Make Winter Running Fun

by Liz Blair

Just like the importance of a good rest day, taking a break from intense training during winter is a great opportunity to slow down, reduce your mileage, and embrace the snow. But how do you ski all winter-long and maintain your base? It’s easy! All it takes is a little creativity and the right clothing to ensure your running legs are ready for Spring.

During the summer, I run upwards of 60-miles-a-week, but I struggle to log a sixth of that during the winter. Honestly, I’d rather be skiing. Fortunately, backcountry ski touring is an excellent way to stay in running shape. It utilizes the same leg muscles and really works your lungs. I’ve even incorporated backcountry skiing into my spring training regime.

If you’re not a big skier or snowboarder, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are great alternatives. The San Juans are best known for the boundless backcountry terrain, but we have several close-to-home Nordic options. Check out Vallecito and Purgatory for groomed classic and skate skiing trails, or even Hillcrest if the snow is good. Driving towards Mancos, both La Plata Canyon and Chicken Creek offer great terrain for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing terrain.

All that said, if you’re exploring terrain in the mountains, having an avalanche course under your belt is highly recommended. (Kling Mountain Guides, based in Backcountry Experience, offer courses throughout the winter.) It doesn’t matter if you’re on skis or not, avalanches do not discriminate - education is your best defense.

To maintain my base, I only need to run two to three days per week. If you can, a great way to incorporate running in the winter, is to jog to work. Because it’s cold out, you don’t need to worry about sweating and needing a shower - an issue for me during the Summer. If that’s not an option, find a running partner (dogs definitely count) to keep each other accountable and motivated.

During the winter, I’m also more inclined to find activities inside. While I don’t always make it to the gym during the summer, strength training twice a week in the winter helps me prevent injury and build strong leg muscles for skiing and eventually running and mountain biking in the Spring. The Durango Recreation Center offers a plethora of classes and a great selection of weight training and cardio machines. Find a few simple exercises for your legs, and maybe a couple for your upper body.

Once you’ve developed your winter exercise regime, you gotta get the gear. Perhaps I’m a little biased because I work at an outdoor shop, but having the right equipment and apparel makes exercising in cold weather tolerable, if not enjoyable. And it doesn’t need to be a huge investment! Let’s start from the bottom up.

For winter running, shoes with a beefier tread like La Sportiva’s Bushidos or the Salomon Speedcross are a great option and will help when running on slippery surfaces. Alternatively, Kahtoola NANOspikes (or similar) provide even more traction and can be used with most running shoes.

For the legs, a pair of warm running tights is all you need. There are varying degrees of warmth available. The Salomon Agile Softshell tight is on the warmer side, but still very versatile and could also be used for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.

For the upper body, any moisture wicking long-sleeve t-shirt, like a wool base layer, paired with a fleece or vest provides just the right amount of warmth. If it’s precipitating, throw on a lightweight outer shell to keep you warm and block the wind.

Accessories are arguably the most important piece for winter running, as they keep the extremities warm. A pair of merino wool, lightweight gloves work wonders and you can slip a shell over them for extra warmth. Don’t forget a headband or hat to keep your ears protected.

Finally, I top it all off with a stretchy neck gaiter. It’s surprising how much additional warmth it adds, while protecting your face from wind chill and doubling as a snot rag.

Overall, my winter running strategy comes down to one theme: variety. Incorporating more activities into your routine can keep you from getting burnout before running season even starts and help with injury prevention. In fact, it’s a great reminder to try a broader range of activities regularly, not just in the winter. 

*Running photos courtesy of Brandon Mathis, Adventure Pro Magazine
*Ski touring photo courtesy of Mike Remke