Yes, it's that time of year, when marathon masochists head out to log their morning mileage only to feel woefully underdressed. So what to wear? Cotton can leave you clammy and synthetic fabrics retain odour after repeated use. Over-layer and you'll arrive home with an entire outfit tied around your waist.
In the lead-up to the New York marathon, New Zealand-based company Icebreaker made a push for its natural-fibre outdoor apparel. I was skeptical that a top made from 98-per-cent wool (the rest is Lycra to retain shape) would surpass my high-tech togs - after all, I wouldn't dream of exercising in an itchy sweater.
But Icebreakers garments don't come from your run-of-the-mill sheep. The environmentally conscious company raises merino fine-wool sheep, a breed that endures 35-degree heat and minus-15 cold. "[Their coats]are created by nature to keep animals alive and we've interpreted this into a clothing system," says Robbie Stevens, Icebreaker's sales director for Canada. "Merino wool is made from keratin, a building-block protein, as opposed to carbon or oil molecule, which isn't natural."
On a nippy morning, I tried the new Quantum Hood mid-weight 260 zip jacket. A half-hour into my run, I started sweating but felt neither overheated nor chilled. While the jacket did not entirely repel wind, it acted like a screen, trapping some of the cool air while releasing body heat. The head-hugging hood kept my noggin warm and my hair out of the way.
As an additional test, I spritzed the wool with perfume prior to throwing it in the spin cycle. Despite scented detergent and dryer sheets, the top notes of grapefruit and ginger lingered. This doesn't bode well for less desirable odours (but, in all fairness, the smell of sweat isn't nearly as concentrated).
Sandra Tullio-Pow, an associate professor at Ryerson University's School of Fashion, points out bathing suits were made of wool back in the 1920s. She explains that all wool fibres are hydrophilic and possess a "shingle-like" top layer, which means they can absorb an extraordinary amount of moisture. The superfine yarn of Icebreaker products makes it better suited for sport. "It's not the sweater your auntie made you," she says.
The Icebreaker running range also includes socks that insulate and wick moisture. I imagine that people who experience cold feet would find these indispensable, but they were too wooly for my liking.
All garments feature a Baacode (get it?) that allows people to trace the origins of their wool. My jacket came from four farms in southern New Zealand and the corresponding videos show farmers in gorgeous mountain terrain. Somehow, I can't imagine rival brands shedding similar light on their petroleum-derived clothing.
Icebreaker Quantum Hood 260 zip jacket, $199.95. For store locations, visit www.icebreaker.com .