Snow Season Trail Running
My footfalls are measured but sloppy, uneven, and shorter than normal as I make my way up Grandeur Peak. Each step lands in a few inches of the eight percent density white gold that makes the Wasatch so special. It’s been snowing, but I don’t have time to enjoy the precip on skis. So I run.
On days like this I know I just have to get out of the house. Once outside, there begins a momentum that forces me forward, one bore of necessity to keep warm, to survive.
I’ve outfitted my shoes with sheet metal screws, to help with traction on the often packed down and icy trail. But the fresh powder today has left them obsolete, just extra weight. There are no tracks in the snow, and my run feels a bit like a secret. How is it I’m the first one up this mountain today? I wonder. The wind has died down, leaving the snow heavy on the tree branches. Everything around me is quite, peaceful, motionless. Like I’ve fallen out of my Subaru into Narnia.
Running in the bitter cold is invigorating, and there’s a thrill that comes from exercising in bad conditions. I can’t deny the smug feeling of satisfaction I get knowing that most runners are still tucked under their down comforter.
I warm up fast and wonder what all the fuss was about on the other side of my front door. Within 10 minutes I’ve stripped down to my t-shirt. My tights require constant attention, as they try to migrate off of hips. We’re both fighting gravity up the 8,299 foot summit on the outer edge of Salt Lake.
The summit view is both striking and sickening. There is a blanket of smog that covers my city from view. Everyone I know in town is swimming in the toxic pool. Inhaling those insidious particles. We have to fix this, I think. There is a linear relationship between pollution and mortality—this air is killing us.
Salt Lake City has some of the most easily accessible trails of any major city. And the outdoor community here takes full advantage of them. Pretty quickly after a fresh snow, the trails are packed down and runnable. No postholing to be done, no wallowing.
For those of us who choose to brave the inhospitable Salt Lake weather during the winter, the foothills provide a fantastic reprieve to the smog-filled valley and indoor gyms.
To run through the winter it’s helpful to first change your attitude. You must take what Mother Nature gives you each day and accept that you might have to alter your planned run or your planned intensity. Athletes who focus on running a certain minute per mile will find it frustrating to slip and slid their way around the trails. Instead, change your goal to simply be out for a certain amount of time, or to summit a certain peak on your lunch break. Release yourself from the pressures of training in the winter and just have fun.
You will need to outfit yourself with the proper attire to comfortably run through the winter. Long sleeves, a warm hat that breathes, and some light winter gloves work on most days. When the temps drop around freezing it’s a good idea to cover your knees. Tights become a necessity, or some sort of running pants.
When the trails are subject to the winter melt-freeze cycle they become variable day-to-day. They can be icy, snowy, or slushy. One of the ways runners combat the slick trails is to drill some sheet metal screws into the bottom of their shoes. This is the simplest, most effective way to happily run trails of variable conditions, and only takes a few minutes to set up. Visit sportsguidemag.com for a link to my video on how to do this correctly.
Even though you’ll have to leave the focus on pacing behind, this doesn’t mean you won’t make gains training through the winter. There are many benefits to less-structured running on trails when the temperatures drop. The aforementioned beauty of a snow-covered environment is one, but the variable terrain also gives your body a new stress to adapt to. Your climbing and stabilizing muscles will find a new purpose and become stronger through the process. By the summer you will have injury-proofed your body for harder training, or more volume.
If you’re new to winter trail running, a great route begins at Dry Creek Trailhead on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. Park at the Jewish Community Center by the University of Utah and go through the narrow gate by the power station then a quarter mile up until you reach the BST. You’ll find scenic views with moderate climbs in both directions, and you can run out and back as many or few miles as you like.
With a little effort and few key pieces of gear you can happily keep running through the coldest months in the Wasatch.