Making songs • Telluride Magazine

Maintain a running regimen in winter.

By Sarah Lavender Smith

There happened a day in January 2019 where I wondered if maybe I had pushed this winter race too far. My eyelashes froze in icy triangles and my lips went numb as they touched the icy crust of the fabric wrapped around my neck. The frost settled like old man’s mustaches on my cheeks. My icy fingers could barely grab the zipper of the jacket.

An increasingly fierce snowstorm had blown as I raced down Alta Lakes Road, and my eyes strained to follow the snowmobile tracks through the swirling snowflakes. I jogged slowly and took breaks from hiking in ankle-deep powder for the steep three miles, then jogged the three miles quickly on the way back down, four times.

Under my diapers, the muscles and organs that worked in my legs and chest generated heat like a furnace that kept my heart and lower body warm enough to function smoothly. After working hard to the base of the Alta Lakes, at about 11,000 feet above sea level, I flew down the road, recognizing that the metal spikes on my shoes were preventing slipping on the ice. I felt dizzy from a runner’s high on this stretch through the forest, which I had all to myself.

I had signed up for a fixed-time ultramarathon in Utah, on a snow-capped mountain with a 3,000-foot climb (the person who climbs the most in a twelve-hour period wins), so I needed to ‘Record long training runs like this twenty-four miles in the dead of winter.

My husband and other reasonable people our age (around 50) would ski across this mountain, perhaps waiting for the storm to end at Alpino Vino. Other friends would do skate-ski loops on the Valley Floor Nordic trails or sweat indoors at the gym.

I tried to be nice and embrace winter sports when we moved to Telluride all year in 2019. I lived there part time my whole life but only knew the area for a while summer and fall. As a Californian, I wasn’t sure how to deal with winter. I figured I needed to take a break from running and hiking during the months when snow covered my favorite trails.

So I invested in downhill skis, Nordic skis and light snowshoes for snowshoe racing. I have tried them all, with mixed success and a “meh” reaction.

I am a runner and I train other runners for a living. I’m addicted to the sound and rhythm of my breathing and footsteps during a run, and the burning of energy as my legs gallop across the ground. So I decided not to let snow interrupt my running routine. I would adapt.

I trained well enough that winter to win the 12-hour ultra on that snow-capped Utah mountain, and over the following winter in 2020, I ran enough to run and land a podium in from a 100 mile ultra to Arizona in January. I also formed a winter running group to train several local women to prepare for a trail run in Moab this past March.

Although we avoided the whiteout conditions, our training group raced even when it was snowing so hard that visibility reduced to gray fog and a thick powder coating on the cleared road. “I have never done anything like this! One of the women shouted and laughed as we ran down Fall Creek Road to Woods Lake in a stormy eighteen mile training run last winter. Back in our cars, our bodies were smoking with heat and we were beaming.

Many runners I know act like they’re allergic to snow, believing they’re limited to a treadmill during the snowy months. To free them and you from the “scare mat,” allow me to share some winter running tips.

The truth is, you have to say to your favorite trails, “Goodbye, at the end of May” when several feet of snow blankets the area. Running is practically impossible when deep snow reduces your steps in post-drilling, and it is risky due to the danger of avalanche and difficulty in navigation.

But, you can record high quality tracks on packed snow on many cleared dirt roads around the area. My favorite routes for running in snowy or icy conditions are: Last Dollar, Mill Creek, Ilium, Sunshine Mesa, Ophir (between freeway and town, not mountain pass), Silver Pick, and Fall Creek. For an extra long run I sometimes head to Ridgway and take County Roads 23 and 17 out and back to Ouray, extending the route onto Camp Bird Road for extra mileage.

These trails on calm, gently rolling county roads are almost as satisfying as rough mountain roads in summer, if you prepare properly. To stay safe and relatively comfortable, follow these tips:

Get grip. Slipping on ice is one of the biggest risks in winter racing. Investing in a device that attaches to your shoes is a simple and effective way to avoid slipping. My favorite is the Kahtoola EXOspikes because they are light and their spikes are minimal enough that you can run with them on patches without slush. Yaktrax also specializes in traction devices, and their Run model is designed for running on packed snow.

Dress in layers. Remember, if you are comfortable when you start your run, you will be too hot in about a mile, so don’t overdress. I recommend running tights (not as thick as leggings used for Nordic skiing; these tend to get too warm for running), a long-sleeved wool base layer, and a mid-weight jacket with ventilation. If it’s very cold, add a fleece sweater under your jacket, which you can tie around your waist if you’re too hot. Wear a beanie over your head and a buff or other type of layer around your neck that you can roll up to warm your cheeks and lips. Choose socks that protrude past your ankles so that snow does not get into your sock. You do not need to layer the socks (this could cause blisters due to the tightening of the shoes); surprisingly, the feet tend to stay warm while running in the snow. The hands, however, go numb easily. Wear thick gloves and bring hand warmers to put them on. Ski goggles are a great replacement for sunglasses in thunderstorms, low light and for extra warmth on your face.

Don’t neglect hydration. It’s easy to think that you won’t be thirsty when it’s cold outside. Wrong. You’ll breathe hard and sweat under your diapers, in cool, extra-dry air, so you need to replace fluids while you run. Avoid using a reservoir in a hydration pack during winter runs, as the fluid in the long tube can freeze. Instead, pack squeeze bottles in a bag and fill them with hot water so that the water is hot when you drink.

Keep the intensity of the effort relatively low. Breathing hard in very cold, dry air can lead to exercise-induced bronchospasm, similar to regular asthma, in which the parched airways in your lungs trigger an inflammatory response, causing the airways to narrow and shrink. mucus production. This in turn can cause shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. In short, winter conditions can be difficult for your respiratory system. To moderate the risk, run at a slow, easy pace that allows you to take deep breaths and speak in full sentences. If you want to do high-intensity speed intervals that elevate your breathing to the point where your ability to speak is limited to a short sentence, then head inward for a treadmill workout.

Enter shortly after you finish running. You are at a greater risk of catching a dangerous cold when you finish your run if you stay outside in freezing weather. Your body temperature will drop quickly, and the damp, clammy layer next to your skin will suddenly feel cold. Go inside to warm up and put on dry clothes. Take a hot shower immediately after a run to soothe your overworked lungs.

Watch out for “umbles”: Mumbling (slow, slurred speech), stumbling (stiffness and loss of muscle control), growling (unusual magnification or change in behavior), and fumbling (loss of dexterity) are warning signs of hypothermia . If you notice that you or your running partner is acting “umbly”, it’s time to get back to your car and turn on the heat or get inside ASAP.

Don’t go to extremes. Personally, I can handle running in temperatures as low as around ten degrees. When temperatures drop to single digits, exercising outside for an extended period of time is risky and uncomfortable, so I find a treadmill to do my run. Or I wait until noon when the sun is at its zenith and the temperatures rise until the teenage years.

We all have different levels of adaptation and tolerance to winter conditions. If you feel really uncomfortable running or hiking outside due to the cold and snow showers, and you feel your extremities going numb, go inside for yourself. warm up and practice. But if it’s fifteen degrees sunny and you feel like running rather than skiing, then put on some crampons, layer yourself up, and go for it.

Sarah Lavender Smith is the author of The Trail Runner’s Companion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Running and Trail Running, from 5K to Ultras. She publishes a newsletter called “Colorado Mountain Running & Living” on

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