Get Off The Road: Winter Trail Running

If there are bonus kudos awarded to those who continue to run outside when the snow starts to fall, there could be an extra gold star for the runner who stays on the trails in the winter months. All winter runners are warriors; those who hit the trails are no exception.

To keep you crushing trails all year long, we spoke with Eric D’Arcy, race director for 5Peaks Ontario and Crazy Cat Adventures, two local trail race circuits. D’Arcy shared his tips for winter trail running and while trail running in general requires a specific set of safety and gear requirements, winter conditions call for even more attention to detail. 

Be cool – stay warm!

Ensure that you choose shoes with proper traction for the conditions. Remember that ice can be hiding under snow and it’s important to be prepared. Winter trail specific shoes, ice spikes, or Yaktrax are all good options. Consider choosing a shoe with a Gortex shield, keeping your feet toasty and dry.

Layer, layer, layer! Staying warm and dry is essential, especially for long outings. Depending on the temperature, you’ll want to have at least 3-4 layers on the upper body. Avoid cotton, opting for wool or polyester. Face coverings, mittens or gloves, and ear protection are essential items in the winter. Base layer bottoms are an option for very intense cold.

A key point to remember, D’Arcy shares, is that everyone is different. “Your tolerance to the cold is going to be different. Know what works for you. Trial and error will help you learn what you need for your body. Test out different options and make notes so you can refer back to when dressing for various temperatures.” 

Play it safe

Staying safe is a key component to any runners repertoire. It is ideal to share your run with another person, but if you have to go alone, it’s especially important to make your whereabouts known. Even familiar trails can look very different when covered in snow. 

Although it’s lovely to leave the devices behind when out for a run, phones and GPS devices can be extremely helpful. Protect your phone battery life by wrapping your device in a cozy cover as batteries tend to drain faster in the cold. 

Keep up the sips

It can be challenging to pay attention to hydration and nutrition at the best of times, but it is equally important to do so when engaging in winter sports. Keeping well fueled and hydrated will support your body temperature, too, warding off the cold. Remember that tubes and bottles can freeze, so selecting insulated products is worth the investment. You don’t want to get caught on a long trail run with no way to get your hydration out of the bottle! 

Likewise, with nutrition, be sure to pay attention to different products and how they respond to subzero temps. Opt for fuels such as Endurance Tap or Xact Nutrition, both of which won’t freeze when the temperature plummets. 

Slow down, speedster!

Stay humble! As most trail runners know, your trail and road pace will likely vary significantly. The gap between these paces grows with the technical aspects of the specific trail. In winter, these challenges are further augmented. Try running for effort and time-on-feet rather than for pace or distance. Copious amounts of snow and ice will impact your ability to hit certain paces, so be prepared to slow down where necessary. 

Winter trail running offers a beautiful chance to enjoy the outdoors and experience some joyful quiet. Let your preoccupation with pace fall by the wayside as you cruise around the forest, with only the crunch beneath your feet as a soundtrack. Toronto has a variety of beautiful trails that can be enjoyed all year round. With the right gear and preparation, you can still partake in off-road adventures. Plan well, be safe, and have fun!

For information on winter trail races, visit Crazy Cat Adventures (events may differ due to Covid restrictions).