— by Jasper Blake
If running on sketchy roads and icy sidewalks is your cup of tea, and you cannot bear the thought of spending hours on a treadmill, here are some fun considerations that will get you outside into the cold, fresh winter air. All of the suggestions listed below can serve as great options for endurance running in the winter. Duration and intensity are relatively easy to control and can fit into whatever timeframe you choose or is appropriate for you.
Running on cross-country ski trails is incredible if you have the green light from the club or organization. Sometimes it is frowned upon because it can destroy the cross-country ski tracks. However, if the weather is particularly cold and the trails are groomed, the path will often set up hard enough that your footprints will barely be noticed. Some cross-country skiing venues are more tolerant than others, so it’s always best to check beforehand to avoid ending up on the banned list. Traction can be an issue, so I highly recommended that you purchase a product like Yaktrax to enhance your experience. If you have the green light from the venue, then get busy running and exploring some new trails. Running on hard-packed and groomed snow is similar to running on a gravel road. It is softer and more forgiving than pavement, but consistent enough that you can roll along comfortably without too much disruption of pace and flow.
The Big Slog
Similar to hitting the cross-country ski trails, the downhill slopes also offer a fun opportunity for winter runs. Ski hills will often have a service road that meanders gently from the bottom of the hill to the top. In the winter months, this road serves as both groomer machine access, and an easy ski run for beginners. These service roads (cat tracks) are usually well maintained and groomed, offering an incredible opportunity for a long uphill slog. This suggestion comes with a significant warning: Be sure to check with the ski area to see if running up the service road is permissible. If you are cleared to run on it, you should make sure you wear appropriate lights and reflective gear, so you are highly visible. Cats or groomers are usually focused on the main runs during the evenings, but if they end up on the service road, this can be particularly dangerous. If you have the thumbs up then get busy getting vertical. Some traction device for your shoes is highly recommended for this option as well.
Don’t forget that trail running is accessible in the winter months even if you live somewhere with regular snowfall. Trails are often well frequented by hiking enthusiasts, people on snowshoes and dog walkers. This can leave them well packed and often quite firm. Some of my favourite trail runs take place in the winter months. Make no mistake: this type of running can be very challenging. Snow that has been packed down by people, dogs and snowshoes can be uneven and slippery. I’ve found this particularly good for the small muscles in the feet and ankles, as well as for proprioception in general, but you do need to be careful. Yaktrax, or a similar product, is just as advisable for this type of trail running as well.
Former Ironman Canada champion Jasper Blake is the head coach of B78 Coaching.