Updated: Mar 10, 2019
Some runners find so much bliss in their winter running they can't wait for the dark, cold season to get underway. So that's Derrick, but then there are the rest of us. But I'm here to tell you it is worth looking for good things about running in winter, because with a few tips and reframes it can be amazing. I learned the hard way and sometimes need a refresher, but there actually is a ton to love about it!
Here are some ideas to help you look for the good in our old friend Winter, and hopefully get more out of your running this season.
1. Getting out the door is the hardest part. Unlike summer running where it is relatively easy to get out for a run, winter runs are a lot, lot, LOT harder to hoist yourself away from a cozy fire and go out into the cold and darkness in your light running attire. Brrrr, chilly, brrrr! But the really awesome thing is, if you can just brave that first few minutes and teeth chatter your way through, within five minutes you are warm as anything. The reward is not overheating like you do in July with sweat pouring into your eyeballs.
2. Traction is your friend. Slipping and falling on ice is just a bad idea. Get yourself some traction to keep yourself upright. More on that here.
3. Reap the training rewards. There isn't a more specific type of strength work you can do for training than running through the resistance of deep snow. Your spring races will benefit from this change to power work that can be pivoted to springiness in spring by adding in strides and plyometrics.
4. Layers are everything. Layering up is essential so you can stay warm, but then unzip or remove layers as you heat up. Staying dry is important. Another great thing about layers is that typically the outer layers don't need laundering as often. Hang them to dry between runs and you'll be surprised how many times you can wear them between washes. They will last longer this way as a bonus.
5. Quality is everything. I would rather invest in one good pair of winter tights than have a bunch of lesser options. Similarly, your upper layers, underwear, and accessories such as hats and gloves are much better equipped to help you stay warm if they are running-specific and of good quality such as merino wool next to your skin and technical fabrics for breathability and comfort.
6. Waterproof is your superpower. On those days where the snow is wet, or those January rainy thaw days, staying dry under some waterproof-yet-breathable layers gives you a superpower barrier that separates you from the elements and lets you enjoy being out there instead of suffering. The day I ran through a cold puddle and kept my feet warm felt miraculous and I've never gone back to wet feet. La Sportiva, a mountain company, makes the best of the best Gore-Tex shoes and weatherproof apparel because they specialize in these conditions.
7. Reframe the darkness. Of all the things about winter, darkness is the biggest challenge for me. It taunts me to cozy, to nest, to hibernate. I have to repeatedly remind myself of how utterly serene and sublime a cold winter's night can be. Oh my, the stars and the moon, they are at their best this season. Hint 1, darkness is much easier when there is snow on the ground to reflect what light there is. Hint 2, get a good headlamp, and if you're uneasy by yourself then go with a buddy.
8. Take advantage of the sunny days. Be flexible with your training so you can get the full impact from the best weather days of winter. Sunshine is much less abundant during these months, so on days where it is shining be sure to prioritize getting your longer outdoor workouts in. If you are at a day job and can get out at lunch, be sure to take advantage of that.
9. Don't give up on your trails, try snowshoes. Trail running doesn't have to end when the snow gets deep. Give snowshoe running a try! It is a great workout, tons of fun, and not nearly as tough as post-holing through deep snow in an attempt to keep to the trails in winter.
10. On your personal hell days, take it indoors. There is no shame in hitting the treadmill or cross-training on the days that you personally find it the worst of the worst conditions. Sometimes it is empowering to face those days head on, but other days it feels better to give yourself a pass. Mixing up indoors and outdoors is a great boost to variety, and you can benefit from that. If you are training for a spring race, training indoors in the heat is a good strategy for not losing all of your heat training from last summer.
11. Ask any kid anywhere - playing in the snow is just fun. Feed that little kid that still lives inside of you some fun. Build a snowman or an igloo for cross training at the end of your run, or at the very least make a snow angel.