The Frozen Sasquatch and Why I Love Winter Running

It was cold and snow was falling, the beginning of a winter storm, and it was dark. Snowy trail runs are especially quiet and peaceful and appealing to me, something I've learned to love.

The Sasquatch

A couple of weeks ago I finished my 5th Frozen Sasquatch 25k Trail Run in West Virginia, earning my "Golden Sasquatch." Three of these five years saw temperatures in the teens or below at the race start, with this year dipping to 10 degrees. The race is one of my favorites of the year and one I’d hate to miss.

Why I Love Winter Running

On my run this morning I started thinking about why I love winter running. This morning was truly a winter run; it was cold and snow was falling, the beginning of a winter storm, and it was dark. I could see just a few yards of snowy trail in front of me as the falling snow reflected the light from my headlamp and limited the visibility. Snowy trail runs are especially quiet and peaceful and appealing to me. I guess it’s something I've learned to love, but I also think there are a few things that make it work for me:

6 Tips for Loving Your Winter Run

It’s easy to run easy… Aerobic (easy) running is what you’re supposed to be doing in the winter so run easy. Relax and run how you feel, knowing that your body is getting a ton of benefit from it. The benefits of aerobic running are plentiful and include increased fat burning, building mitochondria (little power plants in your body), increased endurance, and building strength. Your body prefers this type of training and it flourishes when it’s done consistently. This is also called "base building" and it’s great for you.

I’ve learned to dress for it…. After years of collecting gear I have my winter running combos down to a science and know what to wear for a variety of conditions. This has come with trial and error and buying different clothes from hats and gloves to tops and pants that are on sale. I’ve found what works well for me and it makes my runs more enjoyable rather than freezing or sweating to death. Here are two basic principles to remember: 1) Keep your head and hands warm and you’ll be comfy. 2) Resist the temptation to overdress. You want to be a little cool at the start because you’ll warm up quickly.

I feel like a champ… When it’s cold and dark and most everyone else is cocooned in their beds I get some satisfaction. Even when cars drive by - and I know they’re looking at me like I’m crazy - I imagine that in some strange way they might be little envious of me. And they should be…. Winter running builds mental and physical toughness knowing you can withstand and even embrace tough conditions.

I’m reminded of good form…. I teach and coach natural running, enabling your body to run the way it’s made - balanced, controlled, and efficient. Running on snow and ice naturally eliminates overstriding, making your stride shorter, quicker, and draws your feet underneath your hips where they should be. You’re efficient and less likely to get injured when you run that way. The first time you hit a patch of ice heel first you’ll be on the soft, fleshy part of your anatomy in an instant.

I follow a routine because getting out the door is the hardest part… 1) Check the forecast and lay out my clothes the night before. 2) Rise early and dress in my running clothes immediately, 3) Drink a cup of coffee while I read my Bible and 4) Hit the door and start running without question. I will not run after work. I will not run at lunch. I will run now. Remember, you’ll never finish a run and say, “I wish I hadn’t done that.”

I put a spring race on the calendar to have a goal and stay motivated...  Going dormant over the winter eradicates all of your hard earned fitness. Sure, you might gain it back quickly if you’re an experienced runner but why even flirt with going back to ground zero? You cannot be at peak fitness year round but you can maintain a good base over the winter. I'm often asked by friends whom I haven’t seen in a while, “are you still running?” My answer is almost always the same, “Yes, it’s too painful to start all over.”

Winter running is a state of mind. Tell yourself that you hate it and you will. Tell yourself that you will learn to love it and you will. Run easy, run consistent, run without compromise and learn to love winter running.

Matt Young

Matt Young is a Road Runner Club of America Certified Running Coach and owner of WV Run Coach. He is also the founder of the Genesis 5K Training Program. Matt's goal is to equip each runner with the knowledge and skills to take ownership of their own running career and success.