Why I Love Winter Running

I was thinking on my long run a couple days ago that, “you know what, I love running in the winter”.

Running in the winter in the upper-midwest, Wisconsin and Minnesota specifically, is not easy. The temperature can be cold, there’s barely any daylight, the footing can be treacherous due to snow and ice, and a tremendous amount of laundry can pile up.

But despite, and even because of, the challenges, running in the winter is great.

First, the challenge of overcoming the hardships gives winter running a hard-core aspect that gives you certain bragging rights. Casually drop a “I ran a half marathon yesterday” into polite conversation in early January and your colleagues will know you’re a bit different.

I web friend, Prime13, once mentioned “crazy points”. Basically when you run outside when the temperature is negative (Fahrenheit scale), you score crazy points equal to the temperature times miles (temp * miles).  So  my half marathon earlier this year that had -10 degree temperature would earn me -131 crazy points. Never found out what I could do with those points.

I do enjoy the bragging rights of not letting difficult weather stopping me–not surprising considering I named my blog, “Tundra Running”.

Another great benefit of winter running is that it is a different style of running, serving as a slight form of cross-training. I did today’s run, for example, on a unplowed bike trail. There were a few inches of snow in spots. Some of it was almost pristine, some was well-trampled, and some had been chewed up by snowmobile traffic. Each stride led to an effort to stabilize myself using core/ancillary muscles that normally would be dormant during smooth, regular stride that I normally would have on clear pavement.

And there is a variety of footing conditions that can lead to varying benefits. A deep, thick layer of snow leads to very slow, high resistance workout, great for building strength. Rough, irregular footing works the core as you stabilize on each stride. A thin layer of snow dampens the shock of stride and eases the pounding. My favorite, albeit rare, winter footing is a couple inches of snow that has a crunchy top layer, preferably snowmobile-packed, that almost, but not quite, supports you. It’s not fast but is an acoustic delight. Ice, especially camouflaged below a layer of snow, is the one surface I prefer to avoid, even in a pair of sheet metal screw shoes. Even if ice helps teach balance, it is still more dangerous than it is worth if you can avoid it.

Climbing, or “hurdling” snow banks, is another cross-training opportunity that you only get in the winter. And, even if the footing is clear, the additional gear you wear to protect from the cold acts as resistance to help build strength. In below-freezing temperatures, I can easily add 5 pounds of clothing.

Winter, with all of its challenges, helps build mental toughness, maybe even sisu

Winter is also a natural time to build base. What else are you to do when footing prevents you from doing significant spadework? During the winter, the focus shifts to getting time on feet in.

As a reward for toughing it out during the winter, you can be rewarded for some scenes that are unique to that time of year. Some of the most beautiful scenes I have seen after a heavy snow fall, or even ice storm, and the trees are heavy with snow or ice.

While reading is another favorite pastime, I have never gotten into poetry. But one of my favorite moments running of all time was pushing my young daughter in the Baby Jogger while we had these big huge snowflakes coming down and she was narrating our run in short, simple sentenaces. That felt like being alive inside a poem.

I am glad that winter does not last all year but it does have special qualities than makes it one of my favorite times of the year to be a runner.