I get asked this question a lot. It seems like an absurd question because of course, runners run in winter.
But, when you live in a ski town as a runner you are actually the minority and so it’s a legitimate question. Even most runners in this town will swap out their running shoes for ski boots in the winter.
While I respect changing sports according to season and I am making an effort with skiing, running is my mental sanity and my true love and so there is no way I can go all winter without it.
With that, here are a few thoughts and tips I can share in response to the most frequently asked questions I get about running in the cold.
Can you run on the trails?
Short answer, yes. Not in the backcountry, but dependent on where you are there should be a good amount of neighborhood trails that get packed down quickly by the fat-bikers, skiiers and hikers. It’s all dependent on the storms. During, or one day after a storm, I don’t mess around with trail running. I have an awesome time hitting those trails on cross country skis. The snow is perfect for it. If it has been at least two days after a storm and dry, I can usually get on the trails right near my house and someone has packed them down enough that I am not post-holing. You just have to get out there and try it. After a few times of success or failure you will start to learn the habits of your local community and know what trails get used most often and become accessible.
What shoes do you wear?
Trail shoes. A shoe is a very personal thing so I can’t recommend a specific shoe for you, but I run in the La Sportiva Mutant and Akasha and they are my favorite. I can recommend that you go with a brand that focuses on the mountain runner as opposed to the road runner because they will have the beta on what a trail runner needs. For example Asics, who is a top notch road running company, makes a trail shoe but I don’t know anyone in the trail running community who wears them. That’s not to say they don’t make a good shoe or that no trail runner wears them, but they don’t have the extensive research in mountain athletes in order to know exactly what we need. Some good trail running brands are: La Sportiva, Salomon, Inov8 and Altra. For the exception, the Brooks Cascadia is awesome and Brooks is a company that has been able to do a fantastic job for both road and trail runners.
Do you wear anything on your shoes?
In most cases, my Mutants are aggressive enough on their own and I don’t need extra traction. Again, it’s a case by case basis. Micro-spikes are very aggressive and I have found that I only need them if I am running a steep trail or if it has been over a week or so without any storms and the local trails have become sheets of ice. When the snow is still relatively soft, your trail shoes should be enough on regular trail. If you are going to do some steep uphill, regardless of when it snowed, I would bring my spikes. It helps with the micro slips that occur while you are trying to go uphill on snow and will save a ton of energy.
What clothing do you wear?
This is dependent on the day. Read my blog post that explains what I wear in certain temperatures.
A note on road running:
Unless specifically asked about the trail, most people wonder if I am running on the roads. YES. I like talking about this most because road running becomes an entirely different mental thing for me and it makes me fall in love with the sport even more.
I’m not a road runner. I try my best to run on dirt 100% of the time, especially in non-winter months. However, when winter rolls in and the streets are white for 5 months, suddenly the road seems like the trail and I dig it. With snow and ice on the ground, you have to stay attentive to each step and make sure you are gripping or not sinking into the snow and into a hole or off a curb that could potentially injure you. My favorite thing about it? It slows me down. I run at a leisurely pace and just enjoy being outside.
Is anyone in the Western culture in this century seriously running barefoot in the winter in the mountains? If so, please message me. I need to hear your story.
I never hear anyone mention this anymore, due to demographics most likely, and for that I am thankful. **In my opinion** The barefoot running thing has a small window of legitimacy, and for most of us who have grown up in shoes, it is not a necessary or realistic way of running. Shoes are not bad and companies have had years to learn the individuality of the foot. You have to figure out what works best for you which might take a few mistakes to figure out. If you’re are a barefoot runner – nice! But it isn’t the only, or best option.
My best advice for winter running?
DO IT! Take my suggestions and go try it for yourself and see what works for you. Don’t be scared of the snow, ice or cold – as they say – “There isn’t bad weather, just bad gear.” And attitude. Embrace changes and challenges and appreciate your love for running in an entirely different way!