was pretty cool to run around one of the most recognizable building in the world and a beautiful run. I took this shot from a ferry - it shows almost half of my run route.

Friday, December 18, 2009

70 & sunny in Sydney!

My first run in Sydney, Australia. What to wear? What to wear?!

Temp: 70 (20 c) and already sunny at 6 a.m.
Wind: None
Precip./Humid: No rain, high humidity
Terrain: Rolling to flat, plus stairs every 1/4 mile
Distance: 4 miles

What I wore: Hat with a bill; shorts; regular sports bra; wick-away tank.

Did it work: Yes. This is the easiest weather to dress for, especially if you get out there before the sun is beating down on you. The brim on the hat kept the sun off my face and the light layers and wick-away tank kept me feeling dry, despite the humidity.

Most important: My most important piece of running gear this entire trip will be sunblock. The sun in Australia is strong, I am naturally light brown but freckly and skin cancer is amongst the most fatal of the cancers. Yes, I will sweat some if off, but better to have something to sweat off than to not bother. Plus, running shorts tan lines just aren't sexy! So, except on the most overcast, rainy day, please, wear sunblock!

Where I ran: Planning a trip to Sydney? If you're staying in the Central Biz Distract, there are lots of choices of places to run. The most obvious is along the water and in the botanical garden. But, if you have jet lag, you might not want to run in a huge park in the wee hours. Today, headed to Hyde Park. It's beautiful, has water fountains (and decorative fountains) and a few laps around it will let you build up some mileage. Plus, it's crowded enough early in the morning that you won't feel unsafe.

Photo by Dana Underwood of 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Balmy" mid-40s in New York

Temp: 47 and overcast
Wind: Very little
Precip/Humidity: None/High
Terrain: Rolling to flat
Distance: 9 miles

What I wore: Shorts (yes, in December!); tank-style sports bra; Road Runner Sports light-weight technical top; knit hat and gloves.

Did it work: Yes. I slowly worked up a sweat, but never enough to make me cold when the wind blew. Also, I was glad to have the hat covering my ears and the back of my neck, especially around the 5-mile mark, which is always a cold spot with more wind.

Quick tip: If you like to have your legs covered or hate being cool at any point in your run, wear light-weight tights in these conditions.

Check it out! Thanks to this useful website, you can see my run and, if you're in the area, do it yourself. Or, create a new run that works for you.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What to Wear Runnin in 40 degrees & Rainy

Temp: 40, overcast
Wind: Little gusts
Precip./Humidity: Steady rain/moderately humid
Terrain: Flat
Distance: 3.5 miles

What I wore: Knit hat; Under Armour t-shirt (courtesy of the Baltimore Half Marathon); Nike dri-fit, heavy-weight running shirt and light-weight tights. I forgot my gloves!

Did it work: No. Learn from my mistake and look outside before deciding what to wear. Thanks to a delay in the weather report, I didn't know it was raining. Sounds silly, but I'm taking comfort from the fact that two runners on the trail told me they had done the same thing.

What should I have worn: 1) Gloves. 2) A brimmed cap to keep water out of my face and perhaps a headband or earmuffs to keep my ears warm. The knit cap got soggy. 3) A long-sleeve, mid-weight shirt with a rain-resistant shell over it.

Obvious but...: When running on a wet day, keep your feet as dry as possible by avoiding puddles. This seems like a given, but if you live in a friendly running community or run with a group, you might be too busy saying hello and chatting to keep an eye out for soakers.
Two years ago, I was caught running during a flash flood. It was pretty exhilarating but, needless to say, my shoes were drenched. If you're shoes do get very wet, do not put them in the dryer. This is a sure way to shorten their lifespan. Instead, fill each shoe with crumpled newspaper and place them near a heat source (the newspaper helps absorb water on the inside).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Feels like 12 degrees

Temp: 20, but feels like 12, mostly sunny
Wind: Yes! Between 10 & 20 mph, with gusts up to 30
Precip./Humidity: None/low
Terrain: Low, rolling hills
Distance: 3 miles

What I wore: Knit hat and gloves, neck gaiter, Nike tank-style sports bra and heavy-weight technical shirt with cuff pockets, Illuminite wind-resistant jacket, CW-X compression tight, thick dri-fit socks.

Did it work: Yes, except my hands were cold. I'm now looking for gloves that have a wind resistant material on the outside. When I find something I like, I'll share it here.

Tip: Start adding layers from the top down. As long as your extremities (head, hands and feet) are warm, you don't have to worry too much about bulking up on the bottom, at least until the weather gets really nasty. More layers on top paired with thick tights will get you through a surprisingly wide range of temperatures.
For the ladies: To add layers without feeling like the Michelin Man, wear a tank sports bra. The tank gives you an extra layer over your core, which, after hands and head, is key for body temperature control. The tank is also nice because the close fit keeps out drafts on windy days.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Feels like 30 in New York

Temp: 40 with a feels like of 30; mostly sunny
Wind: WINDY! Gusts of 25mph
Precip./Humidity: None/low
Terrain: Mostly flat
Distance: 8 miles

What I wore: knit hat and gloves; light-weight, wind-resistant jacket; light-weight, long-sleeve technical top; compression tights; and a neck gaiter.

Did it work: Yes, although my finger tips were cold around mile 5. Also, my wind-resistant jacket does not allow moisture to escape, so my shirt was very sweaty by the time I got home. This was fine because I could change out of my cold, wet shirt right away but should be considered if you have a drive or long walk at the end of your run.
This weather can be tricky because of the difference in the actual versus feels like temps. When you first step outside, the feels like temp will hit you. Shorter runs won't give you as much time to warm up, so I recommend a heavier top if you're doing a flat run of fewer than 2 miles.

Tip: A neck gaiter or scarf is one of your most important pieces of running gear when temps creep into the 30s and below. I like this one from Powderfish, which has fleece on the outside and wick-away fabric on the inside. The fleece keeps me warm while the wick-away fabric keeps me from developing icicles in my nose. Some more of the benefits of a gaiter are:

  • Keeps your neck warm, obviously, which means you're less likely to turtle - pulling your shoulders up around your ears in an effort to stay warm. Turtling will make you tighten up all over. Staying loose in the cold keeps you more comfortable and make cold-weather running more sustainable in the long term. 
  • Serves as a wind block. Sometimes, when the wind blows directly into my face, I have a hard time breathing. Tucking my nose and mouth into the gator lets me breathe easy.
  • Gives your face cover. There's no need to wear your winter run on your face like a chapped, red badge of courage. When the temps turn icy, protect your skin, including your face.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gearing Up: Hat & Gloves

Cold weather demands the right gear. While running in the heat can be just as dangerous as in the extreme cold, your clothes might make more of difference in the winter (versus being well hydrated in the summer).

Two key pieces for my winter runs: knit gloves and a knit hat with built-in sweatband. I like these Asics versions because neither are itchy, even when I'm a little sweaty. However, I have to admit, the hat is not very flattering.

If you're going shopping, Lululemon makes a nice one that is quite fitted and, for pony tails, has a hole in the back. However, the one that is the best for running doesn't have extra ear coverage, leaving me prone to a cold headache after a long run. In general, look for a close fit and tight knit to help hold in heat. It's nice if the cuff of the glove is lined with fleece, but a glove made entirely of fleece will let the wind right in. And be sure to try on your hat before tearing off the tag, to make sure it really is comfortable. Try wrinkling your brow to see if there are any uncomfortable seams.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Upper 30s in New York

Temp: 38 and sunny
Wind: None
Precip/Humid: none/low
Terrain: Flat
Distance: 4 miles

What I wore: Asics knit hat with sweatband and gloves. Asics medium-weight, 1/4 zip, wick-away technical top under a Nike light-weight full jacket. Standard sports bra. Full-length, unlined tights.

Did it work: Yes. I was cool, but not cold when I started and warmed up nicely. By the end of the run, I had partially unzipped my outer layer and fully opened the 1/4-lenght zip of my under layer.

Tip: Cool weather runs deserve cool innovations, like shirt cuff pockets (see photo). Many designers now add a little fold of fabric inside the cuff of long sleeve tops, like a pocket to tuck your hands in to help keep them warm. Cuff pockets are great way to protect your hands without heavy gloves when it's not very cold out but is windy or rainy. And, when it gets a little more wintry, they give you a place to tuck away your gloved hands until you warm up.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

54 & sunny in Nashville

Temp: 54 F, sunny
Wind: None
Precip/Humid: None/low
Terrain: Rolling hilly
Distance: 3 miles

Wore: Nike running shorts, one light-weight, long-sleeve Road Runner technical tops, standard sports bra (cropped)

Did it work: Yes! Perfectly comfortable without a hat or gloves.

Friday, November 27, 2009

40 in Nashville

Temp: 40 F, sunny
Wind: Minimal
Precip./Humid: None/moderately low
Terrain: Rolling hills
Distance: 4 miles

Wore: Nike running shorts, two light-weight, long-sleeve Road Runner technical tops (layered), NYC marathon gloves, Asics brimless hat that covered ears, standard sports bra (the cropped kind, not full body).

Did it work: Mostly yes. Traveling, I didn't have a running jacket, so I had to double up my two running shirts. I was a little colder than I like to be when I started, but running into the sun and up a hill within the first half mile brought my body to a comfy running temperature. My legs were red from the cold by the time I got home, but working fine.

Other notes: Nashville's river walk is a great running path. It's well marked and attractive in an urban/warehousey sort of way. However, it doesn't have any water fountains, so BYOB.