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The benefits of winter trail running

Editor’s note: This is the final installment of my four-part series about winter trail running.

In the first post in the winter trail running series, I covered the “why” and the second post highlights a half-dozen tips for running on the trail. The third installment addressed trail shoes for winter running.

This spring I celebrate my 10th anniversary as a runner. In that time I have learned so much about running itself, training, nutrition and more. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I have learned is the value of consistency.

By following a consistent training program, runners improve, decrease their risk of injuries and don’t have to start again from zero. Of course, time off after a big training block, “A” race or to recover from a physical injury or take a mental break are all valid reasons for a break from training. The consistency I am referring to — and encourage my athletes to pursue — relates more to year-round training with built-in down time.

That means training throughout the winter, too.

The keys to success

Where I live, there are signs that spring is just ahead. February was brutal. Subzero mornings. Weeks on end when the temperature didn’t crest 20. A couple of snowstorms that led to tricky footing.

Those conditions are tough but they are key to successful spring races.

Did you know that the cold not only forces runners to put on layer after layer but it also impacts our muscles? Colder temperatures cause muscles to contract less forcefully, meaning they will be less efficient.

Consistent runners will attest that they are not able to run as fast in the cold. And that’s OK because the training – especially at consistent, mostly easy efforts — will pay off when the temperatures rise and races resume.

I’ve already seen that in two of my athletes who set PRs in recent races, a 10K and a 50K.

Focus on easy efforts

Specifically for trail runners, winter adventures help them slow down and navigate their steps around or through ice, snow and mud. When running trails in winter, remember it’s not about time, pace or miles necessarily, it’s about effort. Keep most efforts easy, mix in some speedwork at appropriate times. (Check out unbiased reviews of trail running shoes from

Additionally, winter is an excellent time to work on other key areas.

Implement cross-training to build strength, especially in the core. Twice-weekly core workouts and regular strength work are ideal. Some athletes prefer dedicated body-weight or more traditional weight-lifting sessions while others (like me) prefer regular pushups mixed in with some complementary reps throughout the week.

Whatever approach you or your coach choose, it should help keep your muscles strong and ready for spring races, fastest known time attempts or other adventures.

And last but certainly not least, don’t underestimate the mental edge you receive from consistent winter training. After waking up hours before dawn, heading to a trail with a mix of snow, ice and or mud and completing workouts will set you up to succeed in whatever your goals are for spring and beyond.

You’ve done the work, endured the chill and improved your fitness. As spring beckons, it’s time to put all that amazing fitness to work. Now go get it!

I appreciate you reading this and other installments in this series! Last year, I also did a four-part series on the basics of trail running (here’s part four, which links back to the previous three in that series).


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