Dirt in your skirt blog

Day 177… Winter Race Gear

Posted on November 30, 2011 by Margaret Schlachter
Nov. in Maine 2010

As I start to pack tonight, many have recently asked what to wear to an obstacle race when the weather turns cold. I figured it was time to start to write another, what to wear blog based off the success of my first what to wear blog, Cotton Stay Away. That post gave a good overview of what you need on race day and this post adds on that one and is geared towards cold weather obstacle racing.

Late Fall/Early Spring Races
I am talking about the races where they are knocking the ice off the water obstacles in the morning. Yes, I raced in Maine in November and they had to break the ice in the morning. I am talking about those early season races where in Early May in Vermont the water temps are 37 & 38 degrees, and you are submerged several times. These races might include snow, yes snow. So this is much different that the summer right. well yes and no, many of the same principles apply.


A common saying among winter athletes, “Cotton Kills”. Cotton gets wet and it gets heavy. It will suck energy from you and your core temps will quickly drop, which in long races leads to things like hypothermia. So when racing early in the season or late in the fall, cotton is a no no!

2. Don’t try to be the tough guy. 
Dress for the weather. A speedo in December is just as dumb and idea as a snowsuit in July. Dress for the weather. Once it gets below 50 degrees the cold is much harder on your joints and muscles. You don’t want to pull a muscle right out of the gate. These races are difficult, and require an extreme amount of energy save your energy for the course instead of us trying to keep your body at functioning temps.

3. Don’t wear so many layers you look like the Michelin Man.

Yes it’s cold, but during the race you are moving. You won’t need as many layers as you think. Especially with obstacle racing, everything is going to get wet and muddy. You probably will be swimming, a sweatshirt or nano puff will only weigh you down and hinder you in the long run. Unless you like the drowned rat look, stick to the basics listed below.

3. Don’t Wear White.

As I wrote before don’t wear white it will just be ruined. I like black, it makes me look like an ninja. Yes it’s rather dull, but I want to be able to wear it to a race another day. So for me white or light colored gear is a no no.


May in Vermont

1. All the do’s from my last post are still in affect. Hydrate, Bring a Race Pack, Wear Trail Shoes, Bring Nutrition, Learn to Love Spandex. These things are all still important if not more when the temps drop, yes even because its cold hydration is critical!
2. Learn to love Spandex.

This rings even more true in the cold weather than in the warm weather. When it’s warm you can just wear less clothes. In the winter its a whole other game. When I race, I don’t love long tights so I wear capris until I can’t anymore. But when its cold enough I switch to long tights. Many company’s make running tights. I wear CW-X but there are many companies out there. CW-X makes a winter insulator tight which not only is a compression pant but offers the warmth. This is what I choose when I train and the weather is cold. Basically again you want something tight so you aren’t losing your pants halfway through the course.

This is the most critical part of the body to keep warm. Most people forget this. If your core is warm the rest of the body will follow. If you do not keep the core warm it will draw the blood from your extremities in an effort to keep your main functions (heart & central nervous system) running leaving your hands and toes feeling the effects. For me, I have tried a couple things but the best for me has been an Under Armor Cold Gear top again it should be tight. If it’s really cold I throw on another compression layer, I like a half zip similar top. Again if your core is warm the rest follows. In the picture I have my favorite CW-X top.


A simple beanie when I am running on the road, fleece lined when it gets really cold. But for a race if I can I skip it, one more thing to lose on the course. This is entirely dependent on how cold it is, but for me I skip it. If it were an ultra marathon, I would use one but with obstacles, barbed wire and swimming, chances are good you will lose it, so leave it at home.

Again, I hold off as long as possible on these. They are one more thing to get wet, but if you are prone to really cold hands there are three options. (from right to left) The least extreme are simple work gloves, cheap bought at a local hardware store. These will offer a layer of protection. The second option is more of a winter running glove with extra insulation. This is my choice for winter training. They offer a little bit of grip as well keep my hands warm. The final is for extreme races, a kayak glove which is completely watertight. So your hands will never get wet. If you pop and hand warmer in there you should be toasty. These are grippy and will shed water and mud.


Wool, enough said. Seriously invest in good socks, you feet will thank you later. So will your toenails if you have any left if its a late season race.

3. Change of Clothes

VT May 2011

You definitely need to bring a warm change of clothes. You will finish the race warm, but quickly you will be cold and tired. You want to be out of those wet and muddy clothes BEFORE you start violently shivering. Bring more layers than you would normally wear for the weather, you will need it before you can get home for a hot shower. I learned this one the hard way in Maine when still a newb, not bringing proper clothes post race instead I stood around shaking, frantically searching my car for layers. Now it is acceptable to look like the Michelin Man.

4. Warmup

In the winter even more than the summer it is important to warm up. You cannot assume that you will be able to go from standing in sweats quickly strip down then fire at all cylinders. It’s not going to happen. Warmup, run around before your heat. Engage your muscles in an active stretch. Make sure it is not a static stretch as it will do nothing for you. Still you don’t have to be like the guy doing 100 burpees to prove his manhood. Just make sure your muscles are loose, relaxed and warm. It’s about being warm before the start so when it’s time to go you can really GO!

Day on the hill skiing in Nov. 2011

Overall, the weather is cold but it doesn’t mean you have to stay inside. As much if not more, preparation is key to a successful race or day out in the winter. If you live in Florida your winter gear will be much different than us New Englanders, but still be prepared. Hypothermia is no joke, if you are running with friends watch out for each other. Yes, its more of an investment to race when the temps get cold but it’s so much fun as well. Also don’t skimp on gear because it was cheap. Buy the good stuff that will last you race after race, and training day after training day. You will be happier in the long run.

Remember to check out Cotton Stay Away for the full list of things to bring on race day to be successful. Use your head on race day, bring a few options so when it’s your time to start you are ready to go! Have fun and run your race!

Look for the full on winter race edition after WTM. As the weather gets more extreme the clothing changes a little bit more.