In a country where the snow starts flying in October, loving the long, cold run is a critical part of an ultra runners success. Learning how to winter run can be challenging. In 2017, I scored a slot in the Arctic Ultra, the White Mountains 100. This meant my critical training months were November through February! YIKES. Having barely run in the winter, it was a steep learning curve for me.
Here are a few things I learned through trial and error in hopes that you don't have to! As always, we hope that you'll share your journey with us and others that are training for #steepultra!
1. Clothes/ Footwear
3. Long Run's
Dressing properly and having solid footwear can really change your mind about how fun winter running is. What to wear depends on the day, the length of route, and how fast you expect to be moving. Here are a few general principles that I use, but they an be summed up pretty well in one word: Layering!
Bottom: Winter running tights will be your best friend. They are simply running tights with a fleece lining inside. On really cold days, putting a wool base layer beneath them is a game changer. If I'm doing a long run on a really cold or windy day, I typically pack light a Gortex soft shell pants (they pack up to be the size of an apple). I rarely break them out but if you get hurt or super tired and slow down, they could be essential. I'd recommend them if you're adventuring long distances out of town. (Locations you can buy these things: Cycle Solutions in CB, The Outfitters, SJ. If your on a tight budget even Costco has winter tights, they aren't quite as comfortable, but still functional.)
Top: I start with a wool base layer, long sleeve. Wool is warm when wet, and generally more isolating than polyester shirts. Some run with a "wicking" layer beneath a wool layer (a thin polyester shirt). Really just no cotton, ever.. ever. On a "warm" winter day, i'll only throw a light wind breaking layer on top, and as it gets colder I move into a soft shell slightly thicker coat set up. When its super winter I have a "half puffy" its small, light down vest with wool arms, it breathes super well, and has a wind resistant front and open back (its really a magic jacket). Again, its about layering, and testing out your layers on short runs. Start with the base layer and a jacket in November and you'll eventually realize when its too cold to only wear that.
Feet: Look for something with a heavy tread or deep lugs, I've found that it helps wonders in icey conditions. Further, I'm typically not a fan of gortex running shoes, except in the winter. The gortex seems to work super well to keep melting snow out. Use running gaiters to keep snow out from the top, and you're in business. There are a lot of shoe brands out there that can meet these needs, If you have a brand that fits your foot well, look for a model they make with these specifics!
Other: Cover your ears in someway, I like Buffs or wool headbands, if its really cold, I break out the hat. I usually carry a buff for my neck/face in case its windy, which in Newfoundland, it always is.
Cover your hands, I use light wind proof gloves that have with a thin fleece lining in them. If its really cold, I have hardshell mittens that I bring as well (those also come on long runs).
(Warm winter running off of Lady Slipper Road, Corner Brook)
Routes/ Where to run (Trails)
If you're a trail runner, you probably like running on trails. If you're new to trail running, its not a bad idea to try using "in-town" trails such as the Ginger Route or The Corner Brook Stream Trail in Corner Brook, or Trails like Qudi Vidi Lake, if you're in St.John's. Even in Winter, these trails often get enough foot traffic to be runnable with a decent tread on your shoes.
If you're a more advanced trail runner, the whole world opens up in the winter. Bogs are fair game, ponds become a short cut, and the world just looks so much more beautiful.
Mapping out runs on skidoo trails can be excellent for a few reasons. The trails are usually packed down, so running is more economical than in deep snow. Snowmobile trails are seemingly ENDLESS in Newfoundland, meaning that mapping out a point to point or looped long run is easy. Even week night runs are easier, you don't need to worry about snow banks or cars. Wearing reflective gear and a headlamp makes sure snowmobilers can see you, its usually pretty easy to be out of their way.
If you're not familiar with snowmobile trails in your area, you can use online mapping programs like Google Earth, or books and programs such as "Backroad Mapbooks" (They sell them at Coles Bookstore and lots of Irving Gas Stations). When first getting into more adventurous styles of running, bring a friend, plan it together and you'll have greater success! Always plan ahead, tell someone where you're going and record your route in some way, so that if you get lost, you are self sufficient.
Below is a photo of what I carry on some of my really long training runs or "fast packing trips", this is honestly pretty similar to what I carry on winter long runs in general. I might carry less food, depending on where that run is going, and its distance. The adventure part of the winter long run is the most incredible part. The amount of land you can cover in a day can be so rewarding! My typical routes were often parts of the STEEP Ultra course, or when I had more time, the Goose Arm Hills and Long Range Mountains. Western Newfoundland has so many mountains that have great routes for Long Runs in the winter!
Winter distance running needs an extra element of safety to it, especially if you're going remotely. Any run out of cell phone service, means bringing enough gear that I could spend the night if I had to. If you're running alone or out of a service are I would especially recommend being prepared for the worst.
There are alot of ways to do things, and really my biggest piece of advice is to get out there and try out different systems. I hope this gives some guidance, and keeps you happy, healthy and avoiding a few winter running mishaps!