Why you should run trails during winter
Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series about winter trail running. 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).
Winter time means it’s cold and snowy for a large portion of North America. Of course, there are geographical interpretations of what represents cold — perhaps 45 degrees in the southern United States is considered cold while someone in the northern Plains doesn’t feel chilled until the temperature reaches single digits, or lower.
In any case, running on trails during the winter is safer than road running in many ways. It can also serve runners well as they prepare for spring races, virtual or otherwise.
Here are five reasons to run trails during the winter months:
1. Better traction, fewer injuries: Paved surfaces are especially prone to icy (read: slippery) conditions. A few years ago, I sustained a heel injury when I unwisely wore trail shoes on a road run as an attempt to get better traction on the icy coating. It can be really tricky to find good footing on paved surfaces at times when melting snow freezes over, freezing rain comes down or cold temperatures turn precipitation into an icy nightmare. While trails may also have icy patches, trail shoes have better grips for securing the foot, thereby reducing the risk of falls and injuries. (Check out the unbiased shoe reviews by me and other runners on the RunningShoesGuru team.)
2. Other safety factors: The icy conditions also contribute to another key safety factor when it comes to roads: traffic. Sometimes icy sidewalks pose a difficult decision for runners. Do I continue on this icy sidewalk, full of risk, or do I venture out onto the road where the surface is likely better but traffic poses an even greater risk? In all my trail running, I have yet to see any vehicles larger than a bicycle and the humans at the controls of those have for the most part been accommodating to runners.
3. Great training benefits: Even if you have no intention to run a trail race, consistent runs on trails can boost your training and fitness. Running on trails uses different muscles, tendons and ligaments so you are strengthening your legs. Your speed will be reduced on trails but the impact on your overall fitness and running will be well worth it.
4. Enjoy nature: This serves as a great time to enjoy the run. Take in the scenery around you. And what better scenery than the stillness of nature? In my trail runs this winter, I’ve seen my share of deer, rabbits, squirrels and other animals. The most memorable was four herons all taking off from the side of a riverbank as I passed by. 5. Improve mental wellness: Experiencing nature is a great way to boost your own mental wellbeing. I’ve found that trail running, regardless of the season, is a great way to refocus the mind and find the calmness that we can all use during this extraordinary time in our nation’s history.
I appreciate you reading this and welcome your feedback, comments and questions. Look for the other installments in this series coming soon to RunSpirited.com.