A Great Time To Be A Runner

As the calendar year comes nearer to its end and winter begins to take hold, it’s such a natural time of year for running to take a backseat in a trail runner’s life. The always exciting and anticipated The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships are coming up this weekend, and should be as exciting as ever to follow (so much so that I’ve decided to hop on a plane and head out to the Bay Area to check out the action firsthand), but once this event comes and goes and the temperatures continue to drop, and the snow begins to build up on the trails, it seems like such a perfect time to sit around the fire with a bowl of soup, a warm drink, and replenish our bodies and our minds after another season of memorable runs.

This all makes perfect sense except for the reality that running in the winter (as well as other winter-fitness activities) is so much fun, so nourishing, and so unique compared to the running we do the rest of the year. I certainly agree that a nice, extended break from both the physical and emotional aspects of running is more or less essential at least once every year, but over time I’ve come to realize that winter really isn’t my preferred time to take this rest.

There are so many things which are so satisfying and appealing about running in the winter. Some of these are very basic and obvious: cooler weather is much easier for our bodies to cope with than warm weather (you can always add layers of clothing to get warmer, but after a certain point there really isn’t anything else you can do to get cooler when it’s really hot), trails are generally much less crowded in the winter months, and we tend to have more free time to devote to running in the winter when so many other areas of life seem to ‘quiet’ down.

Beyond these things though, there are the more subtle, but also more powerful aspects that are appealing about winter running.

Anyone who has ever run in the snow knows how quiet and serene a few inches of fresh snow can make everything feel. To me, running in fresh, un-tracked snow feels so much more gentle, relaxing, and nourishing than any other surface. Everything just seems to slow down and get quieter, and I think these changes are very beneficial for both our bodies and our minds. Another thing we get to do a lot more of in the winter is running in the dark. It’s easy to look at this as a reason to take time off in the winter, but much like running in the snow, I find running in the dark to be a very peaceful, quiet, and nourishing activity. Not to mention that running in the dark can be very beneficial if we have any plans to race 100-mile (or longer) races in which we will need to do a large chunk of nighttime running. If you’ve never been out on a run in snow on a cold, moonlit night when the snow is so cold that it crunches under your feet, you are missing out on one of the most satisfying things to encounter as a runner.

Beyond these aspects of running that I think come alive more in the winter than any other time of the year, you also have the opportunity for activities like snowshoeing and skiing that you just don’t have any other time of year. I know, it might sound like a stretch to say that winter is a great time to be a runner because it’s a great time to ski or snowshoe, but over time I have come to see less and less separation between running and any other human-powered outdoor activity. In the same way that I have come to think of going out in rugged mountains and pushing myself to travel quickly and efficiently over the land as ‘running’ (even if the terrain causes me to walk most of the time), I also think of going out in the snow on snowshoes or skis, in conditions in which those tools make travel much more efficient than traveling on feet, to simply be another form of running. This is to say that, if there is so much snow underfoot that strapping on a pair of snowshoes is the most effective way to move efficiently over the terrain, even if this means I’m walking the majority of the time, I still consider this to be running. It’s really not that much different than putting on a pair of racing flats and running 6:00 minute-miles for several miles of flat pavement. In both cases, I’m using the most efficient method available to travel quickly under my own, non-mechanized power in the conditions that I’m encountering.

As I’ve shifted to this mindset over time, running in the winter has become steadily more and more appealing to me.

Yes, the dark and cold winter months do in many ways make for a logical time to take a nice, extended break from running, but as I’ve noticed more and more of the subtle perks of winter running over the last several years, I’ve come to realize that the winter is also as good a time as any to ramp up my running.

This is certainly the mindset I am going into this winter with (as I have taken the past two months almost completely off), and I couldn’t be more excited than I am to get back to a more consistent practice of getting out several days a week and traveling over land under my own power. The snowshoes and skis are sitting next to the running shoes in the garage, and just as so many runners are winding down and moving into a nice break from their running, I’m keeping the fingers crossed for more snow and more cold.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way about winter running, am I? I would love to hear if any others might be looking forward to winter coming back around and bringing with it such an exciting time to be a runner?

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Geoff asks, we answer. Are you looking forward to winter running? If so, in what ways? Have you been on the skis and snowshoes, too?