Running in extreme temperatures, hot or extremely cold requires a different approach to training but not only that, you will also need to pick your running kit wisely. Very wisely! I’ve learned my lesson during the preparation for my last adventure in Mongolia. My little me was part of the expedition which ran the Inaugural Genghis Khan Ice Marathon, the first marathon ran not on land but on a frozen river. The Mongolian winter is known for its extreme weather conditions where temperatures can easily reach -40 degrees. In fact, Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, the start line of our race, had -45C just a few days before our arrival.
Everyone is different, but when the thermometer reads way below zero, you really have to have the necessary quality clothing as well as a fair slice of luck, particularly with the weather. Cold and sunny weather is good; cold and windy not so much.
Good kit coupled with quality training are the two most important things you can’t underestimate – proper prep and good layering system can mean life or death in such cool conditions.
As soon as I agreed to be part of this crazy adventure, I knew that getting the right clothes will be the crucial. My fellow runners and friends Lucja and Marina and I had obviously no experience of running in such frigid conditions. The kit selection was the greyest area of our whole adventure – total 100 shades of grey.
Instead of ‘All the kit and no idea my situation was more like NO kit and totally NO idea.
The shit got real and I turned to my running buddies and my cool friend – internet for advice. I read all about the different layers, materials and accessories needed for running in cold weather and on an icy surface (frozen river). A massive DAKUJEM (thank you in Slovak) goes to my two biggest supporters (after my mum and dad) Adidas Outdoor and Buff who ‘dressed me up’ so I could come back in one piece. I’m a big fan of adidas terrex range which is made for people who love outdoors; trail running, hiking, mountaineering, climbing – they got you all covered no matter where your sport passion lies. Who doesn’t own a Buff right? However this year they came up with a lot of new headwear products some of which I had the opportunity to test in Mongolia. My zero frostbite balance speaks for itself.
In general, there are three key layers you need to protect your body from the cold when running. You want to stay warm but light enough so you can actually run the race or whatever challenge you might be undertaking. The key thing is to pick the materials that will ensure you don’t overheat.
For my upper body I followed below layering system convention;
You want your base clothes to transport moisture away from the body, whilst allowing trapped air between the layers to warm up. Go for the clothes and materials with heat transfer and moisture management qualities.
A second layer should provide the warmth whilst not inhibiting the transport of moisture away from the body. Go for materials such as fleece that will provide insulation.
The main objective of the top or outer layer is to provide protection from the wind and snow. If you are preparing for running in very extreme environments a simple windproof won’t be enough! Thermal and windproof are the keywords your outer layer needs to have.
Running Kit That Kept Me Alive
The temperature at the start line, before we hit the frozen river, was ‘a mild’ -35C. It was also very sunny and no windy making it the perfect conditions. The selection of my running costume worked really well – kept me nice and warm, but not too hot.
Image credits // Johnny Graham – Digitalpict
I’m a big fan of merino fabric – it really keeps me warm and dry when cold, and cold when warm. It also doesn’t smell – clearly the biggest advantage. If you haven’t yet tried some merino running gear I would highly recommend you do so, especially when running ultras. You will thank me.
// Icebreaker Merino Rush bra (GT)
When I met Frosty (Anna Frost) last year she recommended me to wear merino underwear; I haven’t looked back since. It does really work – no chafing, no cold, no smell…
// Icebreaker Merino Tech Top Long Sleeve Crewe (260gm)
With the icebreaker merino fabric, the bigger the number, the better for cold conditions. 260gm is designed for temperates below -30C.
// Adidas terrex IceSky Long-sleeve Top
Apart from the cool orange and yellow colours, the terrex fleece is also very lightweight. The Climawarm fabric showed some great moisture management and thermal regulation skills on the run.
// Adidas terrex Skyclimb Insulation Jacket 2
This jacket is a real ninja – the light, PrimaLoft front panel provided good insulation with windproof sleeves.
Image credits // Johnny Graham – Digitalpict
Again, my underwear and base layer was made from merino and I used my winter running tights as a second layer. As there was no wind, there was no need for the third layer.
// Icebreaker Merino Oasis Boy shorts
// Icebreaker Merino Vertex Leggings Icon Fairisle
// Adidas women’s Sequencials lightweight brushed long tights
SHOES & SOCKS
Any race ran on an icy or snowy surface calls for some ice grips. I’ve never run with ice cleats before so wasn’t sure what to expect but as soon as we hit the frozen river I quickly learned the magic of these little bad boys. No falls, no slips and no adjustment stops during my run. They were very lightweight and when I put them on it quickly became part of my running shoe. Did I mention how cheap they were? A tenner – so total value for money. Love you Amazon!
// Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 3 Trail Shoes
Any trail shoes would do just make sure you have enough room for two/three pairs of socks. I do have more trail running shoes than normal ones so I opted for trainers with enough room for three layers of socks.
// Due North Ice grips
// ashmei Merino socks
Again, ashmei socks have enjoyed a lot of miles with my feet. I totally trust them; they will leave you feet blisters free, dry and warm and… not smelly 😉
// Icebreaker Hike Merino socks
As ashmei doesn’t yet produce thicker socks, I opted for a pair of merino basic hike socks from Icebreaker. Great choice, well made!
HEAD & NECK
Never ever underestimate the need for quality gear to protect your head and neck! As a rule of thumb, you will need a balaclava, facemask, hat and neck gaiter and ski goggles.
// Buff Neck gaiter (High UV protection – Ciron)
A no brainer! A tiny gear compare to the rest but so versatile and massively helpful. I think I took four with me.
// Buff Cros Tech Balaclava S-M Roseate
A MUST HAVE! Apart from looking cool, this thermo and windproof little baby saved my ears, cheeks and nose from frostbites.
// Scott Ski Goggles
My snowboard/ski goggles worked a treat, no need for some high-end ones.
Image credits // Johnny Graham – Digitalpict
The layering system applies to gloves as well. Although I bought three pairs of gloves – base, mid and top layer, I only used the first two.
// Icebreaker Merino liners (Sierra)
// Montane Prism Mittens
I fell in love these so much that I almost cried when I managed to burn one of them while having a BBQ/picnic on the river. #FAIL
The adventure of a lifetime, that’s how I call my outing in Mongolia. We spent there over ten days and apart from running we did quite a lot of other unusual activities such as playing golf, riding huskies, hiking and playing football and more. All outside, in -40+!
My Other Winter Kit
For all of there extra stuff I needed some proper winter clothes. Husky riding and playing golf was a real test of toughness and I put the rest of my cold adventure wardrobe to test. Thanks to these key pieces I came back in one piece and with no frostbites. #Winning
I fell in love with with my terrex winter jacket and pants so much that during the whole 10 days I didn’t spend a day without them. Nope, not even one! The two pieces that kept me nice and toasty even on the huskies.
// terrex Swift Climaheat Frost Jacket
LIFE SAVER! This 40% PrimaLoft® and 60% duck down jacket kept me well protected from bitting Mongolian cold. It’s water-repellent, windproof and breathable while being lightweight and very packable.
// Adidas terrex TechRock Winter Pant
I’m telling you these pants are a real deal. Waterproof, breathable and very durable trousers providing all the protection you need for activities such as husky riding, wild Mongolian golf playing, hiking as well as climbing, mountaineering, ski touring or freeriding. They feature the most breathable Softshell fabric in the market, Polartec Power Shield Pro with high efficiency backer.
// Adidas terrex Agravic PrimaLoft Jacket
This is another belter that has strongly proved itself when I was running in the mountains in Slovakia and Austria. If you’re looking for a light, easy-care and packable all-year insulation jacket, look no more and get this one!
// Adidas terrex TechRock Climaheat Hooded Fleece
Very versatile, extremely cozy, comfortable and fluffy fleece. The Pertex Equilibrium overlay making it perfect for any winter mountain sports. Bring on hiking and trail running in the UK.
// Adidas terrex WoolBlaze Short Sleeve Tee
// Buff Thermal Hat Star
Cool, pretty but very useful fleece hat that protected me against the extreme Mongolian cold. Obviously, it did match my hoodie buff. 😉
// Hoodie Thermal Buff Cru
A funky hoodie Buff that was specially made for cold and windy weather. I wore it as an outer layer on top of my thermal hat. Apart from being ideal for skiing, snowboarding, climbing, running it’s perfect for sledging, on the snow bike or motorbike.