The Winter Ironman Buyer’s Guide

“Getting out the door is the hardest part,” Garrick Larson told me as I trudged down from his corner balcony office in the winter of 2013, layered up in the toughest running gear I owned. During my junior track season, the Fargo-Moorhead region was blessed with a month-long stretch where the high never eclipsed 5 degrees. It made two-a-days a tough task. Even though I knew my coach’s words were true, I could feel the energy drain from my body daily as I literally forced myself through the opening miles of every workout.

Cold.

Wind.

Darkness.

These are the ironman’s enemies. These are the elements that separate the hobby-joggers from the big boys, the weekend warriors from the ….more intense weekend warriors. The reason leaving home is almost always the most difficult step in the training process is because one — or all — of those three barriers is ready and waiting to make its presence known.

As I finished adding up my 2022 training hours last week, realizing I notched 1,111 hours, almost exactly, for a second consecutive year, I came to the conclusion that the three horsemen (where is Grantland Rice when you need him to find a fourth weather-related predicament? … ICE!) have exerted less and less influence on me at least partially because of a few products I’ve come to use and love as of late.

Since leaving the 2013 Weather Channel’s Worst Weather City after a decade of running routes characterized mainly by which direction the wind was likely to be blowing, I’ve gradually wisened up to winter, waggishly wandering for hours on my skis as the mercury plummets. I’ve become keenly aware of what products are worth investing in to make “getting out the door,” the easy part.

Cold…..and wind

It only took two days of skiing in Wisconsin last week to remind me why I left the midwest.

Inaugurationesque fake news picture to prove my point….Not what you want to see as you drive across farm fields in a sprinter van with no working heat….

And…thanks to my Sporthill pants, my pre-race shakeout run was quite comfortable, even though my forehead and eyeballs literally froze and needed to be surgically placed into a hot cup of cocoa afterward.

Sporthill Pants

I have my mother to thank for introducing me to Sporthill, the Eugene, Oregon-based brand that carefully considers runners and skiers specifically when it designs and regularly updates all of its products.

Founder Jim Hill, who ran at the University of Oregon in the 80’s and competed in the 1983 World Championship 10k, is a world-class distance runner who knows what it feels like to grind through every type of weather impediment. When you wear their jackets and pants, you can sense that lived experience, too, as subtle design features, like the placement of wind protection, zippers/pockets, and the overall stretch and feel while running, are clear evidence that products are made by runners for runners.

Jim is also the kind of guy you can email or call and have a 20-minute conversation with, which I have in fact done! The combination of the company being specialized, personal, and down-to-earth, has made me a lover of their products all throughout my endurance sports career. Plus, if you are ever in Eugene for NCAA’s, USATF, or Olympic Trials (or this year, for the IAAF World Championships), Sporthill will often have a sidewalk sale. Grab ice cream at the same place Obama snacked at, walk across Agate, and find yourself a steal.

I have at least six pairs of Sporthill pants, in each of the various weather ranges, as well as multiple tops. I’ve worn my 3SP tights in Fargo-Moorhead with only a basic brief underneath for 13-15 mile runs in sub-zero temps and wind to boot on numerous occasions. The fabric also never gets wet, which is a dream for doublers like me, as I can wear the jackets or pants for an entire week’s worth of workouts without really needing to wash them….I’m serious (wife shakes head and heads to laundry room)!

Sporthill Super XC Pant

If you are looking for a “do-it-all” pant for running and skiing in the bitterest of cold and wind, the Super XC Pant is worth every dime.

Toko Polar Gloves and Race Buff

Leadville, Colorado can have icebox temperatures, so cold hands are a regular issue for bikers and skiers here. A stretch of freezing temperatures during my November early-season sessions high up on Hagerman Pass provided a perfect backdrop to test out Toko’s Polar Race Glove.

The Toko Arctic Mitten is no longer on their website, but you can purchase the Toasty Thermo Mitten instead. Yes, that’s me skiing up 7th street in Leadville!

Normally, I’m a mitten guy, and when things get cold enough, I do often turn to the Toko Arctic Mitten. It made me all the more curious to see if the Polar Race Glove could keep my notoriously frozen fingers (just ask Christie) warm on an early morning ski.

Maybe it was because the sub-technique of choice was mostly double pole, or maybe I was channeling my inner Ben Ogden circa Ruka, Finland 2021….whatever it was, my hands were sweating when I finished two hours on the snowmobile packed mountain passes.

It’s important to have a few different choices of gloves and mittens, and the Toko Polar Race glove filled the “so cold we probably shouldn’t be racing” category.

One thing I love about Toko is the affordability and durability of their gloves, too. Considering the running, biking, and skiing miles most of my Toko’s have gone through, I estimate I’ve paid about 0.01 cents/workout….which is fine by me.

Finally, you might think all buffs are alike — WRONG! The Toko thermo neck and headwrap isn’t your throw-away-loppet-freebee. When the temps drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, I reach for my Toko buff because the extra layer of insulation and soft fabric makes leaving the garage’s warmth unnoticeable.

I’m also a big fan of the brand in general. Ian Harvey, Toko’s U.S. brand manager, serves the North American Nordic community in so many ways. Beyond supplying many of our young Super Tour stars with waxes, gloves, etc., he also goes above and beyond to connect all generations of skiers through his engaging podcasts with athletes, coaches, and other industry leaders.

Ben Ogden braved the brutal Ruka, Finland cold with his Toko Polar Race gloves. Photo: US Ski and Snowboard
2 degrees was just perfect in my Toko buff
Repping my Toko buff and mittens on Hagerman Road with the family

Whitewoods xtremeheat heated socks

This has been a game-changer for me. Double-pole sessions, even in reasonable temperatures, can often lead to cold feet, since you aren’t constantly shifting your weight to set the wax or engage in a skate kick. My wife recently went down to Community Threads in Leadville and picked up the merino wool, rechargeable heated socks from Smoky, the shop owner.

With three adjustable heat settings controlled via a keychain remote, you can ensure comfort at a wide range of bitter cold temperatures. I thought the lithium battery, secured next to the calf, would be cumbersome while skiing, but I don’t notice it at all. I will say, if I was in a tough classic striding race, I probably wouldn’t use them, because my feet would be fine, but I can definitely see packing these for my first full Visma Ski Classics season, whenever that ends up happening.

I really can’t wait to use these for biking, too. Even with warmer, Gore-tex boots, my feet get cold when the fall temperature swings take effect here in the mountains. Combined with the next item, I’m thinking it could be reasonable to actually wake up at 2 a.m. and start the training day then….no ‘if’s, and’s, or but’s.’

Darkness

Mainers, Alaskaners (?)…Norwegians…pay attention. If you regularly ride, run, or ski in the dark, a serviceable headlamp is an absolute must. Now, I’m as cheap as they come, so believe me, I spent three years saying, “It’s not that bad ….just stay in-between the line of blurry trees on either side of the trail and you’ll be fine.” Then, after jealously watching an Olympian effortlessly skate through the narrow, icy trails of northern Aroostook County under a star-filled night sky, I decided to take out $20, scan Amazon for the cheapest headlamp, and pull the trigger at three or four different brands.

Here’s the thing with headlamps, though. If aliens aren’t spotting you sliding in the woods from their galactic cruiser, you might as well chuck it back in the dumpster where it belongs.

Speaking of satellite swindlers ….feast your eyes on the Ledlenser H19R Signature Headlamp.

Ledlenser H19R Signature headlamp

With 4000 lumens, this rechargeable beast has two powerful lenses — one for controlling the flood and another for the spotlight. Both have a third function, though it isn’t listed on the website, and that is blinding stargazers sitting on Pluto.

Actually, the max lighting range is 330 meters, which, even for someone who double poles as fast as I do, is sufficient in preventing me from accidentally missing a turn or avoiding the dreaded base-eating loose rock on trail. If you run that sucker at full-beam, it can go for 3.5 hours on a single charge. If all you need is 80-meter visibility — given my poor V2 technique, that is ample for skate skiing workouts — it will go for 20 hours …. Anders Aukland can’t even outwork this thing.

If you’re the kind of person who is skinning up Beaver Creek and Vail before the lift opens….and after it closes….you need the H19R

Despite its immense powers and numerous features (don’t worry, we’ll get there in a second), the H19R is comfortable, not cumbersome. When I took it out of the box and sized it up, I was worried it would be noticeably heavier and bulkier than my Petzel Swift RL, which, by the way, I would still recommend as my go-to, light, trail running headlamp.

The strap system was easy and adjustable, however, and once I fitted everything properly, I didn’t notice any sort of awkward movement doing all types of sub-techniques. Although…. I didn’t do the Klaebo, but let’s be honest, that’s because I really can’t do the Klaebo….I can only say, “Klaebo” correctly.

no headlamp when Johannes sprints to victory….

As far as the features go, here are some things I really have enjoyed about this device which now has me heading out the door at 7 p.m. with equal cups of glee as 7 a.m.

  • Bluetooth connection – you can set up your smartphone to control custom light functions and settings through the Ledlenser Connect App.
  • IP68 – you’ve got 1.5 meter deep water submersion protection for up to 30 minutes. Just in case you think you should be using this to — heaven forbid — FISH!
  • Power settings – easy to use with the multifunctional switch, you can quickly go from high to mid to low power. There is also a blink and boost feature, which allow for automatic light impulses at regular intervals and short-duration maximum power for increased brightness, respectively.
  • Strobe and SOS features – My wife now knows I am liable to head out for crazy sessions at any place and at any time, so she doesn’t fret as much as she probably used to. Still, the fact that my headlamp now can produce a distress signal in Morse code, as well as act as a strobe light to fend off would be predators, I think she is even more at peace with me taking off for that bike ride in the dark.
  • One I haven’t tried yet, but definitely will: the helmet mounting system. If you bike in the fall and ski in the winter, a common couplet, then this headlamp is totally worth the investment. I can’t wait to try this out on my mountain bike. It also can attach right to your handle bars, as seen in the photo below.
  • One I haven’t tried, but maybe you will: GoPro adapter … I mean, do I strike as you the guy searching for untouched lines in the backcountry and then uploading them to Youtube? I still fall skiing at Lindenwood Park, so that’s a hard ‘no.’
The ability to use this on the bike make the Ledlenser the ultimate all around headlamp for skiers and riders.

The final push out the door: An epic skiswap find

Devon Kershaw might believe Pelty’s are terrible skis, but at some point in human history, they constructed excellent training apparel.

One of the secrets to getting out the door when the doldrums of daily training has you bored with life is to spice things up with some sweet apparel. Look good, feel good, ski good — that’s what Jackrabbit Johansen always said, right?

When you’re working on a shoestring budget, this can be difficult … but also, quite fun!

My wife and I enjoy the Veloswap, ski-swaps, and free Craigslist — all genuine gold mines when you live next to Summit and Eagle Counties. One of the all-time greatest finds in recent memory was my Peltonen vest/jacket combo. The bright colors are sometimes the final straw that breaks the wind, dark, and cold camels’ backs.

You have to have that one item in your closet that literally no one else has. For me, it’s the jacket and vest from 1970. I found this at the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard ski swap a few years back and purchased it from the former Olympian who used it for five dollars. Clutch.

USSPC Seder-skier custom poles? Check. Used jacket from the 70’s? Check. Bluebird day? Check. Mastercard….priceless…or whatever…you know what I was going for.
I don’t classic stride often, but when I do, I wear this epic jacket…

The vest gets used a lot. It’s impeccably warm and incredibly thin. I actually wore it over my race bib in a recent 50k, which was a fantastic race-time decision.

The jacket…. well, some things are truly just for looks. Or, intimidation. Or…both, hopefully.

Summary

These are just a snippet of the items that make daily training not only possible but enjoyable. For me, training isn’t a thing I have to do, it’s something I get to do. Still, a biting wind, deafening darkness, numb pair of hands or feet, or uninviting cold temperature can threaten to deter me away from my sanctuary. I suppose some might argue that keeping the threshold of your home as the hardest barrier to getting in a workout is good for balance in life.

Maybe someday. For now, I’ll keep going all in.

Keep striving! – Sederskier

4 responses to “The Winter Ironman Buyer’s Guide”

  1. Very very fun article Ry!! It has inched up from -25 to -11 here today so I need to get out and ski before it heads back down!!

    I’m struggling to train!! You are an inspiration though!!! Love you!!

    By the way I’m wearing my XC Sporthill pants that I bought in 1984 or 1985 I think! No zippers or pockets but the same great warmth that the pant has always had!! Amazing!

    Jane

    >

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  2. Ryan,
    Maybe you can answer a question about Jim Hill for me. You stated “Jim ran with Steve Prefontaine at the UO.”I’m wondering how that was possible when Jim Hill, was a Freshman in high school in 1975 while living in another state, ran with my Brother who died in 1975. I don’t recall seeing Jim in ANY pictures with my Brother when my Brother ran for the UO. Jim’s Bio numbers don’t add up with yours. If he was born in 1961, and my Brother started attending the UO in 1969, how is it that they “ran together?”

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    • Linda – thank you for pointing this out! The article has since been updated! Steve was a childhood hero – it is an honor to be speaking to you and I’m sorry for any pain or hurt this may have caused. I hope you can give my writing a second chance!
      Warm regards,
      Ryan

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  3. […] The race starts at 10:00 a.m. Saturday and concludes the following day at the same time. Sederquist plans on going “full-gas” until he reaches 100k, then doing a Quaker Oatmeal sponsor-bit to refuel, catch a nap and probably write some stories or do a podcast, and head back out when the snow gets fast again. He said he will use his USSPC company poles, which have aided him to all of his double-pole victories thus far. If he is out at night, he will light up the Mount Massive amphitheater with his Ledlenser headlamp. […]

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