I Love Winter Running

A couple of weeks ago I finished my fifth Frozen Sasquatch 25k Trail Run and earned my Golden Sasquatch.  golden sasquatch

Three of the five years had temperatures in the teens or below at the start with this year dipping to 10 degrees.  The race is one of my favorites of the year and one I’d hate to miss. On my run this morning I started thinking about why I love winter running. This morning was truly a winter run; it was cold and the snow was falling, the beginning of a winter storm warning, and it was dark. I could see just a few yards of snowy trail in front of me as the falling snow reflected the light from my headlamp and limited the visibility. Snowy trail runs are especially quiet and peaceful and appealing to me. Ironically, as I thought about why I love winter running I received a few comments, texts and emails from my runners today about how they just haven’t been able to embrace it. I guess it’s a learned behavior but I also think there are a few things that make it work for me.

1) It’s easy to run easy… Aerobic (easy) running is what you’re supposed to be doing in the winter so sit back, relax and run easy. It takes the pressure off to do the runs you think you should be doing… tempos, intervals, fartlek (although those are still fun)… and you can relax, run how you feel and know that your body is getting a ton of good benefit from it. The benefits of aerobic running are plentiful but a few that you’ll like are increased fat burning, building mitochondria (little power plants in your body), increased endurance, and building strength.  Your body prefers this type of training and it flourishes when it’s done consistently. This is called base building and it’s great for you.

2) I’ve learned to dress for it…. After years of collecting gear I have my winter running combos down to a science and know what to wear for a variety of conditions. This has come with trial and error and buying different clothes from hats and gloves to tops and pants that are on sale. Check out your local Marshalls or TJ Maxx for great discounted running gear. I’ve found what works well for me and it makes my runs a lot more enjoyable than freezing or sweating to death. As you do your own trial and error remember two basic principles. 1) Keep your head and hands warm and you’ll be comfy. 2) Resist the temptation to overdress. You want to be a little cool at the start because you’ll warm up quickly.

3) I feel like a champ… When it’s cold and dark and most everyone else is cocooned in their beds I get some satisfaction. Even when cars drive by and I know they’re looking at me like I’m crazy I also imagine that in some strange way they might be little envious of me. And they should be….Winter running builds mental and physical toughness knowing you can endure and even embrace tough conditions.

4) I’m reminded of good form…. I teach and coach natural running, enabling your body to run the way it’s made- balanced, controlled, and efficient. Running on snow and ice naturally eliminates overstriding and makes your stride shorter, quicker, and draws your feet underneath your hips where they are supposed to be. You’re efficient and less likely to get injured when you run that way. The first time you hit a patch of ice heel first you’ll be on the soft, fleshy part of your anatomy in an instant. Winter running is good form training without even knowing it. And I like wearing my screw shoes.

5) I follow a routine because getting out the door is the hardest part… 1) I check the forecast and lay out my clothes the night before 2) Rise early and dress in my running clothes immediately, 3) Drink a cup of coffee while I read my Bible and 4) Hit the door and start running without question. I will not run after work. I will not run at lunch. I will run now. Remember, you’ll never finish a run and say, “I wish I hadn’t done that.”

6) I have a spring race on the calendar to have a goal and stay motivated…  Going dormant over the winter eradicates all of your hard earned fitness. Sure, you might gain it back quickly if you’re an experienced runner but why even flirt with going back to ground zero? You cannot be at peak fitness year round but you can maintain a good base over the winter. I’m often asked by friends whom I haven’t seen in a while “are you still running?.” My answer is almost always the same, “Yes, it’s too painful to start all over.”

Winter running is a state of mind. Tell yourself that you hate it and you will. Tell yourself that you will learn to love it and you will. Run easy, run consistent, run without compromise and learn to love winter running.