Years ago my buddy Rich and I ran a 5 mile January race in Wisconsin aptly named the "S-NO-W Fun Run." We drove 100 miles on snowy roads for the early afternoon start near the shoreline of Lake Geneva. The air was crisp and cold. On the wooded hillsides tree boughs bent under the weight of the snow. The winding snow-banked lanes were salted for better traction. Runners pressing toward the finish were steaming in the low sunlight. We were warmed by the "schnapps stop" at the end of the run and enjoyed the camaraderie with other winter runners in the warm hotel ballroom where the awards ceremony was held.
I have similar memories of exceptional races and training runs in cold and snowy conditions. Just this past weekend I logged 13 miles on the trail with friends in spitting snow and then on Sunday 4.5 miles on snow-patched downtown streets in windy sun-lit cold.
When other runners tell me they will not run in the cold and the snow or at least don't want to, I tell them that they are missing great running. Lest I be considered crazy for my attitude, here are some benefits of winter running.
Over-heating, which is a concern in hot weather running, is not a winter running problem - unless, as I often see, the runner is over-dressed and does not shed layers while running.
Winter runs offer quiet, often even solitude, with fewer people outside. I savor winter runs when the only marks on the new fallen snow are my footprints, and bird and animal tracks. A favorite memory was a solo early morning trail run when I pushed around a wooded corner and came shoulder to shoulder with a big eight-point buck standing on the side of the trail. We both were steaming in the frosty air and eyed one another as I passed. (Did you know deer have bad breath?)
Being outside in the winter can present beautiful scenery which we miss when we are cooped up inside.
The focus of running in wintry conditions is one step at a time, just you and the elements. It strips away concerns about times and paces.
A winter runner is a committed runner. Completing a winter run in the cold or the snow offers a greater sense of accomplishment than completing the same run in the summer.
Continuing to run outdoors in the winter is the best way not to lose fitness and assure readiness for spring races. Too often I see runners in the spring "starting over" to rebuild fitness and race readiness.
Rest assured that I am not a Pollyanna about winter running. I have had my share of falls on ice (include a dramatic pirouette -"death fall" on a slippery downhill that won applause from my friends for form!). I have shivered, run with icicles trailing down my hat and neck gaiter, often massaged cold fingers inside my gloves to speed their warmup, and, in the worst -10 degrees very windy conditions, been dressed like the Michelin Man, which is not really conducive to fast running!
So, friends, while I highly commend continuing to run through the winter, of course I also urge you to be smart about it: Dress for the temperatures but don't overdress, cover up exposed skin when frostbite can be an issue and watch your footing on ice. Consider wearing Yak Traks or similar shoe covers that add traction. When it is glare ice outside - that's when to use the treadmill (which I try to avoid) or the indoor track (my preference).
And if you want to take your winter workouts to an even higher level when the snow is deep, try running in snow shoes or cross country skiing for a real calorie-burning, high heart-rate workout!