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How not to freeze your nipples off...

Updated: Jan 29, 2019

By Nicky Jenkins

Inspired by the recent efforts in the Montane Spine Race, teamed with our own impending (but just slightly shorter) Ultra and a few recent training runs out in questionable weather conditions (as Winter decides it might've arrived), one of our major concerns at the moment is getting the kit right. How do you run an Ultra in the winter without freezing your nips off?? Or, on other random warmer days, sweating buckets because you've worn too much!!

A few weeks ago every spare moment we had was spent dot-watching and catching up with the daily montage on Facebook by the Montane Spine Race. We watched that first little dot with awe and amazement (and a little tear or two on my part - don't ask - I guess watching people do awesome stuff makes me a bit emotional) as Jasmin Paris became the first ever woman to win the 268 mile event, dubbed "Britain's Most Brutal", at the same time smashing the course record. Incredibly inspiring, and I don't just mean Jasmin's result. Some of those ladies and gents (shout out to Shelli Gordon - who also made me weep with her Just Giving story) were out there for a lot longer in a very harsh environment. Even those that start the event but don't manage to complete it require huge recognition. The weather conditions that the competitors were subject to raised a few conversations in our household about what kit they were wearing. Our own Ultra being now just 4 weeks away and taking place on the Northumberland coast, we are preparing for the 35 miles being a little fresh and blowy - perhaps Arctic conditions. Easy to check out what Jasmin was wearing - you're sorted if you like Inov-8 - but I figured if we're asking ourselves the question, we can't be the only ones. John is a little more experienced at this than me and seems to have it sorted for this length of event, but his kit list may be amended a little when he (hopefully) takes on the 190 miles of Northern Traverse next year! Planning ahead.

So I thought it might be useful to contact some other incredibly awesome and experienced Ultra Runners I know and ask them "What to Wear" whilst fell or Ultra running in the winter, just so it's not all one brand bias.

This article is one for the ladies, gents - it's your turn next week.

Kit is entirely individual and what works for one person may not work for another, but this may give you a good place to start. Also blatantly obvious but worth mentioning - ALWAYS try your kit out before race day. A lot can depend on the weather, the exposure and the length of event - you will run a 10k a lot faster than a 30miler. The key, it seems, is layers!

I want to start with Heidi, who I met through a trail running group in the summer. Heidi is what I would class as the typical Ultra runner - friendly, unassuming and incredibly humble about her capabilities and achievements. Heidi won the ladies Hardmoors SuperSlam 2018. To do this she had to run 5 separate Ultras - a 30 mile, a 55 mile, a 110 mile, a 60 mile and then an 80 mile - pretty impressive, I'm sure you'll agree! For those of you who follow Ultra running - the Hardmoors 55 made the news last year - as runners were "attacked" by the "Beast from the East" and some of the slower/later runners were taken off the course at checkpoints as the conditions worsened to a veritable snow storm. For those who had made it through checkpoints, their kit became crucial to keeping warm and making it to the finish. Heidi said, "finishing it wasn't just good luck, I had the right kit, was never cold and had trained on the route in all sorts of bad weather leading up to the race."

What Heidi Wore;

Trainers: Salomon Speedcross 4 Goretex - one size up in shoe size as they are quite narrow

Socks: Injinji cotton liners with Skins compression over the top

Inov8 gaiters: top tip, I never get any debry in my trainers 😀

Top: Skins A200 thermal long sleeve top as first layer, merino middle layer and a thin polartec fleece over the top of that. 

Bottoms: Skins A200 thermal leggings - At Kildale I put my Inov8 Ultrapants on for extra warmth. 

Jacket: OMM Aeon jacket (no longer available)

Headwear: Mon Royale merino balaclava with a Polartec Buff and Montane Windjammer beanie 

Hands: Montane Power Stretch gloves to start with and at 30mile swapped to thin Ronhill liner gloves with Trekmates Glaramara gloves over the top. 

Black Diamond icon head-torch

Mountain king trail blaze poles 

The tube on my bladder did freeze so an insulation sleeve would be a good idea if it gets really cold! - Ultra Aspire Vest

Thank you for your input Heidi and wishing you well with your future endeavours. Heidi takes on the Lakeland 100 this year

Next, I consulted Hester, who I met through Thirsk & Sowerby Harriers and mutual friends. Hester now lives in the hills and runs the Yorkshire Three Peaks for fun (although not always all 3 at once). Hester is a very accomplished fell and Ultra runner, having completed many challenging events, not least the Lakeland 100 and the Fellsman. She's great to run with, always smiling and a real positive person to be around. She recently found herself in a small spotlight of social media attention as a video post by hubby Brian of them running up Pen-y-Ghent (in the snow and the dark) made it onto the BBC Yorkshire news. There were a few "keyboard warriors" who decided this was incredibly irresponsible and dangerous, but if you know the group like we do, you'd know they are always very, very safe, experienced - Hester's kit list, as follows is testament to that;

Female Ultra fell runner in the snow on Plover Hill, the Yorkshire Dales
Hester on Plover Hill

What Hester Wears in the Winter;

· M&S VPL free pants (they’re comfy and don’t chafe!)

· Dansez Minimal Bounce Bra or Sports Jock Action Sports bra (I have three, they are old but comfy and good for us less well-endowed ladies)

· Canterbury full-length tights (my step-daughter’s cast-offs from rugby, the best tights I’ve ever worn)

· A thermal long-sleeved base-layer (Patagonia, Helly Hansen, Smartwool etc.)

· A technical t-shirt worn over the top of the base layer (usually one I’ve got from a race, I like my LL100/50 ones, High Peak Marathon and Haworth Hobble ones best as they cover my bum and keep it warm! I rarely buy short-sleeved running tops)

· A waterproof - If it isn’t too cold, I’ll wear/carry my Haglofs LIM III jacket. If its snow and really cold, I wear/carry my Paramo Velez smock. Both are expensive but well worth the money. (Before I had those, I wore an OMM Kamleika waterproof which is also good but the Haglofs is better!)

· I wear/carry waterproof pants – Montane Atomic

· I wear/carry a woollen or microfleece hat that’s long enough to pull down over my ears. My favourite was a freebie from the Woodland Trust!

· Buff – I often have one round my neck that will double up as an ear warmer. If its very cold, I have a microfleece line one.

· Waterproof thermal gloves, my current favourite are: made by Trekmates.

· Waterproof thermal mittens – I carry these as well as gloves for extreme conditions. They’re better for keeping my fingers warm (I’ve got Raynauds)

· Socks: I currently like my brand new Dexshell Ultra Flex socks which are waterproof and great for snowy running but I’ve also used an old pair of Sealskinz for snow and for general socks, it depends on what my latest favourite is. Ininjis are great but a faff to get on so I don’t use them a lot. I love Darn Tough trail running socks but I’m perfectly happy in a pair of Hillys or INOV8s. Brian often nicks my socks so I’m not too precious about them!

· Garmin Fenix watch


For short runs with less extreme weather, I often use an OMM bumbag for my kit but I find that my Salomon 12litre Race Vest is more comfortable and is great for accessing my drinks (they’re on the front on soft bottles) It was expensive but I have got so much wear out of it and I’ve used it on the Lakeland 100, Lakeland 50, The Fellsman and lots of other races as well as my day-to-day runs.

In my bag for winter running I have:

· Compass

· Whistle

· Map if I don’t know the area

· Sol Bivvy bag

· Basic first aid kit (including tampons, migraine tablets and ibuprofen!)

· Usually a spare long sleeved top & sometimes a lightweight Mountain Equipment down jacket (especially if I am out on my own, I have used it in order to stay warm enough to make the summit of Ingleborough on a particularly cold extended three peaks)

· Gloves, hat, mittens go in if I’m not wearing them

· Waterproofs go in if not wearing them

· Kahtoola pull-on spikes if its icy

· A chocolate bar and a cereal bar and maybe a cheese&onion pasty or peanut butter & banana roll if it’s a long run. Kendal mintcake. Maybe some sweets to cheer me up on ultras.

· Drinks – usually one water and one squash such as Ribena (I hate sports drinks)

· If I’m in an ultra race I might carry a gel for emergency use but generally they upset my stomach.

· A fiver or tenner

· Phone

· Poo bags - if I have the dogs with me!

· Camera - if I’m not in a race

My top tips:

· use lightweight dry bags to pack your stuff in so you know your spare layers will be dry!

· Kendal mintcake is brilliant for settling the stomach and perking you up when you’re doing ultras.

· Don’t look at other people to decide if you need to put a layer on, go with your instinct. I ran the first half of The Fellsman with freezing cold wet legs because nobody else had their waterproof trousers on at the startline so I took mine off! That combined with period pain and blizzards meant that I am surprised I made it to the end but luckily everything got better after 35 miles

Among Hester's plans for this year are Grizedale Marathon, the Haworth Hobble and she is also making a return visit to the Lakeland 100 - but just for the challenge and the adventure - and also plans to spend a few days running Hadrian's wall. Good luck Hester!

I think you'll agree there is some fantastic advice here for any budding wannabe Winter Ultra runners, these ladies have tried and tested the gear - and that is more than recommendation enough for me.

*Googles "Running Balaclava" "Waterproof Thermal Mittens" "M&S pants"

Next week we're back for the blokes and if you have any kit recommendations we'd love to hear from you!!

Nicky "no more freezing nipples" Jenkins

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