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.

January, 2018

January went decent. Another 100+ miles with some help from Treadwell. That’s six month in a row hitting triple digit mileage. Ran almost 1,100 mil s in last 12 months. That should increase significantly during February because Feb. 2017 was a very low month for me, had a month-long cough that I tried to solve by resting.

Survived first race of the year.

Running on treadmill does seem to stress body differently, not sure Shawn I’m doing different but the nail on the middle toe on one foot has gone black. Usually it’s the second toes that that happens too.

2017 Wrap-up.

I finished 2017 with about 105 Miles in December, for a total around 1,075 for the year. Not great but not horrible. I missed most of February with a chest cold and a few weeks in the summer with a hamstring injury.

Raced only twice, the Green Bay half marathon in May and Bjorklund half marathon in June. Green Bay Wars awesome, went in without any high expectations and just ran. Enjoyed myself a lot, especially running snide Lambeau Field.

Unfortunately, sometime after that, I strained my hamstring. I was recovered enough to start Bjorklund but ended up re-straining it and limped into the finish.

The injury and a job change–new employer does not have a shower on site–negatively impacted my summer training. By the time I was fully healthy, I decided to run everyday in August, that helped kickstart things and I finished the year with five consecutive 100+ mile months with the aid of my new-to-me treadmill.

The other training stats I want to mention is that I time trialed a 5:59 mile in September, had 41 training runs of 10 miles, 29 of those were at least 13.1.

A reasonable year, I am positioned to build on that and have a very good 2018 if I work. I still have about 10 pounds I should lose if I want my race times to really improve but that should come if I put in the time.

November, 2017

Since I am three weeks late with this, I will keep it super short.

Squeaked through with 100.4 miles, making that my fourth consecutive 100+ mile month. After lazying out of my final long run of the month, I had to do doubles on the final two days to hit the goal.

That was made easier by this recent purchase.

A used, NordicTrack Elite (wow!) 5700 off of Craigslist. Never liked treadmills but decided, mostly because of scheduling issues, that it was time to go back to the dark side. Having an option available 24-7 seemed like a necessary evil if I wanted to avoid slacking off this winter.

More to come about how we’re getting along.

October, 2017

I slid through October with moderate results, squeaking in 100.2 miles to increase my streak of 100+ mile months to 3. Summer 2014 was the last time I had accomplished that so that says something about my recent quesi-consistency (or maybe more about my overall lack of consistency).

September-October are my favorite months to run, I think. Summer breaks and we start having cooler mornings but still have some daylight. It’s just more comfortable for running. Also reminds me of cross-country, my true running love. I first started “running” running my freshman year of high school and while I stunk, we had a great coach who preached inclusion and teamwork so I never got overly discouraged. I hit a growth spurt a couple years later and got a little better and even though I’ve never been great, I am still running many years later. Anyhow, autumn just smells of running to me.

I did get in my first snow run of the season. After work one evening, there was some build-up of snow on the trees but the ground was clear so run through an odd scene where the tree canopy over the trail was white up high but a lot of the lower vegetation green was still showing. Didn’t have a camera with so I did not get a photo of it.

I started out the month registering for the Bjorklund Half Marathon in June, 2018. This is run at the same time as Grandma’s Marathon.This will mark my 4 year in a row that I’ll run it.I ran the full in 2012 but ran neither in 2013 because I injured myself on my last long run of the training cycle. I had planned on doing the full and was in pretty good shape.

Plan for November is to keep sneaking in some miles–going to have to suck it up and run in the dark. I have started to occasionally look at treadmills because it would simplify the logistics so much. Could get my shorter runs in that way without too much tedium.


September, 2017

As predicted, my September training was much spottier than in August. My wife (teacher) and children went back to school so my schedule lost a lot of flexibility. And due to he tilt of the planet, we lost a lot of daylight–by the end of the month, my morning runs end before sunrise which helps decrease my motivation.

But I still got in over a hundred miles, first back-to-back 100-mile months in a few years. That explains my mediocre performances as of late.

I did start to include some of this

in my runs to prepare for a time-trial. Mostly semi-structured, on the trails, not-quite-intervals but not fartleks sessions.

One thing I learned, after running slow, easy, and basically pain-free in August, is that even a small amount of speed/hills, brought back some of the nagging aches and pains. Achilles, calves, and hamstring all whispering “ouch”. I still have some ability to shuffle faster but body doesn’t rebound nearly as fast as 20 years ago.

And as far as my faster shuffling, I had the opportunity to visit my old college track and get in the time trial I was training for.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. My last mile TT was a few years ago and I ran about 6:00. I was fearing that I would be quite a bit slower. But after going out the typical too fast, I squeaked by with a slight sub-6:00 mile. I did use the hidden mile start line so I ran a full 1609 meters.

Considering the amount speed work I have not done the last decade, I am only moderately disappointed in my performance. But it also leaves me with some mild optimism–the first 809 meters were in 2:54 so, with some specific training, I think a 5:45 is a reasonable goal. Still clinging to the idea that I could train to do a sub 5:30 in a race.

But unless I am going to join a gym with an indoor track (no plans to do so), that will probably have to wait until spring as soon the footing and temperature won’t make running fast on the tundra very practical or safe.

The nagging aches are reminding me that I need to do more strength work. That has been something I know I should be doing but have neglected.

Moving forward, I still think I’m running some half this fall even if I have not registered for run. I have been knocking off my weekly long runs of 13.1+ so the distance is not a problem. But mostly bunkering in and planning on doing a lot of LSD in the near term.

September Goal: Time-Trial Sub-6:00 Mile

Since I’m not currently bound to any specific race goals right now, I can willy-nilly re-focus my training as I please.

My biggest running regret of all time was not running cross country in college. But beyond that, I wish I had ran a sub-5:00 mile. My high school PR was around 5:16 on what I later realized was rather minimal training.

Five years later, I got into the best shape of my life but didn’t race much. I only have a 5k Win! of 18:40 and a flat, fast 5 mile in 29:58 to show from that period. Pretty sure I could have gone sub-5:00 at that time.

But I never did.

Now, too many years later, I’m curious how fast I could do a mile. Part of me still believes (hopes!) I could still train for a sub-5:00 but I intellectually I know that’s probably no longer possible. But for awhile I’ve wondered what I could do if I really focused on it for a period of time.

A month isn’t really that long but I figure if I did a few workouts, maybe 1 a week, that helped prepare me for a time trial, that would give me a reasonable idea of what might be possible.

Just going off memory, I think I last really time-trailed a mile it was a 6:00 effort around 2012. I think the fastest mile I’ve run in the last twelve months was about a 6:20 as part of a 20:0x 5k (might have been short) right around a year ago. So I think a 6:00-6:20 time trial seems reasonable at the next of the month.

I’ll roll in some workbouts into a few of my runs this month with the goal of preparing for the time trial. Just enough so that the faster pace is not completely foreign to the body. I’ll mostly continue running easy, building base.

On this morning’s run, I included some reps to get the legs used to running faster. I did three or four pick-ups where I ran faster until my heart rate monitor signaled I was above 150 then counted 10 strides and checked my Garmin to see what pace I was at and then shut it down and recovered.

I also included two longer reps with the goal of running sub 6:00 for the distance. I did about a 200 at 5:08 pace (according to Garmin) and just over a quarter at 5:45 pace. Those actually were easier than I thought they would be. Hard but not all-out.

I plan to include similar work in my Tues/Thurs runs as long as I’m feeling good. I’ll extend the timed portions.

August, 2017

I don’t remember how I came up with the idea to run every day in August but I did it. Finished with 161.2 miles in 31 runs. My highest monthly mileage since September, 2012.

Because my goal was to run every day, I made sure to run easy. Other than one long, hilly run and a few tempo miles, I was fairly strict about keeping my heart rate at 150 or lower. The amazing thing is–most of my aches and pain have gone away. I was nursing a hamstring at the beginning of the month and I felt it on one early run but it feels fine. Even my Achilles feel decent in the morning. I’ve never run this much and felt this good.

I have had to throw a couple of faster bouts in just to keep my sanity but overall the easy miles treated me well.

I plan on ending the streak soon–with summer just about over, my schedule changes and I lose some of the flexibility (and daylight) to run at my convenience. Although I hope to build off of this streak. Instead of doing 1 long run, 2 hour runs, and 4 easy, short runs, I’m going to try to do 1 long, 2 hour runs, and maybe two easy, but slightly longer (about 3-4 miles) runs. I’ll lose some of my mileage but the extra two off days will be good for recovery & give me some needed scheduling flexibility.

Some of the things I learned were:

  • Even at my ripe old age, I can still run every day if I take it easy.
  • It is so nice to have a shower at work. I had one at my previous job but do not have one with my current employer so I’ve been the stinky, what smells like bay wipes? guy. Luckily I’m a nerd in a cube that doesn’t interact a lot with other flesh & blood people.
  • The extended summer daylight hours are the bomb.
  • I feel like I need to do some strength work after all these slow miles.
  • Carry TP on early morning runs and plan to run either in close proximity of port-a-potties or secluded spots.