How should you dress to run in spring thaw conditions?

Here in the western prairies of Canada winter is usually a deep, frozen trio of months shouldered by an unpredictable autumn at the front end and a sloppy, scattered mess of thawing weather on the tail.

It’s Sunday, Runday, and this morning we ran a ten kilometer spring run through that some of that scattered mess of weather.

The thing is, I know how to dress for cold. And I know how to dress for summer. But this Spring thing is so unpredictable I still almost always get it wrong. So what’s my (modest) advice?

Flexible Headwear. I have this spring hat trick using a buff, one of those thin and multipurpose tubes of fabric. You can make a half-twist in the middle, invert one end over the other, and voila: you have a light touque. And then half way into the run when the touque is too hot, you can untwist it, make it into a single layer tube. Or if the wind picks up, you can pull it down around your neck. If you’re still too hot, you can scrunch or fold it up and stuff it into a pocket. And when you all stop for coffee at the end of the run, you can double it up again and pull it over your face for a makeshift pandemic facemask. The point is, it’s a flexible piece of clothing. The borderline weather of spring requires you to be ready to add, remove, add, then remove again anything and everything you’re wearing.

Waterproof Traction. Today our run wasn’t too wet, but last weekend the temperatures were a just the right temperatures that the paths were about one-third packed snow, one third overnight ice slicks, and one third ankle-deep puddles (in the sunshiny spots). This means if our feet weren’t slipping on slick patches of mirror-finished frozen puddles, we were sloshing through their thawed cousins. The thaw season is too short to buy special shoes for this, but double layer socks help, and it doesn’t hurt to keep the “winter tires” (those shoes with a little extra traction and a little less venting) out for another couple weeks until things dry up.

Light Gloves. No one ever regrets a pair of light gloves this time of year. What else is there to say? Warm hands are the best and no matter hot warmed up you get, the fingers are usually the last to benefit from increased circulation. And more importantly running with your hands in your pockets down icy trails is the quickest way to smacking your face into the still-frozen ground. You’re going to need those hands ready (and warm) to catch you when you inevitably fall.

Vents & Zippers. Long pants or shorts? Long sleeves or jacket? The temperature changed by five degrees during our one hour run this morning, and then between the sunshine and the shade it was another five degrees. Factor in body heat and that’s a lot of temperature variation. Jackets with zippers that can be unzipped and re-zipped are useful. Clothing with breathable air vents are handy. Light coats with big old armpit zipper vents are amazing and were made for mornings like today. It you can find a pair of running pants that somehow become shorts half way through your outing, you’ve struck it rich for a spring run.

Sunglasses. It can be sunny (and thus sunglass season) for much of the year, but there is something about that low spring sun poking between the tree branches that just begs for eye protection. Also, if you’re anything like me, you wear a brimmed hat in the summer which helps with the high sun, or you run mostly in the dark in winter when a headlamp is more useful. In the spring, especially at our latitude, the sun has just poked up out of the east when we’re setting out on the trails, and it takes the better part of the morning to climb out of that annoying band of the horizon where looking forward somehow also means you’re staring at the blinding glare of our nearest star. I could go without shades for ten months of the year, but spring has one of the months when I don’t run without them.