As hard as it is to believe, we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the start of COVID-19 in Canada. That means one year with no in-person racing and no group runs, and many of us have fallen into a running rut. We’ve been doing the same two or three routes that are close to our homes for the last 12 months with no goal races in sight and nothing to keep us motivated. If you do most of your running on the road, we have one suggestion for you to bust out of this monotony: take your run to the trails.
Does it seem like an odd suggestion to start trail running in the winter? Perhaps, but hear us out — it’s not as crazy as it sounds. As long as you prepare properly for the conditions, trail running in the winter can be a fun challenge that can reinvigorate your desire to get outside and run. You won’t run very fast, and you may not get as far as you normally would in better conditions, but being out on a trail, fully immersed in nature, will allow you to embrace the winter season in a way you never have before.
The other benefit to trail running this time of year is that you’re forced to focus on what you’re doing more than you would in the summer. When your attention is being monopolized by carefully navigating your way down a snow-covered hill, your mind is less likely to wander to the things that are stressing you out, giving you at least a few moments of solace.
Of course, an extra level of caution should be taken if you’re going to tackle the trails in the winter. When trails are covered in snow, it’s easy to miss a root or a rock that could be hiding just below the surface, and icy patches could be the perfect recipe for a sprained ankle or a fall. It also gets dark much quicker this time of year, so unless you’re able to get out earlier in the day, you’re better off leaving the trail running for the weekend when you can run in full sun. If you’re hitting the trails in the winter for the first time, follow these tips:
- Start small: it can be easy to get lost in the trails, so if you’re unfamiliar with the trails in your area, start off with a shorter run that gives you less opportunity to get turned around. It’s one thing to get lost during the warm weather, it’s another to accidentally extend your run by another five to 10 kilometres when it’s below freezing and the sun’s going down.
- Play it safe: to piggyback off that last tip, if it’s your first time out in the trails, you’re better off choosing paths that are more well-traveled. That way, if you run into issues, you’re more likely to come across someone who can help. Plus, the more popular trails tend to be a little easier, making them a great place to start for beginners. You can tackle the more technical trails when you can run with your trail-savvy running friend again.
- Get geared up: your regular running shoes may be great for the roads, but they won’t do much for you when you’re picking your way up and down snow-covered hills. Trail shoes have deeper treads to give you more traction, and often offer more ankle support to help you avoid a sprain when you inevitably step on a hidden root.
- Bring a bag: layering is important for any runner in the winter, but when you hit the trails it doesn’t hurt to have an extra shirt or two on hand, plus a snack and some water in case you get lost and you end up out there longer than expected.
- Tell a friend: before you head out for your run, tell someone where you’re going and approximately how long you think you’ll be. That way, if something does happen, there’s at least one person who knows to go looking for you.
- Embrace the challenge: like we said, you’re not going to run very fast out there, and there will be times when you feel less like you’re running and more like you’re hiking, but enjoy it for what it is — remember you’re out there for a change of pace, not to break any records.