What Should I Wear When Running A Marathon In Winter?

Marathon running is difficult enough without considering inclement weather. These races take months and months of preparation even for those of us in the best shape. Normally marathon runners will find a spring, summer, or fall marathon in which to participate — but running marathons is a year-round activity, and some are even organized in the coldest winter months. What should you wear when running in a cold-weather winter marathon?

First, you need to be prepared for a variety of different weather phenomena. Second, you need to practice running in those different weather phenomena. Third, you need to check the weather before your race.

One of the biggest obstacles to winter marathon running is knowing what clothing to use. Normally, athletes who run or hike in winter weather use a crafty layering system. Once you begin to exercise, your body produces a lot of heat and you will start to sweat. Do too much sweating in cold weather, and you could soon find yourself suffering from hypothermia.

While not as effective, you still need layers when running a marathon in winter. Since you won’t have anywhere to pack those extra layers when you decide to shed them, you’ll have to tie off the unwanted clothing around your waist. 

Here’s the golden rule: Never, ever wear cotton. It gets wet and stays wet.

  • Start with a base layer. When running in especially cold weather, you’ll need a form-fitting base layer. Look for merino wool long underwear for both your legs and torso. It’ll keep you warm and wick extra moisture quickly.
  • Add a middle layer. If necessary, add a thin fleece or synthetic hoodie over your base layer.
  • Add an outer layer. This layer is meant to trap any body heat that escapes the other two layers. Normally you would wear a “puffy” synthetic or down coat with a hood. These are very thin but also very warm.
  • Add a shell. You won’t always need this outer layer, but you’ll want a thin rainproof coat or poncho. Look for water-proof and wind-breaking jackets and pants to make your shell.
  • Add Headgear. Your body loses heat through your head. Try wearing a ski balaclava, ski goggles, and buff. These should keep you warm under the two hoods, but add a quick-dry cap if needed.
  • Gloves. Poor circulation can quicken hypothermia, so when choosing winter gear make sure you have free-range of movement — especially when choosing gloves. Try a fleece base layer underneath a thicker, weather-proof outer layer. Make sure you choose gloves you can clip to a belt or another piece of clothing so you can take them off when you get warm.

  • Shoes/Boots. Running in boots is nigh impossible, so you’ll want to do your research and try on a number of different options. Start with trail runners for warmer weather, and then move on to form-fitting boots for colder weather.
  • Socks. Be sure that your socks are thin enough to fit in your footwear, but thick enough to keep you warm on a cold run. You’ll want wool or synthetic socks — never cotton.