When Nancy Thomson talks about winter running, I want to grab my sneakers and start moving. Thomson, Athletic Yukon’s Director of Trail Running, is describing her enthusiasm for winter running to me just before she dashes out for an evening run in the cool fall air.
Thomson runs throughout the spring, summer and fall. Athletics Yukon’s last organized Trail Run was October 24, but that doesn’t stop Thomson. When winter comes with all of its Yukon extremes, she just digs out the thermal tights and her neck warmer and keeps going.
We’re firmly in sport transition season right now. The mountain bikers are putting their steeds in storage and the skiers are digging out their wax. It’s time to start telling nostalgic stories about your summer athletic endeavors and planning for winter ones.
Thomson says many of her fellow trail runners take up skiing in the in the winter months. Some strap on snowshoes, and others retreat to the Canada Games Centre for the coldest days.
But for her and many other runners, there is no off-season. Thomson runs through the winter and has been to known to be out on the Whitehorse trails in 40 below.
“People ski at 40 below. Why can’t you run at 40 below?” In fact, it’s probably easier to run at minus 40 degrees Celsius, she says, because unlike skiers, runners don’t have to worry about gliding in those temperatures.
For some of us (guilty!), reasons not to go running are as easy to find as dust bunnies under my couch. It takes a lot less than freezing temperatures and snow-covered trails to convince me to stay inside.
But Thomson is very convincing. “It’s breathtakingly beautiful,” she says with such conviction that I believe her absolutely.
She says winter trail running is peaceful and offers up experiences that are hard to find elsewhere. Her winter runs on quiet trails have been dotted with the footprints of martens, weasels, rabbits and foxes. She suspects she’s also seen lynx, deer and cougar prints.
“Running in the bush, in particular, it’s so therapeutic. It’s so still and yet you can hear the birds and see all the animal signs.”
Going where the snow isn’t packed down adds a different element to a running routine. “In many ways it’s a strength workout, running in knee-deep snow. It’s a grind in those conditions,” she says about running through knee-deep snow on deserted trails.
And if you make your way to the top of a trail, it can be an exhilarating trip down. “Running downhill in the deep snow you really can let ‘er rip. Who cares if you fall? You’re in the snow. You’re not going to hurt yourself.”
Running in the coldest days of the winter does require some additional preparation: a few extra layers.
In really cold weather, Thomson wears long johns and thermal tights with wind protection. On top, she wears a layer of merino wool and adds a soft-shell jacket. Toque, neck warmer and mittens round out the ensemble.
The outer bits – feet, hands and ears – need the most attention.
“The real key is your feet,” says Thomson. She wears warm socks and prefers a pair of moosehide mukluks to sneakers because they really keep her toes toasty. “You don’t need grip when you’re running in deep snow.”
Another consideration for winter runners, especially those of the Yukon variety, is finding a slice of daylight.
Thomson says that search involves some minor changes to her routine. For example, during the week she jogs at lunchtime, or runs on the bluffs by the airport after dark, so the city lights guide her way.
If you’d like to try winter running, Thomson would gladly take you out. Give her a call and ask her yourself: 333-0983.