Winter Running in COVID Conditions

How not to lose your momentum through the winter months

Winter Running
Danielle Smith, general manager of Sturgeon Valley Athletic Club (SVAC) in St. Albert, Alberta, stays warm during a sub-zero run. Photo: Curtis Trent

Early in 2020, runners were in race-planning mode – determining budgets, training schedules, and which run groups to join.

But then the pandemic hit, and the ability to plan anything disappeared.

Although we’ve adjusted to life amid COVID-19, running motivation quickly fizzled because “cancelled” prefaced everything we love about the activity: group training, in-person races, and fitness classes.

Now we’re entering the dark, cold, winter months, and “What’s the point?” comes to mind for many when they see their running shoes.

Danielle Smith, general manager of Sturgeon Valley Athletic Club (SVAC) in St. Albert, Alberta, has decades worth of fitness leadership experience. She’s also a year-round runner, even when temperatures fall into the low -20s because the outdoors give her something a treadmill never will: mental clarity.

“I love the freedom, time, and space to just get out there,” Smith says. “You’re never going to regret the run when you’re done.”

A motivational carrot for Smith typically involves a future race, making her training schedule of four to five runs a week, including interval training and hills, just a way of life.

“Having races in-person, that makes the training more meaningful,” she says, noting that other challenges have come up in the past and she’s overcome them, but this scenario is completely new and hard to navigate.

Signing up for the occasional virtual race is one of Smith’s 2020 workarounds. But she also chooses to push through, running shorter distances when needed, but never avoiding a run completely when doubt or negativity sets in.

“I think it’s about putting your goals in your back pocket,” she says, “and putting it into perspective that COVID made us go into survival mode, and survival mode means running to me.”

Smith’s SVAC colleague, Brian Hill, is a personal trainer of 30 plus years, a medical sales rep, and an avid outdoor runner with 21 full Ironman races under his belt. His 22nd was deferred to 2021, and so he also registered for a virtual race or two this year.

Hill realizes running isn’t for everyone, especially outdoors during a pandemic winter, but he reminds those struggling with the “why bother?” question that our views are pretty spectacular. “We’re so fortunate to be where we are; We don’t have smog or a lot of people around,” he says. “When it’s cold outside, yet the sun is shining, where else do you get that?”

There’s no magic motivational pill to run, but the closest thing is consistency, Hill says. “I’m not going to stop and then have to start again in the spring—that’s a lot of work.”

His tip for staying motivated to run during winter is to set up a mock race. Whether it’s your first 5K or a marathon, build a training plan around a set date, put it all into your calendar, then just do it.

“It’s not something to get to, it’s the journey,” Hill says. “Consistency, to me, is the whole thing.”

Tips to Keep You Running Through Winter

Gathered from year-round runners, Smith and Hill

  1. It’s easier to keep running throughout the whole year rather than taking the cold months off, losing a lot of your base, and starting back up again in the spring seemingly from scratch. That feeling is very de-motivating. Consistency is everything.
  2. There’s a lot of freedom to run outdoors. The fresh air and sunshine (or snowflakes falling) brighten your day and perspective.
  3. You’ll never regret the run when you’re done. Even though during the run, it may feel hard, the sense of accomplishment, the stress relief, the clearing of the mind fog makes it all worthwhile.
  4. You can typically dress in enough layers to safely protect yourself from the winter elements. Check in with your local sports or running store for suggestions on how to layer and what materials work best for warmth and wind protection.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up if you reduce your runs or take some time off for the holidays or other reasons. Just start up again. Readjust your plan.
  6. Find somebody that you can share the training/running experience with, whether that’s in-person at a safe distance (due to COVID-19) or keeping each other accountable by checking in virtually.
  7. Race directors from around the world are doing an amazing job of hosting virtual races that you can register for and participate in by running locally, documenting them on your smart watch/device, then sending in your results. Many organizations are still supplying (mailing out) swag and/or medals for race completion.
  8. Check in on why you’re running and if you actually like it. If you hate it, maybe it’s not worth forcing yourself to do it just because it helps you with strength or weight loss. There are a lot of other activities to keep you moving and make you happy. You’ll be naturally motivated to do something you like.
  9. Don’t look for the light, become it. If running gives you mental clarity and stress relief, honour that. Layer up, get outside, and put one foot in front of the other. You won’t regret it.

December 2020 Digital Edition

IMPACT Magazine’s December 2020 Edition

Read about our top Canadian Olympic snowboarder who returned from injury and is chasing that elusive Olympic Gold!⁠ Learn how not to lose your momentum running through the cold and snow, work out with Canada’s Top Fitness Trainers, avoid back pain with one of the world’s most renowned experts and try out our delicious Holiday-themed recipes.

Read these story in our December 2020 Digital Edition.