It snowed. Can I still run outside? What should I wear? Should I keep the same running routes, routine and pace, or switch it up? Running season doesn't end at first snowfall, in fact, it opens a new door to conditioning.
As a new runner myself, these questions were flooding my brain at the first snowfall, so I did some research in order to soak up the winter moments on the gorgeous Central Oregon trails. After perusing Foot Zone downtown, asking questions, talking with some hardcore running friends and getting in on the winter running culture myself, I'm sharing some tips and tricks.
It starts with the gear
Having the right gear is essential for winter running, but it doesn't mean runners need to spend a bunch of money or go all out.
Shoes are the most important piece of gear for running in winter conditions. It's the only thing between the athlete and the ground, and there are many factors to consider—stability, comfort, tread and simply the fit.
Road shoes with limited traction aren't going to cut it for the slippery pavement, slushy sidewalks and snow-packed trails. Find a shoe with deep lugs — indentations in the rubber outsole of the shoes. The enhanced traction will prevent the newbie winter runner's worst nightmare — slipping and falling.
Some of the top-rated winter-running/trail shoes out there are the Brooks Divide 3, Merrell Moab Flight and Topo Athletic MTN Racer 2, according to "Runner's World." I've been running in Hoka Speedgoats this winter, and I haven't slipped yet. The best bet when it comes to shoes is to ask for help at a shoe store, describe the desired terrain and use and get fitted by an expert.
For runners on a budget, take a pair of old running shoes — ones that have seen better days or ones headed to the donation pile — and get studs screwed into the bottom. Either head into a running store or do it yourself!
"My must-haves are Dirty Girl Gaiters for keeping the snow out and a solid trail shoe with at least 3 mm of lugs on the outsole. I also use my headlamp a bit more often in the winter as the days are much shorter," said Max Chehab, a Bend runner who has hundreds of Central Oregon miles under his belt.
Now that shoes are taken care of, the rest is easier. Anne French, running coach and fit specialist at Foot Zone Bend, suggests winter runners get set up with, "At least one set of truly warm gear—wool or wool blend socks, fleece lined bottoms, warm base layer for your top (wool or synthetic blend), vest and a water-resistant shell layer." Oh, and mittens and a hat.
"Unless you're running in a snowstorm, you probably don't need to buy a bunch of warm layers," Chehab said. "If the sun is out, you can still catch me in shorts and no shirt."
Finding clothes that work might take some trial and error. For those who run cold, layer up to trap body heat in the air pockets between clothing pieces. One heavy layer won't keep you as warm as you think. Layering up will also allow runners to shed pieces of clothing as body temperature increases.
Personal note: don't skip out on the hat or gloves. Your ears and fingers will get cold in freezing temps without them, and it's not fun. If a hat is too confining (like it is for me), opt for a thermal running headband or buff that doesn't cover your whole head.
All set—now it's time to hit the trails!
You're bundled. You're stable. You're ready. With proper preparation and staying attentive to obstacles on the trail, the opportunities are endless. Just because it's winter doesn't mean you can't run the trails you love. The Deschutes River Trail serves as a versatile path for runners of all experience levels—with level-paved ground, steep trails and technical scenic routes.
Don't be discouraged if your times aren't as fast as they are during the warm weather months. Conditions can slow runners down, but it pays off and the views are to die for.
"Running in the snow forces activation of lesser-used muscles," Chehab said. "As a result, you'll naturally run slower, which is also helpful for building an aerobic base."
Chehab also shared the best time to run in the snow is during or right after snowfall, because the fresh snow tends to have better traction. Plus, running while it's snowing is a peaceful, breathtaking experience.
"It can be magical running through the snow..." French said. "This is also a great time to cross-train—skiing and snowshoeing are built around the season."
Cross-training is a huge part about staying in running shape. Varying workouts and spending a little less time on the running trails and a little more time on a pair of skis might keep one in better running shape than you think.
Love running but don't love the cold? Try something else!
Stay in running shape without braving the low temperatures and snowy trails with alternative workouts. Running will always be there when the snow melts in the spring.
French has two suggestions for fair weather runners: Embrace the treadmill and find a new fitness class/workout. It's the perfect time to catch up on TV shows, podcasts and movies on the to-watch list, she said.