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Lake running: The runner’s winter adventure

The upside to winter running is laying down these watery routes that would be impossible in any other season. Story by Derrick Spafford.


Winter often gets a bad rap from Canadian runners who long for warm temperatures and firm running conditions. Many runners – both road and trail – feel trapped indoors during the winter months, but in fact Canadian runners are fortunate to have such a wide variety of conditions to train in.

A surface that many runners don’t consider as an option during the winter months is ice. Canada has an abundance of lakes, ponds and marshes that feature some of the most beautiful routes that you will find for running. A run on a well-frozen lake can be one of the most exhilarating runs you will ever have, and is a way to embrace the beauty and stillness of winter.

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If there’s no snow on the lake, but just ice, the most important thing to consider is traction. Harnessing your inner track runner, one option is to wear a pair of track or cross-country spikes. Spikes will give you tremendous traction, and what could be more fun than doing an interval workout on a frozen track in the middle of a lake?


There are many other traction devices available that are as good as or better than spikes and easily slip onto your shoes. You can also make a pair of screw shoes by screwing in a handful of sheet-metal screws into the outsole of your shoes (No. 8 half-inch, hex-head sheet-metal screws). The lip on the screw provides great grip on ice.

If there is a moderate amount of snow on the lake, one option to get a great lake run in is by following snowmobile trails. There are many well-organized snowmobile clubs across Canada that map out routes which cross lakes and are great to run on. Tap into their route-finding resources, and also enjoy the added safety precaution of using their updates on current ice conditions.

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If snow conditions are deep, you can still enjoy a wonderful lake run, but may have to strap on your running snowshoes to give you a little better flotation and traction in the more challenging conditions. Lakes are pancake f lat of course, but the effort will make it seem like you are running uphill the entire way, for a great workout.

Running lakes may get you a little farther out into the wilderness than a regular trail run. The animal tracks on lakes will be significantly more abundant than human footprints. Seeing deer, coyotes, foxes and wolves crossing lakes is not uncommon as they are more visible out in the open. Last winter at Frontenac Provincial Park, north of Kingston, Ont. I had the rare treat on one of my lake runs of seeing an entire pack of coyotes surrounding a recent deer kill.

Winter can give you a very different vantage point of your regular trail running routes as well. Instead of looking out from tree cover down to clear blue water, you are now in the middle of the frozen lake looking back up to the shoreline and seeing everything in reverse.

When you’re back from your run, be prepared to amaze your friends when you post your GPS data and they see that you’ve been running on water.

Favourite Lakes:

Land ’O Lakes Region, Ont.:
This region of eastern Ontario is a hotbed for snowmobiling, with many well established trails crossing lakes that are great for running.
Big Salmon Lake, Ont.:
This beautiful lake in the middle of Frontenac Provincial Park makes for a scenic loop with a wide variety of rock formations and forested shorelines.
Great Slave Lake, Yellowknife, N.W.T.:
Running on Great Slave Lake, including its famed Ice Road, is an experience not to be missed if you find yourself in Yellowknife during the winter months.


Know the Ice
The first rule of lake running is that you need to know how safe it is. When in doubt, stay off the ice. Checking the trail and lake conditions from the local snowmobile club is a good place to begin.
Overflow Water
Pooling overtop of ice can range from being an uncomfortable inconvenience to a severe danger. Gore-Tex trail shoes, waterproof socks or overshoes can help, but only if the water isn’t too deep. Overflow should always be avoided.
Depending on lake conditions, you may need a screw-in or slip-on traction device, running crampon or running snowshoes.
Common Sense
Following the basic rules of trail running is that much more vital in the winter when running lakes. Make sure to tell others your planned route and bringing extra gear for the conditions.