Running in the winter, especially through rugged, mountain trails can turn a lot of people right off and have them transitioning over to cross country skiing, or heading to the gym or using their own personal treadmill. But for me, the snowy trails only beckon me on to take in the clean, glistening scenery that I pass through as I maintain my running schedule to keep myself ready for upcoming spring marathons.
But in order to do it right you need to keep in mind several important points and I’m going to list them here below. But the one thing you need to pay attention to is good old “Common Sense”!
Don’t Over Dress: In colder months, the cold, damp air can instantly send chills down your spine the moment you step outside, making it tempting to want to layer up. You’ll quickly start to warm-up once you start moving and may find yourself in a sweat by the time you hit the first climb. You’ll then find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation once you start to cool down again on the way back down. This is the time when you might fall victim to the first stages of hyperthermia setting in, and you need to be aware of this. The most important thing you need to do is dress in layers, making sure that first layer is made from a material that wicks the moisture AWAY from your skin, which also allows your body to breathe. There are many varieties of these available from online shops or your favorite outdoor store. And take advantage of the knowledgeable staff that work there. Most of these reputable stores staff their departments with members that actually enjoy the outdoors and have firsthand experience with the items you’re shopping for. So take advantage of this and ask for advice as your shopping. In the long run.. (Get it? Long Run!) it will save you money, and keep you safe from uncomfortable cold and hyperthermia!
Opt for tighter-fitting, wicking materials that cover your legs and arms but aren’t too thick. Dressing in layers that you can easily shed as you warm-up can help, and I like to bring something extra like a lightweight down jacket, in case I want to stop for a few minutes on a summit or I run into trouble. Again, take advantage of those staff members if this is your first rodeo of trail running in the colder runner, they won’t steer you wrong!
Use Appropriate Traction: There are some entry-level traction devices available that work well for icy pavement, but on the trails I prefer something more robust like a good solid, yet lightweight crampon device that is easy to clamp to my shoes, yet durable so that they give you the traction, you’re going to need, when the snow and icy conditions crop up on those mountain trails.
I’ve experimented with lightweight snowshoes designed for running, but have found them to be overkill for packed snow, while it’s difficult to actually ‘run’ in deep powder. Whatever you choose, be sure that they are light-weight and flexible enough and that they are appropriately sized for your specific shoes.
The best advice I can give here is what I mentioned before, use of “Common Sense”. If you start out on the trail and I recommend using only trails you are familiar with so you know the lay of the land, and you run into repeated slippery ice, turn around and head back home, early! You don’t need to take a fall when you’re into your run after a few miles. Even a sprain or twisted ankle can cause you all kinds of potential difficulties if you’re out on the trail, by yourself, miles from home! …. Remember our mantra “Good Old Common Sense”!
Keep your feet dry! Keeping your feet dry can be close to impossible in slushy conditions, and blood tends to flow away from our extremities to our core when we’re cold. There are quite a few models of Gortex shoes on the market, but snow can easily get in from the top unless you’re also wearing gaiters, and even then they tend to let that slushy snow in.
I’ve found that by wearing Gortex socks, paired with regular socks underneath for warmth and some quick-draining shoes does the trick. You may need to size up your shoes by a half or even a full size to allow for the extra bulk in order to maintain proper circulation. Remember I mentioned about using the knowledge of those experienced staff members, from the outdoor stores? They’ve been on trails, so they are experienced on what they use, so ask what they recommend. Remember, the shoes and socks you using now, won’t be what you’re going to be running with once the outside temperatures start to climb!
Remember to Eat and Drink, And I don’t Mean Make Merry: It’s easy to forget to hydrate in cold weather because your body isn’t overheating in the same way it does in summer months, and eating can be difficult when wearing gloves. We’re often working even harder though when running on snowing terrain and burning more calories just to keep warm. The dryer air can also catch up with you if you’re not staying on top of your hydration. If you’re used to running distance, this is a no brainer. Having a small, lightweight backpack or waist strap with you is a must when you’re trail-running. And taking along some energy bars or chews should always be the first and last thing you have in your pack, along with that fleece or down lightweight jacket that folds up nicely and takes up little room. But for the energy fuel of choice that I like, I use the GU Energy Gels (https://www.heartratemonitorsusa.com/products/gu-energy-gel-15-serving?variant=42868141973 ) . Everything inside each packet of GU is engineered to do one simple thing: provide your body with the essential nutrition it needs to keep going for miles and miles and hours and hours. It goes down easy, and it goes to work fast so you don’t have to slow down.
And to keep myself hydrated as well, thanks to my sponsor, HeartRateMonitorsUSA.com my bottle of choice is the Camelbak Chute Vacuum Insulated Stainless 40oz Bottle (https://www.heartratemonitorsusa.com/collections/insulated-bottles/products/camelbak-chute-vacuum-40) It keeps your hot beverage stable for up to 6 hours with functional bottle, and the cap snaps right into the handle, to allow easy drinking and refilling of the liquid. In the warmer weather, it will keep your drink of choice cold for up to 24hours at a time, so it’s a bottle that I have come to love and has been with me for a while now.
Finally you need to realize that winter running, is just not the same as taking off when that sun is pumping down those summertime rays. You’re going to have to slow it down so you can navigate those sometimes, slippery trails. And remember, mud can also cause a problem as it can be a slippery as glazed ice.
Running in snowy and icy conditions engages muscles differently and can tax the body in different ways, so expect to cover fewer miles over the same amount of time that you would on dry ground. Drop your mileage to give your stabilizing muscles a chance to develop slowly to avoid injury, and focus more on time-on-feet than on distance.
But these are just my tips and you’re going to learn your own as you venture out in the winter cold and snow to tackle those trails. But remember, “Common Sense” can go a long way to keeping you safe. Pay attention to it!