Tis the season to give it all for the cause of warmth out on the trails

Posted: Friday, December 04, 2009

I am giving to myself this year and forgetting selfishness.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

I am tired of running attire that is actually revamped gym gear and old Duofold wool long underwear that doesn't "breathe" but instead "suffocates."

The winter running season, one of falling temperatures and few hours of daylight, should not mean hibernation nor the conquest of your family's Nintendo Wii. If you want to battle winter blues, improve your energy level and leave room between your waistband and navel for summer bouts in swimsuits and trunks, then keep running. So let us get dressed, or rather "layered," shall we?

If you are a guy and too macho to say "tights," then we'll use the term "wicking layer." Synthetics should be the closest to the skin out of all the layers. And don't wear cotton. It gets wet and stays wet! Since the lower body's muscles are in constant motion when running, a "wicking layer" like tights, or running pants made of polypropylene (or Thinsulate, silk, Thermax, etc.) may be required to stay warm. If you plan on carving ice sculptures below 10 degrees F, add a second layer of wind-proof track pants.

Summer beach guns (arms) and six-packs (middles) require the aforementioned long sleeve version of a base layer plus an additional insulating layer such as fleece (Polartec, Akwatek, Thermafleece, etc.). The idea here is to continue wicking moisture away from the skin, and to also trap a bit of warm air. And finally for the upper body, don't forget the "Juneau" layer. This layer is designed to block wind and rain, and should be made of a water-proof fabric (ClimaFit, Gore-Tex, nylon, etc.).

Remember "30 percent of body heat is lost through extremities" so hands, head and feet are also important. Unless you think like my Norwegian friend Lars "pickled herring" Olsensonn who said, "Ve Norsemen don't need body heat for da extremities sports," I suggest moisture wicking gloves (Hydrology, dry fit, Thermopolis) and prefer mittens that allow me to still curl my fingers, even in extremely cold conditions. Manufacturers now add reflective strips to gloves, terry strips for nose-wiping and "box finger design" (easier for iPod operation) to many designs.

But, don't run out the door yet ... we have toes left. There are a variety of wick-and-trap, moisture-rich-arch-supporting (catch your breath here), breathable, maximum-density, peak-fitness padded socks. I stick to my SmartWool socks because they pull on easily and they fit into my summer running shoes. But there are a variety of other brands available. Look for socks that won't bunch, slide or sag and have insulating properties. Since I seldom run more than 90 minutes at a time in the winter, and because I don't venture into terrain which requires a G.P.S., an avalanche beacon, or shovel, than I know if I step in water or wet snow, I will soon be back by the fire.

And when it comes to shoes, my summer road/trail shoes still work well during snowy winter months. However, as soon as ice is present, I have discovered the need for attachments. For some reason, I cannot stay upright with the coiled variety (called by various animal tracks or waffle food names), they just don't grip for me. I happened to slip in front of a running store in Anchorage years ago and store employees came to my aid with the best shoe additive I have ever found. It's called Everyday Anti Slip Traction Aid. These pull-on grippers are just short of screw-in spikes. I have literally run across frozen lakes while dodging ice skaters, while wearing these traction aids. The thin rubber tubing stretches easily from toe to heel and just the right amount of spikes keeps my footing where it should be.

Other winter add-ons can include wool hats, gators (for the legs and neck), heat packets and facemasks. I like to start a run slightly chilly because I know I'll soon warm up. Also remember that a run may start or end in the dark. Short of carrying an Olympic torch, I suggest reflective strips and LED lights, both of which are made for heads, belts, arms, legs and other such extremities. Water or liquid containers, snacks and gel are also good things to have one hand. We dehydrate faster in the cold. Lip-gloss is good (I tend to try not to clash my tights and gloss colors) and sunglasses (I find they also make good eye protection from wind) help to tone down the reflection of midday sun.

Now properly layered, I stretch for my last winter run up Perseverance Trail. I have issues to resolve, resolutions to think about and turkey to digest. The next time I feel the urge for this route, avalanches permitting, it will require snowshoes. Yes snowshoes, or skis, a snowboard, or perhaps just the retrieval of that misguided newspaper thrown at 4 a.m. But these are all acceptable substitutes for outdoor winter running. Just remember to give to yourself the gift of proper, functional garments and gear.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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