7 Reasons You Should Run (and trail run at that) in the Winter

Why should you go running, especially trail running, in the winter?

1. Because you get to see things like this:

Clockwise from upper left: opsrey nest, mink tracks, otter slide, little bird tracks

Clockwise from upper left: opsrey nest, mink tracks, otter slide, little bird tracks

Winter is when it’s relatively easy to see signs of all the animals we share the world with. Tracks that are invisible when the forest floor is covered with leaves and pine needles become clear in the snow, and you will see just how abundant animal life is in the wild places around you. Winter is also when the deciduous leaves have fallen and the air is dry, and the views and sunsets can be spectacular.

End of the day run, Witherle Woods, Castine Maine, overlooking Penobscot Bay.

End of the day run, Witherle Woods, Castine Maine, overlooking Penobscot Bay.

2. Because it makes you, in the words of Walt Abbott**, tough. And a lot of toughness is simply mental. That is the real secret. So much of running in the winter is just about mustering up the mental reserves to get out the door. Once you are out, life is good. (And by the way, trail running in the cold makes you even tougher.)

3. Because your body changes its fat metabolizing physiology, for the better, in cold weather. A new study shows that in the cold the body readily converts white fat cells to brown fat cells, which help heat us without shivering. This is a bonus for all body types. If you are a bit on the heavier side, it means that running in the cold is a great way trick your body into burning through some of your stores of body fat; if you are lean, it just means you have to eat more fat (and who doesn’t like that?).

4. Because when you get used to running when the temperature is zero, the next run you take when its 30 degrees will make you feel like the champion of the world. I am amazed every year, how quickly my body acclimatizes when the temperature drops. The more you make yourself go out in the cold, the faster it will happen (in my personal experience). That feeling of incredible ease when the weather starts to warm is worth every below zero, wind in the face, winter run.

5. Because if there is no snow on the ground, isn’t going for a trail run a better idea than sitting around your house complaining that there is no snow? And if there is snow, then you can go Nordic skiing, and you have nothing to complain about anyway. Being both a Nordic skier and a trail runner is a win-win situation. You always have options.

6. Because just like in snowmobiling (wait–Did I just write that?), there are places you can run when they are frozen, that you can’t run when it’s warm out. Like swamps, marshes, lakes, streams etc…When its cold the ground is frozen solid, and if you are like me and aren’t actually all that excited to run through mud, this is a good thing.

chipmunk

This chipmunk is likely sound asleep in a huge underground burrow in my rock garden, lying next to a pile of sunflower seeds it collected from the ground beneath my bird feeder all last fall.

7. Because we are not bears. Or chipmunks. Or skunks. Or ground hogs. All of these animals have evolved to wait out winter, living off their body fat stores or small supplies of stored food they sleep with. As much as we want to stay in our hidey holes all winter, we are not actually evolved to do that. We are supposed to be active year round, and in fact, it does us good to be out.

I am all for respecting the seasons and slowing down a bit in winter, clearing the calendar and getting lots of sleep. But, winter in Maine is just too long, you are not going to win that staring contest. Playing that game is going to take a toll on you, year after year, and life is so much better if you try to make the best of it and find a way to enjoy being outside. Like I said in reason number one, you can see things in winter that you won’t see other times of the year. And they are things worth seeing. If nothing else, you owe it to yourself to get out and see them.

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**Walt Abbott is the legendary former UMaine Football coach and a professor emeritus of Physical Education. My husband once heard him say, during a UMaine football game telecast, “That guy is tough as a burnt owl!” The other announcer replied incredulously “A burnt owl Walt?” to which Walt said “Yeah, that’s tough”. So not only does running in the winter make you tough, it could make you as tough as a burnt owl.

Post script: Hopefully I’ve convinced you why you should get out and move in the winter. If you still need some encouragement, my friend Charlotte (ultrarunner athlete extraordinaire) wrote a nice piece on how to run in the cold, check it out if you need more details…

Sarah O'Malley

About Sarah O'Malley

Sarah is a science educator, naturalist, writer, tide pool fanatic and burgeoning obsessive trail runner. From personal experience she believes strongly in the restorative power of contact with nature, especially experiences that make your heart beat a little faster or get your hands and feet dirty. She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula with her husband and two dogs.