Down & Dirty: Messy Miles

Keep your legs fresh by running through the winter — just be sure to dress for the occasion. Photo: Allison Pattillo

Tips for running on snowy, muddy and icy trails.

Tis the season for mud, ice, slush and snow, but that doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to your favorite trails until the spring thaw. With common sense and good humor, trail running can be a year-round activity. You may not go as far or as fast in winter conditions, but navigating uncertain terrain has the added benefit of boosting your balance and proprioception. And don’t worry, you are still getting a killer workout — snowshoe running can burn upwards of 1,000 calories an hour. Why yes, I would love another helping! Follow these tips to maximize your run.

Preserve The Trail

If your route looks like a slick mud pit, save it for another day — running on it will degrade the trail. But if it feels reasonably tacky with the occasional mud puddle, go for it. Just be sure to go through the puddles, not around them — more trail preservation. For those running in slushy and snowy areas, going earlier in the day when the ground is still frozen will mean less slipping and sliding. South-facing trails tend to dry out faster and make a good option for late day runs.

Slow Down

Don’t expect to set PBs in less than stellar conditions. Mud and snow make for softer but slower running surfaces. As much as you can, stay light on your feet and be prepared to slide a little or a lot. Focus on the miles, not the your time.

RELATED: Things To Carry On The Trail

Watch Your Step

When the thermometer hovers around freezing, it’s important to pay attention to your footing. Some icy patches are evident, while others can take you by surprise, like when a benign looking section of trail becomes an ice skating rink and leaves you madly grabbing for tree branches as a lifeline. Play it safe by paying attention to the trail and your surroundings — frost covered wooden bridges (slick!), glistening dirt (slippery!), waterfalls and streams (red alert!). North facing trails and shaded areas stay cold and slick the longest.

Use Traction

Snowshoes, screw-in spikes and running crampons make winter running a more enjoyable and upright experience. Use snowshoes to give you float when the white stuff gets deeps. Screw-in shoe spikes provide low-fuss grip on black ice, frozen mud and even packed snow. Running crampons give stable traction on icy trails, packed snow, frozen dirt and in a few inches of fresh powder.

Enjoy The Ride

Considering your other option may be sweating it out at in a stinky gym to pop music and bad television, enjoy the fresh air. Messy miles are a fun way to maintain fitness and a great chance to see an old trail in a new light — look for animal tracks in the mud and snow to see just how many critters share your trail. Plus, cold temperatures are the perfect excuse to have hot chocolate as a recovery drink!

RELATED: 12 Expert Trail Running Tips

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