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TRAIL STOKE: Frigid Fun

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“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
― Alfred Wainwright, “A Coast to Coast Walk

It seems as if winter is in full swing this week in many places around the U.S. and Canada, even places that it typically wouldn’t be. (It’s been snowy and icy in parts of Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Mississippi and just about everywhere to the north, not to mention on top of the big volcanoes of the Big Island of Hawaii.)

Has frigid cold or excessive snow stopped you from hitting the trails? I sure hope not, because it’s only inspired me to get out with even more enthusiasm than I normally do. (And, yes, I realized it was minus 2  when I was getting dressed for my morning run, and I still went out for a 30-minute jaunt because I knew it would still a great way to start the day.)

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As a kid growing up in Chicago, I learned to love running in the snow and cold of winter, and that’s come in handy as an adult running in Colorado. What I learned in both places is that you have to be willing to embrace whatever the weather might bring or you won’t be running much from early December to late February.

Slippery surfaces, frosty wind in your face and wet, cold fingers and feet are the norm. But so, too, are the joys of getting out for a jaunt in a winter wonderland. All you can do is embrace it and enjoy it while it lasts. It partly reminds me of being a kid romping through the snow, but I also know that facing winter conditions head-on is empowering and gratifying and that putting in the extra effort the conditions require will pay dividends later on.

If you’re wondering if you should brave the wintry weather or skip it and stay inside where it’s warm and save your running for another day, my advice is always to lace ‘em up and go out. I have never returned from a winter run regretting that I went out.

If you’re wondering if you should brave the wintry weather or skip it and stay inside where it’s warm and save your running for another day, my advice is always to lace ‘em up and go out. I have never returned from a winter run regretting that I went out, even though, yes, I have endured some rough conditions and sometimes had to cut a few runs short. And while many winter runs are more about slogging through gray, slippery, sloppy slush than prancing through an idyllic snow globe scene with fluffy white powder, there’s always something magical about running in the snow and cold of winter.

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There is no such thing bad weather.

Once you’ve made the decision to head out for a run, it’s on you to dress appropriately. Take heed of Wainwright’s 1974 quote at that top of this column. As the godfather of the trails in the British Lake District, he knew a thing or two about inclement weather. Dress in layers (but definitely don’t overdress). Sunglasses with light lenses are a good choice because snowflakes can really sting your eyeballs! Just remember to always bring a hat, gloves and a good attitude.

If you’re not prepared, that’s on you.

Believe me, I’ve been there. One time in my early 20s, I ran a long loop on an exposed trail and I foolishly ran the final seven miles into the wind. It was about 10 degrees but probably minus 10 with the wind-chill factor. And wearing a thin pair of polypropylene tights didn’t keep me from inflicting a serious, frostbite-like sting to my junk. How cold was it? With three miles to go in that blustery cold weather, I stopped and took off a sock and stuffed it down there for added protection against the searing wind. Lesson learned.

Always take traction.

If you’re heading out for a run the day after a snowstorm, definitely wear (or at least carry) traction. That might mean shoes hex-head screws you drill into the outsoles of your shoes, a set of Kahtoola or Yaktrax traction devices or Icebug or Salomon shoes with spikes embedded in the outsoles. But always take something, because trying to cover a stretch of slick, iced-up section of trail with nothing but the soft rubber outsoles of your trail shoes can feel like—and make you look like—you’re running on marbles. (But, admittedly, it’s much more fun to fall in the snow than it is on a gravel or muddy trail.)

You’ll appreciate it next summer.

You wouldn’t likely skip a run in the summertime because of the weather, so why duck out in the winter? If you need motivation, remember that running in adverse weather in February will steel you up for your training and racing efforts in the spring and summer. If nothing else, when you’re sweating on an especially hot run in July, you can recall your mid-winter runs and wonder how you ever complained about the cold.

You can blow up your social feed.

I can’t believe I’m even writing this, but you’re bound to find a scene that you’ll be dying to share on Instagram. And there will be plenty of people who are bound to love it. No matter if you’re motivated by the vanity of what others think about you, if you’re interested in inspiring others or you just want to share some cool snaps, then this can be added encouragement for heading out the door.

Running through wintry weather can inspire you to run through all the rugged conditions and terrain you’re bound to find the rest of the year on the trails. And, trust me, when I tell you that running in snow beats running in rain, and any run outside always trumps time on a treadmill.

It’s just like trail running

Running in the snow is fun, even if it’s not always easy. When it’s really snowy, your front door essentially becomes a trailhead, given that the sloppy, snow-covered roads can feel like wild trails under your feet. Running through wintry weather can inspire you to run through all the rugged conditions and terrain you’re bound to find the rest of the year on the trails. And, trust me, when I tell you that running in snow beats running in rain, and any run outside always trumps time on a treadmill.

OK, bundle up and enjoy it while it lasts!

Brian Metzler was the founding editor of Trail Runner magazine and current serves as a contributing editor.