No one needs to stop running because it is winter, and the early spring races and season marathons will mean a lot of training will get during the winter months.
For those looking to run the classic ultra trail races will still want to train in the mountins during their winter build up, afterall it is the mountain environments the attract us to these events as it is the scenery of these long routes through natural mountainous settings inspires us to cover the distance.
Although most runners have a deep affection for the mountain trails in summer, running them in winter means getting comfortable on even more challenging terrain and technical, slippery terrain with ice, snow, and mud.
A big challenge of winter running is being able to control and manage the temperature of your body and running in cold conditions because being over dressed means you get too hot and sweat, which means your clothing is soaked and being under dressed means you can get cold very quickly. With winter running up hill you can be sweating kike crazy, only to arrive on top to biting cold icy wind and be freezing cold to you core for the whole descent. Neither is particularly pleasant, and potential very dangerous if you are a log way out there on the trail.
Running in Snow
Snow has many different personalities depending on the type of snow you encounter, and it is ever changing. You can be running in one type of snow on the way out, and turn round and it has already changed. A runner, with their light shoes and limited equipment needs to be familiar with what they are running on and remain alert to temperatures and terrain changes.
Snow can be super light and powdery, heavy and wet, or hard-packed and solid ice and each of these snow types creates its own running technique and potential hazard.
Running in wintry weather means you can be enjoying skipping through light powder and tehn turn a corner and you are breaking though frozen crust or on rock-hard ice! These abrupt changes presents seriously dangerous situations.
Winter running and heading out in snow means protecting yourselves from the elements. Cold is not only unpleasant, but can also end in frostbite. To be properly protected means having full coverage from your feet on up to your head.
Wear technical materials and wool and definitely not cotton, as it will chill you when it gets soggy from sweat.
Dressing in layers is key. Technical materials and clothing are so thin and lightweight, there is no excuse for not carrying them along with you if you know you may be facing cold conditions.When you layer up mix items such as a long-sleeved shirt coupled with a vest or T-shirt that covers your core and gives unrestricted arm movement. Merino wool tops are great insulators ans as a natural fiber is a warm option that also works well in wicking away sweat as the temperature rises. Calf or arm sleeves, similar to what cyclist use, are a great option for added warmth and are easily removed. Other technical materials can save the need for multiple layers and having too many extra clothes to deal with as you warm up, but you need to experiment to find the right combinations of warmth, breathability and comfort.
A hat is an absolute must and keeps you from losing heat through your head. It needs to cover your ears, an area sensitive to frostbite.Gloves are also essential and need to be a practical choice to allow you to tie your shoe laces if necessary or get into zipped pockets. On really cold runs, mittens pool the warmth of your whole hand and are a better choice if you are concerned about or there is a risk of frostbite. You can also look at hybrid, convertible mitts, which provide the combination of the practicality of gloves with the warmth of a mitten.
Running in shorts, even on warm winter days is not really advisable as it is common to break through the crust of older snow scrapping and cutting your shins so running with thicker and higher socks and tights provide much-needed insulation on your ankles, where abrasion, exposure, and frostbite are common. Also, using your favorite toe type socks are a potentially hazardous choice in the winter cold as it is better to allow for the heat of grouped toes
Regular trail shoes and and technical, wicking socks are OK for running in dry, light snow, but in heavy, wet snow, Gore-Tex shoes will provide welcome and appreciated waterproof protection. However, be careful that a waterproof shoe will also trap water inside if you step in river or large puddle, which will be not only unpleasant but will also add weight and increase susceptibility to blisters.
Some outsole rubbers are better than others in snow and on ice, but generally you need is an aggressive tread as this helps not only grip but also with confidence needed for keeping you upright.
Running on Ice
To run on ice you need good technique which means being very focused and adapting your running stance to be wider with your hands as free as possible for better balance and by taking shorter, faster, and lighter strides. You need to be looking forward and anticipating your route, slowing your pace appropriately for the conditions. Running on ice can seem like running on eggs and trying not to break any.
The best solutions for confronting very hard and slippery icy conditions are screws you put into your outsoles of you running shoes or special spiked trail shoes, but unless you live somewhere where it is covered in hard snow and ice for long periods of time, then a more flexible solution is to use special light weight minimal crampons to bite into the ice.
Crampons can be quickly slid on over your shoe when conditions get particularly icey and then easily removed when you are on the softer or rockier trails. They are light, efficient, and pretty easy to carry.
Slip on crampons that are based on a spring system rather than spikes are OK for walking and hiking, but are not so effective for running because the spring can break with the extra impacts of running.
Running in Mud
Getting dirty is a part of trail running so we need to embrace it, but many runners are completely defeated by mud. Those that don't like mud and have no motivation for the stuff, lose their momentum and just slog through it which making their run miserable and never ending. Others, however, can run through it like kids playing in puddles and have a great time. Same conditions, different attitude.
Of course mud can be frustrating, but staying a positive attitude will get you through the course in better fashion and at a faster pace.
Roads are so predictable so that is a reason to love trails and the challenges they bring.
Thick mud is certainly a very particular challenge . It can pack to the soles of your shoes, adding what feels like a ton of weight significant loss of traction and grip, which in turn is tiring and can lead to muscle strains, cramps, and pull. The tackiness of the mud will cause you to stride differently and further exert your fatigued, electrolyte-depleted muscles so obviously your pace and stride slows and change in mud. Sometimes you can be on all fours on a muddy slope using your hands to get traction.
Trail running shoes better suited to mud have self-cleaning soles, making them more effective at shedding mud, however, some actually collect and hold mud more depending on the outsole pattern, the depth of the lugs or studs, and even the particular mud type. Certain clays will stick to any shoe, regardless of the sole type.
After encountering mud, try to knock, scrape and kick off as much mud as possible or wipe off what you can on a rock, smile and keep going. The end of run shower will be all the better for it. We loved getting dirty as kids, nothing to stop still loving it at any age.