I’ve been fortunate enough to have made it all the way to winter this year without any injuries, and with one 50k under my belt I’ve set some short term goals, starting with the Little Su 50k this February. This will be the first year I’ve actually attempted to train through a winter here in Fairbanks and so I have a lot to learn about sweating in the cold – severe cold (sometimes dropping – to -40°f and colder!).
The temps are just now starting to drop below what is normally comfortable for me and so as I do my long training runs I’m trying different combinations of gear to determine what seems to work best and what definitely doesn’t work at all. I’m keeping a log here so I don’t forget.
Temp: 5.0°f to -5.0°f (I suspect it was colder through the lower areas along the Chena River, but these were the officially reported temps for the time of day)
- Wool knit cap
- Wool balaclava mid (IceBreaker)
- Base layer (capilene)
- Mid layer (capilene)
- Top layer polarttec (Arcteryx)
- Outerlayer windbreaker (Marmot)
- Pants Polartec (Arcteryx)
- Socks wool mid-weight hikers (Icebreaker)
- Shoes Saucony ProGrid Xodus
- Glove liners (Ibex)
- Mid-weight mitten shells (Outdoor Research)
- Water bottle (Nathan Labs)
- Platypus Hydration System (bladder)
- water mixed with a nuun tablet, agave nectar and lime juice
A number of things failed on this run, but the biggest was letting my water freeze. Around mile 5 my water bottle was beginning to get slushy and the hose of my hydration bladder was frozen right at the nozzle even though I had made a point to blow air back through the line each time I took a sip. I was expecting the water to freeze at some point, but certainly not as early as it did. Basically, I ran about 10 miles without water and really started to pay for it around mile 12 with my legs cramping up. This really could have been a show stopper, because everything that happened after that was a direct result of not being properly hydrated and If I could have kept moving I would have been in much better shape.
The last stretch on this run is a very long hill and I decided to start walk/run intervals to deal with the dehydration and cramping. Here I was close to the house and knew once I was at the top of the hill it would only be a short jog down the other side and home. At this point in the run my layers were fairly wet. I believe this was due to the jacket I had chosen as my outer shell (windstopper type) which didn’t breath well enough to wick the moisture from my under layers out to the open air. As soon as I stopped running, my layers started freezing, including my mittens. Within the span of about 10 minutes the walk/run turned into just walking the rest of the hill. Dehydration was slowing my pace immensely and my body temp was dropping too. The icy clothing wasn’t helping.
Thankfully, I was able to get back to the house under my own power and immediately started peeling the icy layers off me. This was when I actually realized just how frozen everything really was. My base layers were frozen to the inside my jacket (a definite sign moisture wasn’t wicking all the way out) and it took quite a bit of tugging to retrieve my arms from inside. The mitten shells were just as frozen and crunchy.
Free of my icy clothes, I grabbed some water and stood shaking uncontrollably (sign that body temp was too low) by the wood stove to start warming back up. I also grabbed the ProBar I had carried on the run to get some solid food in me, but it had frozen too hard to eat right away, so I stood there warming my hands and the ProBar until i could bite into it.
For Next Time
- Try keeping water drinkable by strategically placing hot hands (chemical heaters) at the base of the bladder where the hose connects and on the pouch on the outside of the water bottle. Wrap drinking tube of bladder in neoprene and route under clothing to insulate and keep warmer
- Choose a different outer layer for the next run.
- The balaclava goes in my pack until I really need it. They are great, but you’re making a commitment when you put one on, because it has to stay on until you’re in a warm enough location to take it off without the moisture in creates on your skin freezing. Depending on its design, it can also direct vapor from breathing/sweating up into your eyelashes where it freezes solid. I started with one on for this run and by the end it was totally iced up on the outside making breathing arduous.
- Find some goggles to run in. Frosty eyes are no fun.
- Carry paper towels in pocket. Pit stops are also no fun and time spent fishing in the pack is time spent getting cold